Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Seconds

So the movie Two Seconds showed up on TCM yesterday as part of the Friday pre-Code marathons that are running all this month. I have to admit to not having heard of the title before, which is a bit of a shame because then I would have been able to recommend it to you without having to direct you to the Warner Archive DVD that's available.

The movie starts off in the execution chamber at a state penitentiary, with the assembled witnesses from the press there to see the execution of murderer John Allen. Also there is a sociology student (William Janney), who was sent there by his college class to get info on an execution for his college class. It's all a framing device though, as he's just there to ask questions for the benefit of the movie audience and have the executioner and warden tell us that the prisoner will actually live for two seconds after the switch is pulled, and that in those two seconds his whole life will flash before his eyes....

So John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) shows up to be strapped to the electric chair for his execution, and sure enough, we get a flashback as to how he wound up being convicted of a capital offense. Some time back, he was working as a riveter on those skyscrapers that were going up in the big city at the time, along with his best friend and roommate Bud (Preston Foster). Bud is somewhat reminiscent of Albert Finney's character in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that being the sort of man who likes to spend his money playing the horses and going out with the ladies; he's engaged, but always with an eye on other women and trying to find a good blind date for John. One night, Bud picks up a particularly ugly blind date, but also flirts with a pair of women who aren't his fiancée and John's date, telling John to come up with some excuse to ditch the original dates. John is understandably ticked off and runs off, winding up in one of those dance halls filled with taxi dancers, where he meets Shirley (Vivienne Osborne) and buys a ticket to dance with her. The other guys treat Shirley like property while John intends to be a perfect gentleman, so when Shirley gets in trouble John takes her out of the joint to a nearby drugstore to get milkshakes for the two of them.

You know it's going to be trouble for John, especially because he's been so over-the-top about how he's not going to let women take him for anything the way Bud does. (Never mind the fact that you know something has to come up to cause John to commit murder.) Still, what happens is shocking. After a couple of dates, Shirley gets John good and liquored up, and takes him to a justice of the peace to have the two of them get married. This even though he's drunk beyond the ability to consent. Bud is understandably furious, and the ultimate result is an argument between the two friends at work, with Bud falling off a girder 20-plus stories to his death.

Still, that's not what gets John sent to the electric chair. John is unable to work after the accident, falling deep in debt to the point that Shirley decides to go back to work at the dance hall and et the money she and John need. That turns out to be what really sets off John, and when Bud's old bookie (Guy Kibbee) shows up with a bunch of money John won playing the ponies, John figures it's enough to pay off all his debts and settle a score or two....

Two Seconds is rather shocking, with some plot points you're going to see coming since the film is told in flashback, and some that you might not. It's Edward G. Robinson's movie all the way, and like Scarlet Street a dozen years later, it's interesting to see his transofmation from the good guy to an utter failure, which he pulls off well. Robinson is always interesting to watch, and he's riveting -- no pun intended -- here. The only real problem is some overacting in the scene when John is sentenced to be executed. William Janney, even though he only shows up in the opening and closing scenes, is also worth mentioning.

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to mention the TCM airing, not having seen the movie, but at least it's available on DVD.

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