Last winter, when it was so cold and snowy that we all thought we would need dog teams to get to work, many of us struggled down or up, as the case might have been, to Broadway to witness a murder mystery entitled “Dark Towers,” written by the plump Alexander Woollcott and the cadaver### George S. Kaufman. I for one regretted the fact that I had deserted a noisy radiator and my views were shared by other play goers. After about a month the play closed but not before First National Pictures bought the movie rights. It now enlarges as “The Man With Two Faces.” To see it you will have to turn off the electric fan, empty the glasses and go to the Strand Theatre. However, if you stay at home you will not have missed very much.
In adapting “Dark Towers” to the screen, Tom Reed and Niven Busch have taken liberties with the script of the play. Instead of keeping the identity of the murderer secret until the final scenes the film shows the victim being dispatched about half way through the film and no attempt is made to hide the killer.
“The Man With Two Faces,” as it emerges on the screen, is the story of a talented young actress (Mary Astor) who is married to a suave, hypnotic rascal and of how she is rescued from his clutches. It seems this polite scoundrel has the power of dominating his wife to the point where she can do nothing without being directed by him. Her brother, also an actor (Edward Robinson), is of course appalled by this treatment of his sister and determines to rid her of her tormentor. By disguising himself as a rich Frenchman who wants to buy an interest in the wife’s play, he entices her husband (Louis Calhern) to a hotel room and murders him. The brother believes he has perpetrated a perfect crime but he makes one mistake and the clever police detective (David Landau) unravels the mystery with ease.
Edward Robinson in the dual role of the brother and the Frenchman is always able to lend an air of reality to the proceedings. An excellent actor, he performs his role with distinction and wit. Mary Astor as the hypnotized wife is convincing only when acting in this hypnotic state. In her happier moments she is palpably wooden. The difficult role, that of Stanley Vance, the husband as played by Louis Calhern, does not quite come off but it is not the fault of Mr. Calhern. He is pictured as a monstrous rotter for whom there can be no sympathy but at the same time he is supposed to exude a dandified, genteel air and to be a man of great mental attainments. The writers make him do some things that would outrage the intelligence of a low grade moron.
“The Man With Two Faces” is an unsatisfactory cinema. It is neither a thriller, a mystery nor a romance. It seems as though First National had bought an unsuccessful film, experimented with it, become bored and finally decided to finish it with little regard for the consequences. An actor with the talents of Edward Robinson is wasted in a picture of this kind and it certainly cannot help his reputation.