Two Smart People could just as easily have been titled Three Smart People. It’s a “road trip” film featuring a pair of con artists, Ace and Ricki (John Hodiak and Lucille Ball), as well as a genial police detective, Bob (Lloyd Nolan).
Bob is escorting Ace, who’s ready to reform and has made a plea bargain, on a cross-country train trip to Sing Sing. Ricki is initially after some stolen bonds Ace has hidden for the duration of the trip to New York, but then she finds herself falling in love with Ace, which causes serious problems with her gun-toting partner, Fly (Elisha Cook Jr.).
This is a pleasant movie filled with nice touches, such as Ace and Ricki sharing a love of gourmet cooking; Ace travels with “all the comforts of home,” including a fancy bar setup and delicacies such as truffles to make dining car food more interesting. The truffles come into play as part of the very clever way Bob pressures Ace back across the border after they unexpectedly detour into Mexico and the lovestruck Ace seems to be having second thoughts about his plea agreement.
There’s also a lively Mardi Gras sequence, which is as “colorful” as a black and white film can be. Ball looks quite lovely dressed as a princess. The final shot of Elisha Cook Jr. during the Mardi Gras revelry is rather amusing, in a macabre fashion.
I sometimes find Hodiak a bit bland, but perhaps Ball helped to pull a more energetic performance out of him. They’re well teamed as two classy crooks who fall in love. Of course, we have no idea why such smart, interesting people ended up on the wrong side of the law in the first place, but never mind that, just enjoy. For his part, the engaging Nolan takes a role that could have been boring and makes every scene interesting as the nice but careful cop.
The very same year, Hodiak and Nolan starred in the very good film noir Somewhere in the Night (1946) at a different studio, 20th Century-Fox, while Ball starred in the Fox noir The Dark Corner (1946). Two Smart People, on the other hand, was made for MGM, where Ball and Hodiak were under contract in the mid-’40s.
Nolan mostly worked at Fox in the ’40s, but he’d stay at MGM for his next film, Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947), and he also worked at MGM for Jeanette MacDonald’s last feature film, The Sun Comes Up (1949).
Two Smart People was directed by Jules Dassin. He’d previously made a number of light, entertaining titles for MGM, including Margaret O’Brien’s The Canterville Ghost (1944) and Marsha Hunt’s The Affairs of Martha (1942) and A Letter for Evie (1946). (At the recent Noir City Festival, Marsha Hunt said her favorite film directors were Fred Zinnemann and Jules Dassin.) He went on to direct a series of well-known noir titles, Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), Thieves’ Highway (1949), and Night and the City (1950).
Two Smart People was co-written by Leslie Charteris, author of The Saint mystery series. It was filmed by Karl Freund. The running time is 93 minutes. Don’t blink and Shelley Winters can be spotted as a Princess in the Mardi Gras sequence.
Two Smart People is a solid evening’s entertainment which should please those who enjoy a light film noir with a liberal dash of romance, plus trains on the side.
Laura G. is a proofreader and homeschooling parent who is a lifelong film enthusiast. Laura’s thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005. Visit her website at http://www.laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com.