Two Wives at One Wedding (1961)

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No, it’s not an Ealing comedy as the title might suggest. Instead it’s a Brian Clemens thriller, with many of his usual quirks.
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UK / 64 minutes / bw / Danziger, Paramount Dir: Montgomery Tully Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Scr: Brian Clemens, Eldon Howard Cine: Bert Mason Cast: Gordon Jackson, Christina Gregg, Lisa Daniely, André Maranne, Humphrey Lestocq, Viola Keats, Douglas Ives, John Serret, Annette Carell, Steve Plytas, Gertan Klauber, Michael Anthony, Julian Sherrier, Andre Charisse.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 0 opener

Rising physician Tom Murray (Jackson) is celebrating his marriage to Christine “Chris” Ervine (Gregg) when an unexpected guest arrives at the reception: Annette Montand (Daniely), whom Tom knew during his time as an ambulance driver in Normandy during the war. Once they’re alone she drops her bombshell: Tom married her in France and, even though the event is lost to the weeks of amnesia he suffered after being shot up in August 1944 by the Gestapo, she has a marriage certificate and other evidence to prove it:

Annette: “It was not a gay ceremony. [Okay, so the language has changed a bit since 1961.] It was no party, such as you have here. There were no wedding bells for us—only the rumble of guns and the screams of the dying. We couldn’t even find a proper wedding ring . . . so you put this on my finger.”

Two Wives at One Wedding - 1 Mark, Chris and Tom at the reception

Chris (Christina Gregg) and Tom (Gordon Jackson) at the reception.

Chris suggests that, if Tom tells her what he can remember of events, maybe that’ll help him recover his lost memories. So we go into an extensive flashback.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 2 Tom is stunned by Annette's news

Tom (Gordon Jackson) is stunned by Annette’s news.

Tom was captured by the Nazis and sent behind their lines to a prison camp. He was able to escape the truck on which he and other prisoners were being transported and, despite being shot in the leg, evaded the guard sent after him. He was discovered by a priest, Père Laroche (Serret), who lodged him in the house of a very lovely widow or spinster (it’s not clear) called Marie Durand (Carell). Between them Laroche and Marie got the bullet out of his leg, and started helping to get him fit to walk again. Tom, surprisingly, had no eyes for Marie, preferring instead the company of her niece Annette.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 3 Pere Laroche discovers the near-dying Tom

Père Laroche (John Serret) discovers the near-dying Tom.

Hours before Tom was set to make a break for American lines, now just twenty miles away, the Gestapo picked Marie up in the village and, finding she had some British money Tom had given her, shot her. With three members of the Maquis—Roger (Klauber), Maurice (Anthony) and Pierre (Sherrier)—Tom did his best to shoot it out with the Germans. Annette was able to escape, but the three Resistance fighters perished and so, very nearly, did Tom himself. The next he knew he was coming to in the house of another Resistance man, Paul Dassin (Maranne); the local church bells were ringing to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 4 Tom and Annette, back in more innocent times

Tom (Gordon Jackson) and Annette (Lisa Daniely), back in more innocent times . . . or were they?

Two Wives at One Wedding - 4a The quiet French town where murder will soon be played out

The quiet French town where murder will soon be played out.

Back to the present, and Tom can still recall nothing of marrying Annette. He’s an unwitting bigamist, and he doesn’t know how to escape the fact: if the gutter press get hold of this, his career is dead in the water.

However, Annette points out that there’s a solution. For a . . . consideration, she’d be willing to grant him a quickie divorce. He could then remarry Chris quietly, and who in the world would know the difference? After all, as she explains:

Annette: “The war affects people in strange ways. I was not in love with you, but I pitied you . . . and I needed help too. So I married you.”

And the nature of that . . . consideration. Why, £10,000 in cash, payable within the week.

After she’s left, Tom begins to wonder if her story’s phony. He goes to the French Embassy, where Monsieur Bellac (Plytas) agrees to help him track down the three witnesses to the marriage certificate Annette showed him. It proves that one has since emigrated to the US, and all track has been lost of him. The second, Père Laroche, was shot by the Gestapo. The third, Paul Dassin, is still alive, and soon Tom discovers Paul has very recently flown to London, where he’s staying at the Vine Court Hotel.

So round to the Vine Court Hotel trots Tom, only to learn that Paul confirms Annette’s story . . .

Two Wives at One Wedding - 5 Tom pumps Paul for the truth about his past

Tom (Gordon Jackson) pumps Paul (André Maranne) for the truth about his past.

It’s possible that by this stage in the movie there might have been a few audience members right at the very back of the cinema who hadn’t worked out what was going on but, if so, they were either fast asleep or inextricably entangled with a significant other. Even so, there’s quite a lot of the movie to go before final revelations, fisticuffs, arrests, the recovery of Tom’s ten grand, etc.

This isn’t by any means a movie of distinction. The four leads—especially Jackson—bring to it a deal more commitment than it really deserves, and there are some very good supporting performances: Keats as Chris’s mother; Plytas as the helpful French diplomat; Lestocq as Tom’s best man, Mark Jennings; Carell as the brave Frenchwoman who takes in the injured Tom; and especially Serret as Père Laroche. That the movie was made on a tight budget is monumentally obvious; the most obvious sign of this is the exterior of the supposedly swanky Vine Court Hotel, which looks as if someone had hastily rigged up a sign over a pub entrance.

And there are a surprising number of plot discontinuities and related errors:

  • The wicked plot depends on those concerned knowing that Tom now suffers amnesia about a particular few weeks; how could they have known this, since apparently he was behaving quite normally during the period in question?
  • When Annette and Tom are discussing matters in the Ervine house, Tom talks about not knowing if anyone but himself had got out of Paul’s house alive; in fact, it was at Marie’s house where everyone but him and Annette got killed.
  • After the discussion in the Ervine home, Annette leaves the room and then the house, yet somehow manages to do so without being noticed by Mark and Mrs. Ervine, who’re chatting in the hall.
  • In order to raise the £10,000, Tom sells virtually all of his possessions, including his car—for which, it’s specified, he gets a princely £650. Yet later on we find that he’s still driving said car.
  • During a punchup, it’s quite clear that Tom’s fist misses the chin of his foe by ten inches or more, yet we still hear the thwack and the foe is knocked halfway across the room.
  • The credits are a mess. Gregg’s character is named Janet, even though throughout the movie she’s been referred to as Chris. Similarly, the priest, called Laroche throughout, is rechristened Larouche. The order of precedence in the cast list at the end is bizarre, with some very minor characters, one being known only as “Fat Man” (presumably a wedding guest, played by C. Denier Warren), coming ahead of some fairly major ones, like Serret as Laroche. Carell’s name is spelled wrongly in the opening credits but correctly in the closing ones.

And so on and so on and so on. I may have missed a few.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 6 How cheap can the staging of the hotel be

 How cheap can the staging of the supposedly swanky hotel be?

It’s easy enough to pick holes in tight-budget B-feature quickies like this, but Two Wives at One Wedding offers a surprisingly pleasing way to spend an hour or so, and is certainly something that Gordon Jackson completists will enjoy. Besides, throughout his screenwriting career Clemens, who died in January 2015, never did put too much store in such things as plot coherency—that’s why the TV series The Avengers (1961–9) was the perfect medium for him.

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6 thoughts on “Two Wives at One Wedding (1961)

  1. Unfortunately whenever I hear the word Maquis I think of Commander Chakotay. It’s rather tragic that I know the history of Star Trek characters better than the history of Europe…

  2. I’ll watch almost anything written by Clemens – and her he is with Gordon Jackson, two decades before THE PROFESSIONALS (god, I loved that arrant queasy-quasi-fascist adventure nonsense as a kid).

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