Once a rancher, Richard Trevelyan (Richard Todd) is now on a Texas prison's death row. But he wins a new trial, then a complete acquittal when a lone juror holds out.
Actress Shelley Carnes (Ruth Roman) is on her way to a Texas dude ranch for a rest. Along the way, she meets ranchers J.D. (Frank Conroy) and Myra Nolan (Kathryn Givney) and ends up borrowing their car. Lost in a storm, she encounters Trevelyan by chance. It turns out he knows J.D. and Myra.
The dude ranch is closed when Shelley gets there. Liza McStringer (Mercedes McCambridge), who runs it with a younger brother nicknamed String (Darryl Hickman), explains that she was the juror who let Trevelyan go free. And now she's being shunned by neighbors and friends.
Shelley bonds with the troubled String, so she is invited to stay a while. She learns that Loraine, the late wife of Trevelyan and murder victim, was a rather wicked woman, loathed by many. There is reason to believe Loraine once had an affair with J.D.
Returning the car, Shelley spends a night with the Nolans and is introduced to Harvey Turner (Zachary Scott), a neighbor who is immediately attracted to her. Harvey, too, speaks ill of the late Loraine and describes himself as lucky to have escaped her clutches.
Shelley again meets Trevelyan and the two cannot resist each other. A jealous and spiteful Liza turns out to be the one who murdered Loraine, and now she nearly does likewise to Shelley before a last-minute rescue. Liza and String flee in their car, but don't get very far.Ruth Roman as Shelley Carnes
Richard Todd as Richard Trevelyan
Mercedes McCambridge as Liza McStringer
Zachary Scott as Harvey Turner
Frank Conroy as J. D. Nolan
Kathryn Givney as Myra Nolan
Rhys Williams as Father Paul
Darryl Hickman as String
Nacho Galindo as Pedro
Franklin Parker as Guard
Warner Bros had owned the rights to the book since 1945.
Virginia Mayo was originally cast in the female lead.
Film critic Glenn Erickson discussed the director's film style in his review:
As the 1950s rolled in director King Vidor's brilliant but eccentric pictures became much more eccentric than brilliant. The Fountainhead and Ruby Gentry break down into interesting patterns of dynamic visuals, even as their overheated dramatics are impossible to take seriously. 1951's Lightning Strikes Twice forms a link between King Vidor and Douglas Sirk's delirious women's pictures. Faced with a gimmicky, far-fetched storyline and inconsistent characters, Vidor still manages to make the movie highly watchable, even enjoyable ... But get ready to smile at the overcooked, sometimes hysterical acting and the big fuss made over a fairly simple mystery ... the picture is a camp hoot from one end to the other.