Born to Kill (1947) One Dark Twisted Killer Thriller Noir

Born to Kill (1947) Claire Trevor Lawrence Tierney Robert Wise film noir poster

A murderous noir with Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor. This review is for Born to Kill (1947)

What’s going down?

The story starts in the biggest little city in the world! Reno. A place where super moody pants, Sam, deals with uncontrollable rage and lives up to his surname, Wilde. One look at his girlfriends ankle and off he goes into hulk mode. Helen is in town settling up on her divorce. Before she goes, one quick gamble at the casino. Setting in motion the chance meeting of eyes between Sam and Helen across a craps table. They both go separate ways. With a shock discovery, Helen returns to San Francisco at haste. Needing to cool off, Sam follows. They are soon to be joined by a private detective searching for clues to a double murder! Cue BAAH BAH BAAAH music.

Born to Kill (1947) Lawrence Tierney smoking moody Robert Wise film noir

The main players

Claire Trevor – Helen Brent
Lawrence Tierney – Sam Wilde
Walter Slezak – Arnett
Phillip Terry – Fred
Audrey Long – Georgia
Elisha Cook Jr – Marty
Isabel Jewell – Laury Palmer
Esther Howard – Mrs Kraft


Sure I’ve seen them in something?

There I was thinking Claire Trevor was new to me but then I look at her filmography and see I’d a few posts on her films. The Mountain (1956) with Spencer Tracy and the brilliant Raw Deal (1948) with Dennis O’Keefe. It then occurs to me that I have two big ones to get to! Soon! Key Largo (1948) with Humphrey Bogart and Murder, My Sweet (1944) with Dick Powell. Giving myself a friendly kick up the bot-bot to get on the case with those two.

Born to Kill (1947) Claire Trevor hat Robert Wise film noir poster

Now Lawrence Tierney is a different story. There I was thinking I had seen his films but in fact I knew none! Well there is one I had no idea it was him and it brought a big smile to my face after watching Born To Kill. He plays crime boss Joe Cabot who sets up the robbery in Quentin Tarantino’s classic Reservoir Dogs. So there you go, please enlighten me to where I need to be on his movies. (Forgot I do have and need to see his Dillinger)

Elisha Cook Jr is always great to see in a movie. He has a nice habit of popping up all over the place. He’s in the stalwart of noir, The Killing (1956) and he’s so great in Plunder Road (1957). One of my favourite Elisha scenes has to be the basement jazz drum scene in Phantom Lady (1944) it is a total delight.

Notes on production?

Born To Kill is directed by movie marathon making machine Robert Wise. This dude crossed all genre’s as he went to town on so many great films. Here’s just a few….. One of the best sci-fi’s going The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), one of the best boxing noir’s The Set-Up (1949). Then there’s submarine drama in Run Silent Run Deep (1958), classic musicals in West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Odds Against Tomorrow with Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Ed Begley is an essential drama. Plus another two big sci-fi loves of mine. The Andromeda Strain (1971) and I know it gets a knocking but man I do so love Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and it still looks incredible.

Born To Kill is based on a novel by James Gunn! Not the Guardians Of The Galaxy dude as he’d be like a hundred now! Vintage Pop Fictions has an interesting write up on the novel, Gunn’s one and only. With the words used “It is in no way a pleasant read but it is fascinating in a bizarre, morbid and very unsettling way. Gunn’s style is as extreme and as offbeat as his plotting. This is psychological noir at its darkest.” Book review here.

Hits like a sledge hammer

Just the fact you are confronted with the killer right from the get go is shocking enough. But the killer isn’t the only monster in this savage tale!

Plus lines like this hit like a sledge hammer! “I’m just warning you. Perhaps you don’t realize, it’s painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.”

Born to Kill (1947) Lawrence Tierney smoking moody on bed

Cutting remarks

His eyes run up and down you like a search light
You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I’ve seen plenty, too. I wouldn’t trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.
And yet you get the feeling if you stepped out of line he’d kick your teeth down your throat
You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you.
I’ve got a dame on my mind, and she’s dead.


A big thank you to Eric over at Diary Of A Movie Maniac for the nod on this dark and twisted noir. The rage, depravity and lack of remorse which these characters will go to are extremely shocking for a movie of the time. Of course that is exactly why we love these no nonsense, straight to the point thrillers so much.  These are as far removed from anti-heroes as you can get. However, somewhere deep down in the dark recesses you still find yourself secretly rooting for them.

Is there any light relief you may ask? Well landlady, Mrs Kraft (Esther Howard) is just wonderful as the beer swigging, fiery, won’t mince her words, feisty old lady with a lazy eye. And the bible quoting private eye, Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak) is also fun though I’d have loved to have seen more of him.

Born to Kill (1947) Mrs Kraft (Esther Howard) 

I’m pretty new, in the last 3 years, to film noir so this one has probably been seen by one and all but if not, it’s very recommended.

Rating score

Wolfman’s rating 8.5/10       IMDB 7.2/10

Feel free to recommend me related movies and any other trivia if you wish. Keep having fun at the movies…. Mikey Wolf

13 thoughts on “Born to Kill (1947) One Dark Twisted Killer Thriller Noir

  1. Oh yes, this is a good one…I’ve seen it a few times now, and man, is Lawrence Tierney something else…don’t ever give this guy a ride! He did a small noir I really liked called ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’, which I reviewed if you’d rather not take a chance on 62 minutes (I found it here, though, if you’d like to give it a look:

    He also appeared in an episode of ‘Seinfeld’, and the cast and crew were really kinda freaked out by him…and no, he was never asked back for a second episode.

    And Robert Wise is one of my favorites…he’s done a few cool noir, as well as other cool films from other genres as you mentioned. And I saw ‘Star Trek: TMP’ when it first came out, and didn’t care for it…then watched it again earlier this year, and really liked it…I watched both versions, and actually liked the original cut over the director’s cut (maybe because the original was on Blu-ray, and looked awesome, while the director’s was on DVD and looked…average).

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the allstar hit batsman Todd comes outta the dugout chewing gum. Swinging the bat at ghost balls as he warms up. Staring the pitcher straight in the eyes, he’s poised like a tiger. As the ball rockets towards him his bat is released like a powerful paw. POW. The noise is sweet as the bat kisses the ball in the perfect sweet spot as it travels out of the stadium. The crowd goes crazy.

      Just like these amazing comments Todd you scored a home run. 1st up great recommend and link too. I’ve fallen on that site before too. Russian Youtube? What a crazy title! “The Devil Thumbs a Ride” and an hour long too. Superb. Will watch very soon and then go look for your review.

      Haha I didn’t remember the Seinfeld episode. Reading the incident on wiki. Sounds like he did the part well and then through filming stuffed a butchers knife into his coat! WTF then did a Norman Bates impression. What a looney. LOL.

      I saw the film at the cinema when it came out as well. I was like 8 years old. I had no idea what Star Trek was, WTF was going on and why did I have a funny feeling in my pants every time the bald lady came on the screen!! Haha… I really love the film. Even love the pacing that most moan about. It’s kinda perfect for me.
      And what about the timing of your comment? Voyager just crossed into interstellar space! VGER will one day be FACT. Now that’s some amazing script-writing to add into a blockbuster a year or so after they had left Earth. That still fascinates me. I do have a big passion for sci-fi which helps I guess. 🙂


      • Ha, ‘when the bald lady came on the screen’…pal, I get a funny feeling in my pants every time I watch a movie! (Well, except for with ‘The Thing’, ‘My Dinner with Andre’, and ‘Lord of the Flies’).

        So you know about that Russian movie site as well…they do have some good old movies there, and they’re great prints, too. Let me know when you see ‘The Devil Thumbs a Ride’…it’s a fun one! And Tierney did quiet well in that Seinfeld episode…he was actually very funny, playing an over-serious curmudgeon.

        I hadn’t heard that about Voyager…very cool. And yeah, I’d heard so much about ST:TMP being so slow and boring…but I loved the pacing, too. It was telling a STORY, for chrissake! There doesn’t have to be a car chase (or Bird of Prey chase) at every turn!

        And thanks for my moment in the sun on the baseball diamond!


  2. I too was going to mention Seinfeld and the end result of not reappearing. He’s even in Murphy’s Law in a brief bit near the opening. Nice pick, been a long time since I’ve seen this one and as Miss Trevor, I do believe she was in Stagecoach, the film that made Duke an “A” list star. Wise also directed Karloff’s greatest performance in 1945’s The Body Snatcher. A must see.


  3. Excellent review of great noir that really lives up to the genre standards–even surpassing them. Everybody is so wicked! My criticism is that it’s a tad too bleak. Anyway, I didn’t realize how prolific and great Robert Wise was. I love the old directors who could and would direct anything of quality. Robert Wise was one of the greats. If you haven’t already, check out his I Want To Live! Wonderful, powerful and devastating movie staring the great Susan Hayward.
    Enjoyed it, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pam. You know what you are quite right, it’s extremely bleak. You kinda go with it but each new scene just twists another level on the depravity. It certainly pushes itself through the certificate as hard as it can. I have not heard of “I want to live” before and just from the title alone you know its gonna hit hard. I’ve been getting ready for a tough a 50s film so Pam I thank you in advance. Plus a great opportunity to tick another off the great Robert Wise filmography. Thank you

      Liked by 1 person

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