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.
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
Tagline – RELENTLESS SUSPENSE!
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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