Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor
BORN TO KILL (1947). Director: Robert Wise.

In Reno for a divorce, Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) encounters Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney), an aptly-named sociopath who murders a rival for his girlfriend, Laurie's (Isabel Jewell), affections, and then kills her, too. Helen discovers the bodies but keeps mum about it so as not to upset high-toned fiance Fred Grover (Phillip Terry). Helen's foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long) is rolling in dough but Helen, the poor relation, sees Fred as her ticket into prosperity. But the animal magnetism of Mr. Wilde -- "most men are turnips, but you're not a turnip," she tells him -- upsets her equilibrium to such an extent that she covers for him no matter how disturbed she becomes over what she finds out about his true nature.

Esther Howard and Walter Slezak
Born to Kill is what might be called ferocious film noir. Once it starts it never lets up under Robert Wise's adroit and classy direction. Lawrence Tierney probably delivers the best performance of his career, and Claire Trevor nearly walks off with the movie with her sterling portrait of the psychologically damaged Helen Brent, who is terribly afraid that her association with Wilde will allow her to give full vent to her very worst instincts. Walter Slezak [Lifeboat] scores as the casually amoral private detective hired by landlady Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a friend of the late Laurie, to find her killer, while Howard herself offers a fascinating portrayal of the beer-tippling, likable, but rather off-putting old woman. Phillip Terry [The Lost Weekend] again proves that he was more than just one of Joan Crawford's exes, and Isabel Jewell and Tony Barrett (as her ill-fated date, Danny) are also notable. Although he seems artificial at first Elisha Cook Jr. makes a decidedly positive impression as Wilde's best friend, although a lot about him remains unexplored. Audrey Long is fine as the fairly superficial heiress who comes to marry Wilde.

Claire Trevor and Phillip Terry
The film is full of memorable sequences, such as the chilling and well-handled double murder of Laurie and Danny, and especially a great sequence when the feisty and tenacious Mrs. Kraft nearly meets her maker in an isolated sand dune. In general the film is taut and fast-paced and holds the attention throughout. I do have a couple of quibbles, however. The police do not make their presence known until the closing moments of the film, but surely there would have been an investigation into the aforementioned double murder, and surely Mr. Wilde would have been the chief suspect. The private eye is clued in to this but not the police? Another problem is that the ending to the film seems rushed and overly melodramatic. It also should be noted that Sam Wilde is also one of your dumber sociopaths; just the fact that he's so unconcerned over his actions and their repercussions makes this abundantly clear. Still, Born to Kill is an exciting and suspenseful picture with some unpredictable moments. The contributions of composer Paul Sawtell and cinematographer Robert de Grasse should also be noted. Both gentlemen also worked on Bodyguard, which also starred Lawrence Tierney.

Verdict: Memorable crime drama with some sensational performances. ***1/2. 


angelman66 said...

Nice! Another noir to put on my list. Claire Trevor in a Robert Wise production sounds amazing and your review makes it look like fun!
- Chris

William said...

Yes, yes, yes, -- I highly recommend this one as well. Can't believe I had never seen it before. Splendid cast, terrific movie.