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Born to Kill – 1947 Wise
- After editing Citizen Kane in 1941 this was already Robert Wise’s sixth film as director (or co-director) and the genre master had already worked in horror and a courtroom crime drama—so it was time to add noir to the resume with Born to Kill– and this is a memorable one.
- This is an RKO film with some opening sequences shot (mostly establishing shots) in Reno.
- This is a great early turn for Lawrence Tierney. Tierney (best known probably as Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs) plays Sam—a man with an uncontrollable rage stemming from jealousy that turns him into a serial killer of sorts. Tierney clearly has a screen presence about him- so it is a shame he did not have a better career. Claire Trevor (plays Dallas in Stagecoach and is excellent in Key Largo just one year later in 1948) plays Helen- and Helen is just about as self-serving and loathsome as Sam is in her own way. The film includes a nice detective layer (played by Walter Slezak) and he is pretty wretched himself, too. The supporting cast includes the “pug ugly” and always reliable Elisha Cook Jr. as Sam’s buddy and a great scene-stealing Esther Howard as Mrs. Kraft. Mrs. Kraft guzzles beer, laughs, and is a tough old broad—you could see Thelma Ritter in this role- though Howard is superb.
- Wise’s greatest piece of cinema style is at the 32-minute mark (above) as he slowly lowers the camera onto Tierney while Tierney’s Sam is laying on the bed on the phone. The camera creeps closer and closer as he reveals his evil plan (and evil self). Not long after (at the 35-minute mark) at a wedding Wise clearly cares about how carefully arranged the composition is, too.
- Sam “goes around killing people whenever the motion strikes him” and he is a great noir character. He says, “I don’t like gambling, I like having the say so myself” and “your roots are down where mine are” when he finds Trevor’s character vile like him. It is Howard who gets the most famous line in the film—talking to Trevor’s character, “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.”- This is great pulp, noir dialogue.
- He could easily pass for a football player with his frame, but I laughed at how often different characters in the film remarked about how handsome Tierney was- he is called an attractive man a half dozen times at least.
- Recommend but not quite in the top 10 of 1947