Sunday, November 07, 2010

Born To Kill. 1947

Made in 1947 by Robert Wise before he got all epic gooey and sweet, this is a B noir that is almost an A. It tidders on the edge of being a really terrific film because of the lack of energy in the second part of the film. But the first half it is pretty slinky and low down. And how could it not be otherwise with Lawrence Tierney in the lead playing his usual sexy psychopath. The film opens in Reno where deep dish dame Claire Trevor is getting a divorcee and staying in the rundown boarding house run by the great Esther Howard, (more about her later). Also laying about is the equally wonderful Isabel Jewell wounded character actress par excellence. The pot is stirring and soon there is a double homicide which sets the rest of the movie in motion. Trevor who accidentally comes across the bodies of this double murder decides to do nothing except get her ass out of Reno asap and get back home to San Francisco, which she does and is soon picked up by Tierney at the Railroad station. They’re both on the make, you can see it in their eyes and body language, and soon enough after some mid forties sexual banter in the late Art Deco lounge car of the train, Tierney pays Claire an unannounced visit. Poor but living in San Francisco in high style thanks to her rich single pretty foster sister played by Audrey Long. Claire has her legs around the dull but very rich Philip Terry who she is engaged to marry, even though she doesn’t love him. Claire’s knees start getting wobbly and drooly just looking at Tierney, and soon Tierney is making woo woo eyes at her sister Audrey, and before you know it they are at the alter as a jealous Claire looks on. Tierney is bad and Claire knows this, but this doesn’t stop her from having an implied sex a thon with him even though he’s married to her sister. Claire is also very bad. There are lots of complications including an investigation into the two murders by cheap detective Walter Slezak hired by the blowsy friend of one of the victims played by Esther Howard who is superb. A favorite of Preston Sturges, Howard usually played down on their luck dames or zany characters. Here she is both and really delivers the goods especially in the scene where she is lured to a secluded beach. Also lurking about is the always wonderful Elisha Cook Jr. as a very close and dangerous friend of Tierney’s whose feelings for him might be construed as more than just friends. Check out the scene of them lying together on a bed. Dark and jabbing, this film must have been outrageous and shocking to audiences at the time, and it still has the power to shock. Based on the novel “Deadlier Than The Male by James Gunn and with perfect Noir cinematography by Robert De Grasse who photographed a wide range of films including some Astaire and Rogers musicals and several Val Lewton movies.


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