A Movie A Day: BORN TO KILL (1947)
Life is very much like coffee. The aroma is always better than the actuality.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We follow the lovely Claire Trevor over from yesterday’s MURDER, MY SWEET to 1947’s BORN TO KILL where she stars opposite Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak and Elisha Cook Jr.
This is also an early film from Robert Wise who, four years later, hit us with an instrumental classic in the sci-fi genre THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. We have a few Wise flicks on the list, including tomorrow’s biggie, but I like setting in with a nice little noir number before singing in Technicolor with Julie Andrews.
If you ever doubted Lawrence Tierney was a badass then look no further than this RKO noir. As crazy brutal as Lee Marvin was in POINT BLANK a couple weeks back, Mr. Tierney’s Sam Wild from this film could go toe to toe with Lee Marvin’s Walker… okay, that sounds like an old age home showdown, but you know what I mean.
There’s a scene early on in this film where Tierney follows his sweetheart home… she’s trying to make him jealous by courting a sleazeball… Bad. Idea. Period. Tierney pops up in the kitchen and when he beats this guy, I’m not entirely sure he didn’t put him or his stunt man in the hospital.
You can tell fake hits… John Wayne stuff. But what I love about Marvin and Tierney is when they put a foot or a fist to some poor schmuck’s midsection you can read the Umph in the slump and tremble of that dude’s body.
Essentially, that sequence starts the story. Sam Wild isn’t so bright, but he’s unscrupulous, knows what he wants and has the looks to woo any dame he wants. He ends up killing his girlfriend and her would be suitor and runs from Reno to San Francisco.
Coincidentally, Claire Trevor’s Helen Trent ran into him earlier that evening while placing bets on the craps table. This was a wonderful scene as well, Wise giving us an introduction to these two characters completely without dialogue. At first she mimics Tierney’s bets, putting her money on the pass line (betting he’ll win). She makes money, he gives her the eye. She looks back. He lets it ride. She follows suit, but (never taking her eyes off of Tierney) pushes her stack to the Don’t Pass line (betting on him to lose).
Turns out Trevor is a roommate of Tierney’s obsession. She’s on her way North, fresh from a divorce, up to her already lined up replacement. On her way out she discovers the bodies left in Tierney’s wake.
But Trevor’s got a dark side to her. Maybe darker than anybody else in the film. She doesn’t tell the police and just leaves, having an idea it was Tierney. When she finds him on her same train she’s both attracted to a man as strong and dominant figure and not wanting to ruin the good thing she has going with her new rich fiancée.
Esther Howard plays the always drunk landlady and one of the more enjoyable characters of the tale. Ms. Howard was also in yesterday’s AMAD, playing a very, very similar character. She’s really impressing me with these performances… funny, drunken and cock-eyed. She adored her tenant, Laury Palmer (hrmm... think Lynch saw this movie?)... kind of lived vicariously through her. You get the impression that Laury was Howard's character about 40 years ago.
She hires a private dick to investigate the murders.
Now this is a very interesting twist and one of the reasons I love running these kinds of movies together in groups. You couldn't get any more different than Philip Marlowe with Walter Slezak's Detective Arnett. Slezak's chubby, he's poor and his moral compass doesn't always point north if you know what I mean. The line in the subhead comes from Slezak, who plays the role almost like a mastermind, seeing through each and every character and knowing where to be and where to not be depending on what the situation calls for. I looked him up on IMDb and was shocked to see that he killed himself in the early '80s, apparently very ill and wanting a way out.
At any rate, he's fantastic in the movie, a perfect opposite to the usual hard boiled gumshoe.
Also of note in a supporting role is the wonderful character actor Elisha Cook Jr. He had a very long career spanning everything from BLACULA to STAR TREK to HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL to THE MALTESE FALCON to ALF. He’s one of those faces you just instantly warm to when you see pop up in a film or TV show. Here he plays Tierney’s stooge, essentially, but the way Cook portrays the character there’s a heart and a couple of added dimensions to the archetype.
If you only know Lawrence Tierney for RESERVOIR DOGS you owe it to yourself to see some of his younger work. I have his debut gangster flick on the list, too, DILLINGER and I hear he’s outstanding there, too.
Damn fine movie with a quick pace and some very memorable characters.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Wednesday, June 25th: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
Thursday, June 26th: TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Friday, June 27th: THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958)
Saturday, June 28th: CALIGULA (1980)
Sunday, June 29th: THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Monday, June 30th: THE GOOD FATHER (1987)
Tuesday, July 1st: SHOCK TREATMENT (1981)
Tomorrow’s a biggie. We follow Wise over to one of his most famous films THE SOUND OF MUSIC. See you tomorrow for that one!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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June 24, 2008, 8:47 p.m. CST
Damn You MCMLXXVI
June 24, 2008, 10:03 p.m. CST
I would like to take a moment to apologize to you for yesterday. Yesterday I spoke with my emotions as someone who felt insulted by what I was seeing, instead of speaking with my mind. I didn't take the time to think about the true benefit of what you are doing. You are taking the time to expose yourself to the true gems of the cinema, and in doing so you are also letting others join in your discovery. You are setting an example, which I was slow to initially see but upon reflection, I can now appreciate. I took/takes courage to put yourself out there like that, and I realize now that instead of berating you, I should be encouraging you. Huzzah Quint Huzzah!
June 24, 2008, 11:14 p.m. CST
<br><br>ugh, good to see the usual talkback idiots finally discovered this section ;( <br><br> Born to Kill is one of those movies that the coincidences and lucky timings just felt too stretched to work. While the chance encounter or the "wrong place at the wrong time" is a staple of noir. this film over played its hand and was just a bit to forced imo.<br><br>The bumbling-naive act of the detective is an interesting twist for a noir, but I believe that arch-type is a standard for u.k. mysteries, no? Nonetheless it was an interesting role and made the movie fun, if not plausible.
June 25, 2008, 2:55 a.m. CST
by Det. John Kimble
June 25, 2008, 3:21 a.m. CST
Seriously dude: It's great that you are going through some of these movies...getting to know not only the classics, but the little known gems<p> You got me back to checking this site out once a day for your reviews. And now I may even join netflix to rent some of these movies. <p> Out of curiosity, what have you learned from these movies? For one, I began to notice how good some of the old time actors were. And how dark and deep some of these tales were<p> Are you going to throw in some foriegn films?
June 25, 2008, 8:10 a.m. CST
The guy edited Citizen kane, for Pete's sake. A legend, really.<p> My favourite Wise film is probably Somebody Up There Likes Me. It combines three of my favourite things: Wise, Newman and boxing. Good times.
June 25, 2008, 8:25 a.m. CST
I, too, appreciate the reviews!
June 25, 2008, 10:47 a.m. CST
Something like 80% of all films made before 1950's are pretty much lost due to film deterioration. <p> This includes a few Alfred Hitchcock films. <p> So most of early cinima is gone forever...perhaps only seen once by a film fanatic in the early days.
June 25, 2008, 11:35 a.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
TCM made a restored version out of photo stills with a new score, but seeing Lon Chaney as a vampire in the original Tod Browning film would have been spectacular.
June 25, 2008, 12:56 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
One of the most bizarre disasters of the 1980s. Fascinating in its senselessness.
June 25, 2008, 3:10 p.m. CST
in films and even writing, those noir films in those ways still superior using those nuances, this type of thing can never be topped with more explosions or gunfights etc. take texas chainsaw massacre original for example, it barely has any blood in that movie, it's mostly all implied and yet the use of atmosphere is relenting. another is writers, like lovecraft or mccarthy, their early works are really filled with description and wallowing in every detail and are wordy when their later works use brevity a lot, of course by then they developed an immense vocabulary to use just the right words, so they use less words and for the rest they use the help of the reader's own imagination, the most powerful thing ever. same thing for filmmakers who are skilled at doing this. mario bava for example almost always did his movie under budget, he didn't need anyything extra then what he set out to do, something which like george lucas totally botched in the prequels like filling the screen with so much overwhelming nonsense pretty much treating the viwer like an unimaginative imbecile.
June 25, 2008, 5:15 p.m. CST
No worries, man. It's a knee-jerk reaction whenever someone says they haven't seen something that you assume everybody has seen. I do it, too. "You' haven't seen WHAT?!?" But I'm glad you're seeing what I'm trying to do here.<BR><BR>Luke, what I'm gathering from watching these films... especially the 30s, 40s and 50s films is just how incredible the writing is. The delivery by great actors like Tierney, Dick Powell, Elisha Cook Jr., Clair Trevor, Monroe, etc. has a lot to do with it, but honestly, the writing is so damn sharp, defining the characters in a way that we just don't get these days. It can be argued that the way we do it now is more subtle and filmic (less stagey) but there is something to the art of noir and comedy writing from that era that is gone, maybe for good.<BR><BR>TomBodet, as for Claire Trevor I thought she was a little over the top in yesterday's Murder, My Sweet but she was spot on in this one. She brings an elegance and a coldness (at times) to her work, which is perfect for this film.
June 25, 2008, 8:50 p.m. CST
This is the best thing AICN has done in years. I hope this sets an example for Mori, Harry, and whoever else. We need more shit like this, and pronto.
July 5, 2008, 11:02 p.m. CST
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