Format: Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing: Unknown. At least 3rd.
Director: Robert Wise
Some time ago, when I was first exploring noir, Born to Kill (1947) was included in one of the box sets I picked up to try and learn more about the genre. Honestly, if I wanted to blow the doors off the expectations I think a *lot* of people have about Hayes Code-era film, this is the movie I'd show them.
Our leads are a psychopath and sociopath, divorce(!), a brutal murder, one of our most virtuous characters is a lush, and a PI who is mostly there as an equal-opportunity grifter. Heck, there's an Elisha Cook Jr. lurking around for good measure. It's a dark, nasty little film with no POV hero - just characters who cross paths and feel a mutual appreciation and attraction, even as they're connection is going to burn them both out.
This was the movie that showed me what films of the era were really capable of when it came to stepping into the shadows. You might get sexy obsession in penty of other films, but there was always an obvious line that the characters crossed that was going to be their downfall, the thing that made you want to do the equivalent of "don't go in the basement!" as our protagonist decides to risk it for a nice set of legs or a smokey voice. Born to Kill doesn't bother with all that - these characters were going to hell, anyway. They're just speeding each other along.
Starring Claire Trevor - someone I flat out did NOT appreciate enough for several years but whom I've come back around to and adore - and the notorious Lawrence Tierney as our leads, we've got a pair with some amazing presence. Tierney's low-key menace and chiseled jaw works phenomenally well as the handsome psychopath who attracts women, but becaomes infuriated at the slightest hint of slight. Trevor manages to find a delicate balance - we know she's play-acting to certain parties, and we know better to buy it, but it's absolutely seemingly sincere.
Other players include Walter Slezak as the PI of iffy moral character, Elisha Cook Jr. as a longtime friend of Tierney's who's been maybe the only force on Earth keeping him in check. Audrey Long is Trevor's wealthy but naive foster-sister with a fortune. And, notably, Esther Howard plays a rooming house owner with more heart than you'd figure.
There is a character who is murdered with the name "Laury Palmer", and much of the mystery for the other characters is who killed Laury Palmer - and I can't help but think Lynch was winking at this character with Twin Peaks, til it was, you know, magic dream goblins or what have you.
Anyway - "wow, this things DARK" is not really much of a selling point, I suppose, but the execution of the movie, the performances and the winding story are all masterfully handled by director Robert Wise (yes, the man who brought you films as diverse as The Set-Up, The Haunting, The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture).
But if you want to see what Hollywood could pull off (and Claire Trevor plotting in some excellent outfits), highly recommended.