Born to Kill
"Born to Kill" now on DVD was a classic and some say achetypal Film Noir movie Directed by Robert Wise who would go on to direct several other movies in the Film Noir genre. The notable cast included Claire Trevor who did so many Film Noir features that she became known as the "Queen of Film Noir" and the controversial Lawrence Tierny whose extensive film career included "Reservoir Dogs". "Born to Kill" DVD Plotline: Helen Brent (played by Claire Trevor) knows Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierny) is more than a social climber who married her wealthy foster sister. He's a remorseless killer. And yet she finds his brash confidence square-shouldered good looks and constant aura of menace completely irresistible. Versatile director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still The Sound of Music West Side Story) shows his film-noir chops with this dark gem whose mix of heiress sisters stone-hearted men needy hangers-on and inexplicable but inevitable love plays like a soap opera that refuses to wash itself clean. Walter Slezak portrays the verse-quoting shamus. And Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney portray the illicit lovers who play with fire - and burn their names forever into film-noir lore. But the "Born to Kill" DVD now and complete your Film Noir DVD collection!Running Time: 92 min.Format: DVD MOVIE Genre: DRAMA UPC: 053939724622
The seamiest entry in the mostly decorous filmography of director Robert Wise showcases B-movie bad boy Lawrence Tierney as a psychotic drifter who's irresistible to women ("His eyes run up and down ya like a searchlight!" breathes housemaid Ellen Colby, just about the only female he doesn't bother targeting). A number of people end up dead by his hand, but the kicker is that he crosses paths with a woman--socialite-divorcee Claire Trevor--just as heartless as he, and even more treacherous. The script makes less sense with each passing reel, but there are ripe character turns by Walter Slezak, as a philosophical private eye who operates out of a diner; Elisha Cook Jr., as Tierney's more level-headed partner (in what other company would Elisha Cook be playing the more level-headed lowlife?); and Esther Howard, as a hard-bitten old bat who keeps an ill-advised rendezvous in the most nightmarish nocturnal wasteland San Francisco had to offer. --Richard T. Jameson
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Directed by Robert Wise, this film gives us a frightening psychopathic killer, played by the talented but troubled Lawrence Tierney. Tierney is fantastic in this film in playing the epitome of a cruel and cold hearted womanizer who can murder people like we swat flies. Yet, believe it for not, he meets his match in a femme fatale from hell, played with relish by the pretty Claire Trevor in probably the most evil role of her career.
The DVD also offers an insightful commentary by Eddie Muller about the place of Born to Kill in the history of film noir in Hollywood. However, rather than buying the DVD alone, one could buy it along with four other excellent film noirs in Film Noir Collection Volume Two.
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The story starts in Reno, Nevada where Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) receives a divorce. She goes home to a boarding house and overhears a young woman named Laury discussing her love life with an older, drunken woman named Mrs Kraft. At one point, Laury tells Mrs. Kraft that she is going out with a different man tonight simply to make her steady boyfriend Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) jealous. Sam runs into the dating couple later that evening at a casino. Later that night Sam confronts Laury's date in the boardinghouse kitchen and a violent fight insues and Sam, in impressive fashion, kills the other man. Laury then comes in the kitchen and discovers the body and then Sam kills her. Shortly thereafter Helen returns home and finds the dead couple but for some reasons decides not to call the police and instead takes a train to San Francisco. Just by coincidence, Sam takes the same train and sits with her and this sets up a turbulent, yet fascinating relationship between the two for the rest of the movie.
I really enjoyed this movie for a number of reasons. First, the beautiful Claire Trevor plays a morally bankrupt golddigger, but does it with such superficial charm and grace. Second, there are some other memorable performances by Walter Slezak who plays an articulate, but morally depraved detective and Elisha Cook Jr. does a fine job as Sam's pint-sized sidekick. But most of all, Lawrence Tierney does a great job as the quintessential tough guy who knows what he wants and brazenly goes after it. He clearly displays raw acting talent, but his dead cold stares and his overtly blunt directness, is what makes him so perfect for this role.
For those of you who are not familiar with Lawrence Tierney, in the early '90s he played the leader of a crime gang in the movie Reservoir Dogs. But another memorable role worth mentioning was that he once played Elaine's tough, no-nonsense father on an episode of Seinfeld. According the commentary on the Seinfield DVD, Tierney scared the cast so badly that they never had him back on. Apparently Tierney stole a butcher knife from Jerry's TV kitchen and hid it under his jacket. When Seinfeld asked him about it, Tierney pulled out the knife and started making the Psycho slashing-violins sound. On the Born to Kill commentary, director Robert Wise mentions that Tierney was an intimidating tough guy in real life and was repeatedly arrested for getting in fights in bars. In fact, Wise mentions that they used a stunt double for Tierney in the fight scene, not because they were afraid that Tierney would get hurt - far from it; they were afraid that he couldn't restrain himself once the fight scene started.
The picture quality is near-immaculate. Traces of film wear are virtually nonexistent. The sound is satisfactory. The DVD bonus features include commentary from noir expert and author Eddie Muller plus some audio sound bites from director Robert Wise.
PLEASE NOTE: Before buying this DVD, consider buying the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 which contains this movie plus four other highly recommended movies at a very reasonable price.
DVD Quality: A
Trevor and Tierney play two very twisted individuals in Robert Wise's 1947 BORN TO KILL, whose original title, "Deadlier Than the Male," indicates where the serious weirdness is concentrated. Wise decision. Trevor's role, that of a good woman drawn to a very bad man, is the most complex part in the movie and she's utterly convincing. Her co-star, Tierney, is a whole other kettle of fish. On the commentary track film noir author Eddie Muller tells us this was Tierney's shot at `A' films after his smash hit in 1945's `B' film "Dillinger." BORN TO KILL comes bundled in a set of films that includes "Dillinger" and he essentially plays the same character here. With his George Raft-ian vocal inflections, flaring nostrils, and perpetual scowl Tierney is intimidating enough, but Tierney was a legendary bad-boy off-screen and I'm not sure whether the one-note tough guy acts were conscious decisions or simply an extension of his personality. As it is, beyond his intensity and ways with a knife or a cudgel he's not much less bland than the Good Half-Sister (Audrey Long) and the Good Fiancé Phillip Terry (probably most famous as Mr. Joan Crawford #4.)
If Trevor has to carry the main plot on her capable shoulders without a whole lot of help from her other top-of-the-billers, the under-cast is wonderful. The great Elisha Cook Jr. plays Tierney's prison buddy and nervous guardian, somewhat analogous to a chihuahua guarding a rottweiler that's just caught the first whiff of the scent of innocent blood. Walter Slezak plays the slightly sleazy private investigator hired by the loud, beer-loving, frumpy Esther Howard to investigate the murder of her friend in Reno. Esther Howard steals the movie, although Cook and Slezak give her a run for her money. Trevor makes it all worthwhile.
Although flawed and transparent in some spots, BORN TO KILL is immensely entertaining. While I was aware, before "Dillinger" and BORN TO KILL, of Lawrence Tierney and how his self-destructive behavior derailed a promising career, I thought he was wooden in both films. He certainly could project cold-blooded ruthlessness, though, and for this movie that's good enough. A very strong recommendation for this one.
That man does other people wrong, too, because, after all, he is born to kill. There seems to be no other reason for his rampant killing, which is what attracts Trevor (kinky), even after he marries her rich sister. By the time she is Wised up, it's too late for them to escape the cross-purposes of their passions; these people are so hard boiled they could roll unhurt down Nob Hill. For them, it is clear, everything will end badly. We would be cheated if it didn't. Film noir forbids happy endings.
Its sister heiresses (one a beauty, the other a deviant schemer) are right out of "The Big sleep." Walter Slezak as the portly private eye and Esther Howard as the blousy old dame who hires him are amusing. It's fun to be in wartime San Francisco, even when the editing confuses familiar locales (city dwellers will scratch their heads.) You see a movie like this to go slumming through messy lives and feeling superior to them. Plenty of opportunity to do that in "Born to Kill."
Warners DVD boasts a fine transfer and an excellent audio commentary by Eddie Muller that includes some outrageous Tierney stories for good measure. Highly recommended, and how!
In Reno to get a quickie divorce, Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) stumbles upon 2 bodies in the kitchen of her boarding house. Instead of calling the police, she decides to return to San Francisco immediately to avoid publicity. On the train, Helen keeps the company of Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), a tough drifter to whom she finds herself attracted. Helen knows that Sam was the beau of the murdered woman in the kitchen, but she is unaware that Sam was her murderer. Sam is leaving town on the advice of his friend Mart (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who stays behind to keep abreast of the murder investigation. In San Francisco, Sam discovers that Helen is engaged to be married, so he sets his sights on Helen's rich foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long). But Helen and Sam's mutual infatuation, his compulsive violence, and a dogged private detective (Walter Slezak) threaten their plans.
"Born to Kill" was a big-budget noir with high-power stars and box office success in 1947. The sparks that fly between Sam and Helen were more than worth the price of admission. These two people are compelled by a perverse and inexplicable infatuation to destroy the security, the money, the freedom that they want so desperately. Helen and Sam may hate as much as desire one another, but they are two of a kind: deliberate, ruthless, ambitious, and somehow innately corrupt. Watching them dance around one another and go at each other is at once incomprehensible and completely fascinating. Sam is a rare "homme fatal" in classic film noir, suitably embodied by bad boy Lawrence Tierney. Claire Trevor looks stylish in her most complex noir role. "Born to Kill" is a real treat for film noir fans.
The DVD (Turner Home Enter. 2005): There is a good audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller, with some archival commentary by director Robert Wise that is barely audible. Wise talks about his experiences at RKO and with this film. Muller provides information on the actors, analysis of characters, scene-by-scene analysis of staging, tone, themes, and takes us through the stages of "amour fou" noir. Muller has interviewed both Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney, so he gives us the benefit of their recollections as well. Muller's story about "babysitting" Tierney at a screening of "Born to Kill" in 1999 is priceless. Subtitles are available for the film in English, French, and Spanish.