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Born to Kill

Claire Trevor , Lawrence Tierney , Robert Wise    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 39.88
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Amazon.ca

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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By Moodywoody TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Born to Kill is one of the first film noir movies that I viewed that made me fall in love with the genre. In my opinion, it is one of the best film noirs ever made. This film is so good on so many levels. It is a polished film that gives the viewer everything you could want from a film noir: great lighting and direction; great performances; an evil and murderous anti-hero; a great femme fatale; betrayal; sexual tension; and a wonderful film noir ending.

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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Format:DVD
I thought this movie was dark story, because the movie had a dark look and feal to it. The script and direction is sharp. The acting in this movie was great to watch in this movie. I thought all the actors did well in this story, because they were beleivable to me. Robert Wise knew what to express to his audience watching his movie. The movie is restored to top form, the dvd is top notch, and a great movie to watch.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brutally fun movie! This is what happens when two sociopaths collide! July 29 2005
By Daniel C. Markel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This review is for the 2005 Warner Brothers DVD.

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.

Movie: A

DVD Quality: A
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your roots are down where mine are Sept. 28 2005
By Steven Hellerstedt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
While in Reno for a quickie divorce ambitious socialite Claire Trevor meets ambitious thug Lawrence Tierney. The next day, by coincidence, they board the same train for San Francisco. By the time they arrive at the city by the bay they are warily falling for each other. What Claire doesn't know yet is that Tierney was the one who murdered the man and woman she stumbled over the night before.

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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wise to Their Ways July 6 2005
By Vince Perrin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
No director has ventured further into more genres than Robert Wise. Here the man who made, of all movies, "The Sound of Music" tackles its polar opposite, the small, smoky, searing melodrama of betrayal that is film noir. In "Born to Kill," available singly but part of a second DVD boxed set, Wise steers a steady stylistic course while at the same time driving in reverse. Based on the book "Deadlier Than the Male" and set in San Francisco, the movie focuses on its femme fatale (a classy Claire Trevor) rather than on the man (a stony Lawrence Tierney) who does her wrong.

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."
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darker and more perverse than you can possibly imagine! Oct. 29 2006
By Trevor Willsmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The oft-wasted (in both senses of the word) Lawrence Tierney is seen to much better effect than usual in Born to Kill, truly one of the most perverse noir romances of all time. The two leads aren't ill-starred lovers or victims of fate, they're born bad and they know it - indeed, nothing gets them hotter than talking about dead bodies. There is a rather worrying subtext that this is down to their lower-class birth, but you get the impression even if they had been born in high society that these two would have shown up the Borgias for the amateurs they were. At times it's hard to tell who is the more ruthless, Tierney's calculating but none-too-bright bull-headed murderous thug or Claire Trevor's magpie in the nest, who may not actually kill but probably does far worse - as Esther Howard says, she carries her own curse inside of her. There's great support from Elisha Cook ("I'm a baaad boy!") and, especially, Walter Slezak, superb as the wistfully philosophical private detective on their trail, open to the best offer going from either side but still not the stereotyped corrupt P.I. you expect from the genre, and refreshingly he isn't given the fate you expect either thanks to a constantly unexpected script by Eve Greene and Richard Macaulay. The tarnished, slightly grubby conscience of a film noir like no other, he's the closest thing Robert Wise's superb movie has to a hero.

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!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clash of the Wicked. Dec 3 2006
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
"Born to Kill" is probably the second-greatest film noir on the "amour fou" motif, next to 1949's "Gun Crazy". Two lovers' irrational infatuation lead them to depravity, madness, and eventual self-destruction. "Born to Kill" is not as persistent in its sexualization of violence as "Gun Crazy", but it's there. Based on the novel "Deadlier than the Male" by James Gunn, this is outwardly a twisted melodrama. Robert Wise directed the film with his characteristic decorum, which disappointed some European critics who would have preferred a more explicit exploration of the film's psychological and sexual aberration. The production code would not have allowed that, but I still find "Born to Kill" one of the darkest and most satisfying film noirs.

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.
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