Blues On The Downbeat: ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (United Artists 1959)


Desperate men commit desperate acts, and the three protagonists of ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW are desperate indeed in this late entry in the film noir cycle. This is a powerful film that adds social commentary to the usual crime and it’s consequences plot by tainting one of the protagonists with the brush of racism. Robert Wise, who sharpened his skills in the RKO editing room, directs the film in a neo-realistic style, leaving the studio confines for the most part behind, and the result is a starkly lit film where the shadows of noir only dominate at night.

But more on Wise later… first, let’s meet our three anti-heroes. We see Earle Slater (Robert Ryan ) walking down a New York street bathed in an eerie white glow (Wise used infra-red film to achieve the effect). Slater’s a fish out of water, a transplanted Southerner drifted North, a loser and loose cannon with a criminal record and no prospects of work. He’s also an unapologetic racist, as we learn when he calls a young black child he meets on the street “you little pickaninny”.

Slater is on his way to meet Dave Burke (Ed Begley ), an ex-cop thrown off the force in a scandal. Burke seems like a kindly older gentleman, living alone with his faithful German Shepard, but harbors much bitterness inside. Burke was connected to Slater through a mutual acquaintance, and has a proposition for him, a fool-proof bank robbery that will net Slater fifty thousand dollars.

The third member of this group is Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte, whose company produced the film). Johnny’s a jazz singer and vibraphonist, “a bonepicker in a four man graveyard”, divorced and heavily in gambling debt to gangster Bacco (Will Kuluva). Johnny’s also given the proposition by Burke, but at first turns it down as being a sucker’s play.

But when Burke asks Bacco to apply the pressure, including having his goons stalk Johnny and his daughter at the park, Johnny accepts the deal. The three men meet and plan the heist, and Slater throws a fly in the ointment by refusing to work with a black man. Johnny’s race is integral to making the scheme a success, and Slater is desperate to prove his manhood and stop living off his girlfriend (Shelley Winters ), so he reluctantly agrees. The trio take a trip upstate to a small town (filmed partially in Hudson, NY), where things definitely do not go as planned, and a slam-bang ending that will remind you of WHITE HEAT .

The three stars shine brightly, with Ryan particularly effective as the  violent, racist Slater. Belafonte has an amazing presence,which the singer didn’t get a chance to exhibit onscreen often enough; his character is a bit of a racist himself, berating his ex-wife (Kim Hamilton) for associating with her “ofay” PTA friends, but still manages to gain the audience’s sympathy. Begley was a fine actor in many classic films (PATTERNS, 12 ANGRY MEN) who’d win an Oscar three years later for SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. Shelley Winters’ role is small but pivotal in understanding Ryan’s character. Even smaller, but just as effective, is Gloria Grahame’s role as their across-the-hall neighbor. Also in the cast is Richard Bright making his film debut as one of Kuluva’s hoods; he’d later play the murderous Al Neri in THE GODFATHER movies. Others making their film debuts are Wayne Rogers (M*A*S*H’s Trapper John), Zohra Lampert (LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH), and Mel Stewart (SCARECROW AND MRS. KING). Cicely Tyson appears in her second film as a bartender.

Director Robert Wise

Wise was no stranger to film noir, having made such classics as BORN TO KILL , THE SET-UP , HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL, and THE CAPTIVE CITY. While those films are all shadows and darkness, Wise shot much of this movie in the bright sunlight, until the darkness takes over during the robbery. Robert Wise was one of those directors that could handle any genre, from horror (THE BODY SNATCHER , THE HAUNTING ) to westerns (BLOOD ON THE MOON, TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN), sci-fi (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) to drama (EXECUTIVE SUITE, I WANT TO LIVE!), war movies (RUN SILENT RUN DEEP, THE SAND PEBBLES) to epic musicals (WEST SIDE STORY, THE SOUND OF MUSIC), and handle them all superbly. Refusing to be pigeonholed, Robert Wise’s body of work is one of the most impressive in Hollywood history.

The soundtrack for ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW was composed by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. When you hear it, you’re hearing the some of the best jazz had to offer: Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Bill Evans, Connie Kay, and other greats of the era. The movie’s downbeat ending will leave you breathless and thinking, like all great films do. It’s a film ahead of its time, still relevant and maintaining its power today.

Halloween Havoc!: THE HAUNTING (MGM 1963)

“No one will come in the night… in the dark!”

haunting1

There’s nothing like a good haunted house movie, and 1963’s THE HAUNTING is one of the best ever. Producer/director Robert Wise cut his filmic teeth on Val Lewton shockers like THE BODY SNATCHER  and noirs such as BORN TO KILL  before graduating to mainstream movies like I WANT TO LIVE! and WEST SIDE STORY. In THE HAUNTING he returns to his dark roots to create a nightmarish vision of Shirley Jackson’s eerie novel The Haunting of Hill House.

haunting2

“Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide” have plagued Hill House for close to 100 years. The cursed Crain family were its original inhabitants, designed by eccentric Hugh Crain. The house is a darkly foreboding Gothic structure with oddly tilted angles both inside and out. Dr. John Markham, a paranormal investigator, visits proper Bostonian matron Mrs. Sanderson, the house’s current owner, asking to take a lease on Hill House to conduct his research. She consents but only if her nephew Luke, a callow young slacker, accompanies him.

haunting3

Markham puts together a team that includes Theodora (“Just Theodora.”), a beautiful bohemian with ESP, and Eleanor ‘Nell’ Lance, a fragile recluse who’s had ghostly experiences in the past. Markham believes Hill House is a gateway to the supernatural, though skeptical Luke is only interested in what the house will bring on the market. It’s implied (though not overtly stated, this being 1963) Theodora is a lesbian or bisexual with an attraction to Nell. This subplot is well handled by Wise, with Nell becoming more attracted to Markham as the film goes on, much to Theodora’s annoyance.

haunting4

Nell and Theo are the first to experience supernatural activity, hearing a constant pounding, groans, heavy breathing, and feeling a terrible coldness. Markham and Luke return from chasing what they assume was “a dog” when they encounter the frightened girls. The quartet goes downstairs, and all doubts are erased: a message is written on the wall saying, “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME”.

The following day a ‘cold spot’ is discovered in front of the nursery, where Abigail Crain lived from birth to death. Nell is beginning to doubt her sanity, and relying more and more on Markham. Her hopes are dashed when the doctor’s wife Grace arrives with news that reporters are asking about what he’s doing at Hill House. Grace insists on staying with them, and in the nursery to boot, despite her husbands protestations. That night, they hear the disembodied noises creeping closer and closer to the nursery. Nell runs into the room only to find Grace has vanished.

haunting5

Nell is becoming more unstable with each passing minute. We see her alone in front of the grotesque statuary dancing with (what she believes is) the ghost of Hugh Crain. Seeming to be possessed by the house itself, she climbs the rickety spiral staircase where a suicide once took place. Markham goes up to try to save her, but not before Nell is horrified when Grace pops out from a trapdoor above her. Nell’s mental state convinces Markham to send her away from Hill House, but she insists she belongs there. “I’m the one it really wants, can’t you feel it?”, she tells the doctor. “It’s alive, watching, waiting… waiting for me”. She reluctantly drives away from the house- but never leaves, in a truly frightening ending I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it.

haunting6

Julie Harris (Nell) was one of the most acclaimed actresses of the 20th Century, winner of five Tony Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, the Kennedy Center Honor, and Oscar-nominated for MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. Her Nell has a tenuous relationship with reality at best, as we find out through her interior monologues. Harris has a broken quality to her that makes the audience care despite her seeming descent into madness. She can also be seen in the films EAST OF EDEN with James Dean, I AM A CAMERA (which was later turned into the musical CABARET), Rod Serling’s REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, and THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR.

haunting7

Clair Bloom (Theo) is also outstanding in a tricky role for the era. Dressed in pop designer Mary Quant’s outfits to emphasize her bohemian status, Bloom shows great restraint in creating a portrait of a woman outside the mainstream.  When Nell calls Theo “one of nature’s mistakes”, she’s more than likely talking about her sexuality rather than her clairvoyant powers. Bloom was another stage star, who made her film debut in Charlie Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT. Other movie roles include LOOK BACK IN ANGER, Laurence Olivier’s RICHARD III, and Ray Bradbury’s THE ILLUSTRATED MAN with then-husband Rod Steiger. More recently she appeared in THE KING’S ENGLISH; the 85-year-old actress will be featured in the upcoming MAX ROSE, co-starring with screen legend Jerry Lewis.

haunting8

Richard Johnson (Markham) once turned down the role of 007 James Bond. THE HAUNTING is perhaps his best known film role, but genre fans will recognize him from THE MONSTER CLUB and Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE. Russ Tamblyn (Luke) was a former child actor who starred in Wise’s WEST SIDE STORY. He later popped up in the cult TV series TWIN PEAKS. Lois Maxwell, 007’s Miss Moneypenny, plays Markham’s wife Grace. Behind the cameras, DP Davis Boulton’s shadowplay is reminiscent of Wise’s early RKO work, editor Ernest Walter puts things together smoothly, Humphrey Searle’s score is appropriately eerie, and Tom Howard’s special effects are spot on. Special note must be made to the sound department, again evoking the Val Lewton films, down to the overlapping dialog. THE HAUNTING was remade in 1999, and despite technological advances was a critical and box office dud. Just goes to show when it comes to haunted houses, the old ways are always best, especially when they’re in the hands of a master craftsman like Robert Wise. Those of you who haven’t seen this classic need to put it on your Halloween watch list this season. You won’t be disappointed… but I guarantee you WILL be frightened!

 

Bloody Pulp Fiction: THE SET-UP (RKO 1949)

setup1

The seedy worlds of professional boxing and film noir were made for each other. Both are filled with corruption, crime, and desperate characters trapped in situations beyond their control.  Movies like CHAMPION, BODY AND SOUL, and THE HARDER THEY FALL expose the dark underbelly of pugilism. One of the best of this sub-genre is THE SET-UP, Robert Wise’s last film for RKO studios. He doesn’t fail to deliver the goods, directing a noir that packs a wallop!

THE SET-UP follows one night in the life of aging, washed up fighter Stoker Thompson ( Robert Ryan ). Stoker’s 35 now, ancient in boxing terms, but still has delusions of making the big time. Wife Julie (Audrey Totter ) is tired of going from one tank town to the next, and fears for Stoker’s safety. She refuses to go to tonight’s fight, a matchup with up and coming young contender Tiger Nelson. Julie, unlike Stoker, knows the man is running out of time.

setup2

Time plays an important role in this movie, as the script is laid out in real-time, three years prior to the Oscar-winning HIGH NOON. The clock in Paradise City’s town square looms large in the film’s beginning (9:05) and end (10:16). Clocks pop up frequently throughout the movie, letting us know, as Julie already does, that Stoker’s time is running out. Wise’s brisk direction keeps the 72 minute film marching towards Stoker’s inevitable date with destiny.

Stoker’s manager Tiny (George Tobias) and trainer Red (Percy Helton) have made a deal with crooked gambler Big Boy (Alan Baxter) for Stoker to lose in the third round. But they don’t tell Stoker because they assume the bum will lose anyway, and why split the dough three ways? But they fail to realize the fighter in him, angry his wife hasn’t shown up and determined to prove himself worthy, won’t allow him to do anything but his best.

setup3

The locker room is filled with fighters on their way up and down. Young Shanley (Daryl Hickman) is a bundle of nerves before his first professional bout. Cocky Danny (Edwin Max) lives for wine, women, and song, while devout Tony (Phillip Pine) depends on a Higher Power. Black fighter Luther (James Edwards) has big dreams ahead, but punchy Gunboat (David Clarke) has taken one too many blows to the head. The locker room is held together by cynical Gus ( Wallace Ford ) who’s seen ’em come and go, and knows that no one here gets out alive.

setup4

The main event between Stoker and Tiger Nelson is well choreographed by ex-welterweight Johnny Indrisano, a stuntman and bit player (GUYS & DOLLS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, JAILHOUSE ROCK ). The bout is intense and realistic, with Wise using three cameras to capture the brutality. DP Milton Krasner’s use of shadows and light should’ve been Oscar nominated, but wasn’t (Paul Vogel won B&W cinematography that year for BATTLEGROUND). Editor Roland Gross ( THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD ) intersperses the action with shots of the bloodthirsty crowd, including a fat man who keeps stuffing his face, a blind spectator and his pal who interprets the carnage, a young couple, an older couple (the husband seems appalled at his wife’s blood lust), and a gentleman trying to watch the fight and listen to the ballgame on his transistor radio.

Tiny and Red finally tell Stoker to lay down, but the proud fighter is determined to prove himself one more time, and winds up knocking Tiger out. This doesn’t sit well with Big Boy, who just lost a bundle. The gambler, Nelson, and his people confront Stoker in the locker room. He tells them the truth, he didn’t know the fix was in. Tiny and Red have taken a powder, and now Stoker is truly alone. He attempts to leave through the arena, which is locked, and has no recourse than to head out through the alley, where Big Boy and his crew await. He valiantly fights back, but the odds are against him once again, and he’s held down as Big Boy crushes his hand with a brick. Julie sees her husband stagger out of the alley through their hotel window and rushes to him. Bloodied but unbowed, his meal ticket hand ruined, Stoker tells his wife “They wanted me to lay down… I took that kid… I can’t fight no more”. “I won tonight. I won”, he says, and Julie tells him “We both won tonight”, as the camera pulls back to show the town square clock, signaling time has finally run out for Stoker Thompson.

su

The powerhouse script is  by ex-sportswriter Art Cohn, who died in the same 1958 plane crash as producer Mike Todd. It’s based on a poem by Joseph Moncure Marsh, with the protagonist changed from a black man to white due to the unsteady race relations of the era (RKO didn’t think a film starring a black boxer would sell in the segregated South). The casting of James Edwards (HOME OF THE BRAVE) was a crumb tossed to black audiences. Even with the change of race, THE SET-UP is still one of the best boxing films in film noir, and holds up well today. Special mention should be made to the use of sound in the movie, with Phil Brigandi and Clem Portman’s work outstanding. Plenty of Familiar Faces show up, like Herbert Anderson, Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowski of THE BOWERY BOYS series), Donald Kerr ( THE DEVIL BAT ), Tommy Noonan , Charles Wagenheim, and Constance Worth. Famed New York crime photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig has a cameo as the timekeeper.

THE SET-UP is downbeat as all hell, but that’s what makes a good noir, a glimpse into the dark side of life. With its squalid boxing milieu and shady cast of characters, this is one movie fans of the genre will not want to miss.

setup6

 

 

Long Live The King!: Boris Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER (RKO 1945)

bodysnatch1

William Henry Pratt, known to horror lovers as Boris Karloff, was born on November 23, 1887. He toiled for years on stage and in small film roles until being cast as The Monster in 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN. Karloff became an overnight success at age 44, and starred in some of the era’s most memorable fright films (The Mummy, THE BLACK CAT, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). After conquering Broadway in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (in a role tailor made for him), he triumphantly returned to Hollywood and signed a three-picture deal with producer Val Lewton at RKO. Lewton was making intelligent, subtle horror films and Karloff had taken notice. Their first together, THE BODY SNATCHER, was not only their best, but one of the genre’s best, a masterpiece’s of Lewton’s brand of quiet terror.

bodysnatch2

Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, THE BODY SNATCHER is set in 1831 Edinburgh, Scotland. Karloff plays Cabman Gray, who drives a carriage by day and robs graves by night, selling the bodies to anatomist Dr. MacFarlane. The two are old acquaintances, and Gray holds a dark secret over the doctor. He delights in torturing MacFarlane verbally, calling him by the nickname ‘Toddy’, mocking him at every turn, claiming “You’ll never be rid of me”. When we first meet Gray, he’s dropping off a crippled young girl and her mother to MacFarlane’s home. The cabman is sweet and kind to the poor child, but then we see him at night in the graveyard, smashing a barking dog’s head in as he digs up a fresh body to sell. Gray is in turn charming and chilling, not above committing murder to provide ‘specimens’ to MacFarlane, against the doctor’s wishes. This dichotomy is what sets Gray from being just a stereotypical boogeyman. It’s a fascinating performance, and of all Karloff’s roles, I think this is his best.

bodysnatch3

MacFarlane is a brilliant doctor, but cold as a mackerel. The crippled girl could be cured by an operation, but MacFarlane refuses, saying his duties at his medical school are more important. It’s only when Gray goads him into performing the operation that he consents. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for the doctor, especially after we learn he was assistant to the notorious Dr. Knox, who worked with the murderous ‘resurrectionists’  Burke and Hare. Gray once took the rap for MacFarlane, and won’t for a second let him forget it. MacFarlane has an assistant of his own, the student Fettes, who’s uncomfortable with accepting bodies from the odious Gray. When a blind street singer’s body is brought in, Fettes realizes she was murdered by Gray. But Fettes signed for the body, and could now be considered an accomplice to the gruesome scheme.

THE BODY SNATCHER is also memorable as the last pairing of Karloff and fellow horror icon Bela Lugosi. While Boris became the toast of Broadway, Bela had fallen on hard times, appearing in a series of no-budget shockers at Poverty Row Monogram Studios. His role as the blackmailing Joseph was small but pivotal to the film. Gray smiles while paying the dimwitted Joseph off, then proposes they become partners in crime. My words can’t possibly do the scene justice, so here’s the last shared screen time of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi:

When MacFarlane discovers Joseph’s body in a vat of brine, he’s finally had enough. Confronting Gray at his home, the two engage in a fight in which the doctor kills the cabman. He then brings the body home and dissects it for the student’s use. He travels to another town to sell Gray’s horse and carriage, thus believing he’s finally rid of the sadistic graverobber. Fettes comes into the tavern and tells MacFarlane the little girl is now walking. The two then do their own graverobbing, and return to Edinburgh in a blinding rainstorm. But MacFarlane keeps hearing Gray’s voice mockingly calling, “Toddy….Toddy”. He hears Gray’s voice in rhythm with the clip-clop of the hoofs, :Ne-ver get rid-of me, ne-ver get rid-of me”.  He stops the carriage and has Fettes get out to light a lamp. MacFarlane takes a look at the corpse and sees Gray. His scream causes the horse to  wildly take off, Gray’s corpse bobbing alongside the doctor. The carriage goes off a cliff, killing MacFarlane. Fettes looks at the corpse, but sees only a dead woman. It was all in MacFarlane’s mind, Gray haunting him til the end.

bodysnatch5

THE BODY SNATCHER is an early directorial effort from Robert Wise, who went on to helm blockbusters like WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Wise never forgot his horror roots though, with the ghost stories THE HAUNTING and AUDREY ROSE also on his resume. The art and set direction evoke the time period, and Robert DeGrasse’s cinematography is dark and moody as the best noir. Roy Webb adds a haunting score peppered with Scottish folk songs. The entire crew deserves a round of applause for contributing to this eerie film.

bodysnatch6

Dr. MacFarlane is played by Henry Daniell, one of the screen’s greatest villains in films like CAMILLE, THE GREAT DICTATOR, THE SEA HAWK, and JANE EYRE. Daniell even played Professor Moriarty, matching wits with Sherlock Holmes in THE WOMAN IN GREEN. The only weak link is Russell Wade as Fettes, as bland an actor as there was.  But it’s King Karloff’s performance as Gray that makes the movie, a showcase role proving he was not just another scary face, but a great actor as well. Cabman Gray stands tall in Karloff’s Rouge’s Gallery, and THE BODY SNATCHER is a film that frightens to this day. Happy  birthday, Boris!

 

Beyond Redemption: 1947’s BORN TO KILL

The darker side of man (and woman) is on full display in 1947’s BORN TO KILL. Sex, violence, greed, blackmail, lust, and murder abound in this mean little film. It’s loaded with crackling hard boiled dialogue (example: “You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, with the rottenest insides”) by screenwriters Eve Green and Richard Macauley. BORN TO KILL shows the RKO film noir style at it’s moodiest peak. It’s hard to believe the director is the same man who helmed the sticky sweet Oscar winning THE SOUND OF MUSIC!

Robert Wise got his start in RKO’s sound editing room, graduating to film editor in 1939. He was nominated for Best Editing for Orson Welles’ classic CITIZEN KANE and was soon promoted to the director’s chair, working with producer Val Lewton on psychological horror gems like CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and THE BODY SNATCHER (with the great terror tandem of Karloff and Lugosi). His resume includes bonafide classics like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, I WANT TO LIVE!, WEST SIDE STORY, THE HAUNTING, and the aforementioned saga of the Von Trapp Family. But without a shadow of a doubt, his toughest movie is BORN TO KILL.

We begin in Reno, where Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) has just obtained a divorce. She’s been staying at a rooming house run by Mrs. Kraft, a blowsy, boozy old coot who lives vicariously through her next door neighbor, loose woman Laury Palmer (an ancestor of TWIN PEAK’s Laura, perhaps?). Laury’s got her eye on a new hunk, and plans on going out with another man to get him jealous. She describes him as “the quiet sort…yet you get the feeling if you step out of line, he’ll kick your teeth in”.

Helen goes to a casino that night and catches the eye of handsome brute Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney). She bumps into Laury and her date, and Sam’s face turns stone cold. When Laury and the young buck go to her place for a nightcap, Sam is there waiting. He mercilessly beats them both to death. Leaving the house, he sees Helen coming down the street, and ducks into a back alley. Helen notices Laury’s dog wandering outside, and she brings him home, where she discovers the murdered couple. Instead of calling the cops, she calls the train station to buy a ticket back to San Francisco.

Sam goes back to the hotel room he shares with his pal Marty ( Elisha Cook, Jr of THE MALTESE FALCON), and coldly relates the night’s events. Marty tells Sam to high-tail it out of town until the heat dies down. Sam strikes up a conversation with Helen at the railroad station. The two recognize each other from the casino. The sexual tension between them is so thick  you could cut it with a switchblade. When Helen tells him she’s headed back to San Fran, Sam decides that’s where he’s going, too.

Down on his heels private detective Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak) is hired by Mrs. Kraft to investigate the murder of her friend Laury. Arnett’s a verse-spouting weasel looking to make a fast buck off the old dame. He snoops around and spots Marty at various places connected to the crime. When Marty goes to join his pal in San Francisco, Arnett follows.

Helen is back home with her rich fiancé Fred and rich step-sister Georgia. She herself doesn’t have a dime, and connives her way through life on their money. Sam drops by Georgia’s mansion, and the four of them go out to a swanky nightclub. Sam sees right through Helen’s façade regarding Fred. When he discovers that Georgia is loaded, he quickly turns his charm on her. Helen sits there seething while Sam and Georgia dance a little TOO close.

Sam and Georgia marry, with Helen as the green-eyed maid of honor. Arnett slips into the wedding party washing dishes for food, and asking a lot of nosy questions about Sam. Helen has him thrown out, and announces to the happy couple she’ll be moving in with a friend. Georgia won’t hear of it, and insists she stay. So does Sam, who’s still hot for his new sister-in-law. While they’re on their honeymoon, Helen meets with Mart, and persuades him to move into his best friend’s new digs.

The honeymoon doesn’t last long, as the couple return arguing about Sam wanting to take over the family newspaper. He’s voted down, and storms out of the room. Later, Helen and Sam meet in the kitchen for  secret rendezvous. She tells him she knows about the killings, which seems to turn them both on. (Helen: “You’re adventure, excitement, depravity. There’s a kind of corruptness inside you”) Mart walks in on them as they lock lips, and Helen leaves the room in silent ecstasy.

She calls Arnett and they clandestinely meet in the shadows of the Golden Gate bridge. She offers him five grand to get off the case, but Arnett, knowing Helen has rich connections, won’t settle for less than fifteen (“Obstructing the wheels of justice is a costly affair”). Helen states she’ll need some time. Meanwhile, drunken old Mrs. Kraft has come to the city for an update. Arnett tells her the trail has gone cold, knowing he can make more by blackmailing Helen, but milks her for expense money anyway.  Mart has followed Arnett to Kraft’s room, and sweet talks her into meeting him later to give her the identity of Laury’s killer. He lays the smooth talk on her and the old sot is willing to take a chance.

Mart confronts Helen at the house, warning her to steer clear of Sam, and she throws him out of her room. Sam spots him coming out, and can barely contain his rage. Mart and Sam discuss what to do about nosy Mrs. Kraft, and the plan is for Mart to kill her. Mart meets her in a deserted part of town and attempts to stab her, but Sam comes up from behind and murders his friend for his perceived betrayal with Helen.

Things get really juicy from there, as Fred dumps Helen, Helen tells Georgia about Sam, the police pound on the door, Sam chases Helen up the stairs, he shoots through the bedroom door at her, the cops blast Sam, and find Helen with a gunshot right in her devious gut. As Arnett is about to leave town, he picks up a newspaper and reads about the grisly demise of Sam and Helen. Shaking his head, he quotes from Provebs 12:15. “The way of the transgressor is hard. More’s the pity, more’s the pity”.

Lawrence Tierney is terrific as the sociopathic Sam. He shot to fame in 1945’s DILLINGER. He had an up and down career, mostly down due to his excesses, but made a small comeback later in life as the boss in Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS, and as Elaine’s father in a hilarious episode of SEINFELD. Claire Trevor was called “Queen of Film Noir” for her roles in MURDER MY SWEET, RAW DEAL, and her Academy Award winning performance in John Huston’s KEY LARGO. BORN TO KILL is filled with great character actors like Cook, Slezak, Esther Howard, Isabel Jewell, and Phillip Terry, and a must see movie for fans of lowdown and dirty film noir at it sleazy best!

%d bloggers like this: