Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Born to Kill (1947)

RATING: 3/10

Born to Kill is a deadly waste of time.

This 1947 film noir from director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) starts with plenty of promise.


Laury Palmer (Izabel Jewell) is playing two boyfriends off each other. That approach to man management turns out badly when fella No. 1, Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), spots Laury with fella No.2 at a casino. Sam's a bit of a loose cannon, the type of man who snaps and acts violently before he thinks.

See some symbolism here? He's wild. The three find themselves in a casino, taking their chances.

Wild murders Palmer and her other beau in a tense scene in the kitchen of the boarding house where she lives. This is Born to Kill's best scene. Wild is a brutal killer.

Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) is a short-term resident of the same building. She's in Reno to get a divorce. We don't learn much about her former better half, but we learn early on she doesn't think much of most men. They're turnips, a term this movie-goer has not heard before, suggesting they are useless or not wanted.


Brent spotted Wild at the casino. There's more symbolism as she places bets for, and against, him as he throws the dice. She finds the two dead bodies, considers calling police, but doesn't. Brent was already due to head back to San Francisco where she lives with her very well-off foster sister, Georgia Staples (Audrey Long).

Wild's buddy, Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.) suggests he clear out of town and head to San Francisco while he tracks the police investigation into the murders.

He and Brent meet up on the same train. There are sparks between them.

Born to Kill is a very entertaining film up to this point. But, boy, do the wheels fall off the bus quickly. I appreciate things move along a little faster on the screen than in real time, but come on. Within about five minutes of screen time Staples and Wild are married.


Brent still has the hots for Wild. Wild is cold to Staples. With all those romantic entanglements going on, boarding house landlady Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard) has hired private eye Matthew Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak) to find Laury's killer. Maybe all that beer drinking has affected Mrs. Kraft's short-term memory. Laury did make mention of her physically impressive boyfriend who appeared likely to get very angry if he was double-crossed.

Born to Kill's best moments come from the supporting cast. Cook is the eager-to-help friend who has no qualms covering the tracks of a murderer, including doing some killing on his own, if needed. Howard is a weary older woman who wants justice for the young woman she admired. Slezak is a private eye with ethics that are hard to see. He's eager to look the other way for a price. "I am a man of integrity, but I'm always willing to listen to an interesting offer," he says. "Obstructing the wheels of justice is a costly affair."


The last five minutes of Born to Kill rank as the most ludicrous 300 seconds of film I have watched in some time. I jotted "Oh, brother" in my notepad upon the first viewing. The second time around I sat slack-jawed at how silly things became.

There are many better film noirs to watch. Leave this one in the dark.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Charade (1963)

With Charade's 50th anniversary coming up, I'm tempted to think of 50 reasons why this comedic thriller is worth watching.

Alas, that could make for a rather long review.

How about five?

1. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Here's a chance to see two screen legends together. Audrey is divine in her long line of Givenchy fashions. Cary, at 59, is still an incredibly handsome man. Wow. Remember folks, Grant only made two more films after this with Father Goose and, finally, Walk Don't Run in 1966. Both are a delight here.

2. There's plenty of great supporting talent in this 1963 feature from director Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) including James Coburn, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy. The Internet Movie Database website lists three of Kennedy's four most well-known roles as Leslie Nielsen's sidekick in The Naked Gun trilogy. Yikes. Kennedy deserves more attention for his fine work here. He's a great villain, complete with mechanical arm. George, you're a great bad guy.

3. Lend an ear to Henry Mancini's score. Great stuff. Hear Donen explain in the film's commentary why he decided to recruit the American composer for this project. It's hard to believe Mancini died almost 20 years ago in 1994.

4. A great script from Peter Stone (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Father Goose). I can't remember the last time I saw so many great character names, Hamilton Bartholemew, Tex Panthollow, Herman Scobie. Stone cooks up plenty of smart dialogue too.

"I don't bite unless it's called for." Hepburn

"That's OK. It's a drip dry." Grant to Hepburn when she cries on the shoulder of his suit.

Stone keeps viewers guessing through the film. Hepburn's husband is murdered for his part in stealing $250,000 during the Second World War. His old army buddies including Coburn and Kennedy, want it back. Hepburn has no idea where said cash can be found. Grant appears to be the only person who can help Hepburn. But can he be trusted? He changes his identity almost as often as Hepburn sports new designer fashions.

5. A great ending. All the world's a stage, eh? For a movie where numerous characters aren't who they seem, what better place to end this film than on the stage of an empty theatre.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: This is the only film appearance for Thomas Chelimsky. IMDB site reports he is a neurologist and professor in Ohio.

Donen directed a musical number for one episode of television's Moonlighting, Big Man on Mulberry Street.