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.

No comments: