Combustible Celluloid
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With: Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Isabel Jewell, Esther Howard, Kathryn Card, Tony Barrett, Grandon Rhodes
Written by: Eve Greene, Richard Macaulay based on a novel by James Gunn
Directed by: Robert Wise
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92
Date: 05/03/1947

Born to Kill (1947)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Deadlier Than the Male

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Robert Wise's Born to Kill is a true film noir. Many other films get lumped into this genre, but an honest-to-goodness film noir is marked by a hero who, influenced either by wealth or by sex, allows himself to be drawn into the underworld, never to return. If a movie has a happy ending, it's not the real thing.

In Born to Kill our hero is a woman, which is exceedingly rare, even within the genre, since men are far more easily duped. The lovely Claire Trevor (Stagecoach) stars as Helen Brent and meets tough guy Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney, Dillinger). Helen has just discovered two dead bodies left by Sam -- his girlfriend and a guy she was using to make Sam jealous -- but has chosen to ignore them. Helen is fascinated by Sam, but refuses to admit it.

Sam shows up at Helen's half sister's mansion, discovers that Helen is engaged, to Fred (Phillip Terry), and starts flirting with the single, wealthy Georgia (Audrey Long). Soon, everyone is family and the violence and jealousy begins simmering.

Tierney gives a relentless performance, completely oblivious about whether or not anyone likes him, and the great Elisha Cook Jr. co-stars as Sam's keeper, a weasel of a guy who can temporarily calm Sam's fits of rage. But it's Trevor who really shines, using her flexible eyebrows to alternately raise and lower her emotional shields. Born to Kill was notable in its day for showing divorce, adultery, gambling, and the works, and director Wise seems just as disgusted by it as anyone. The result is hard to watch, but effective and alluring nonetheless.

Warner Home Video has released Born to Kill as part of the new Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 (also including Point Blank, Crossfire, Dillinger, The Narrow Margin and Clash by Night). Film noir expert Eddie Muller provides a commentary track, using audio clips of director Robert Wise. Other extras include optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

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