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Born to Kill

4.5 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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(Jul 05, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Helen Brent knows Sam Wild is more than a social climber who married her wealthy foster sister. He's a remorseless killer. And yet she finds his brash confidence, square-shouldered good looks and constant aura of menace completely irresistible. Versatile director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, West Side Story) shows his film-noir chops with this dark gem whose mix of heiress sisters, stone-hearted men, needy hangers-on and inexplicable but inevitable love plays like a soap opera that refuses to wash itself clean. Walter Slezak portrays the verse-quoting shamus. And Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney portray the illicit lovers who play with fire?and burn their names forever into film-noir lore.

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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long
  • Directors: Robert Wise
  • Writers: Eve Greene, James Gunn, Richard Macaulay
  • Producers: Herman Schlom, Sid Rogell
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Turner Home Ent
  • DVD Release Date: July 5, 2005
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00097DXY4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,113 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Born to Kill" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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."
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