Friday, August 4, 2017

Born to Kill

Every now and then TCM runs a movie at the end of one month and then early in the next month. Some Like it Hot was one recent example; the same is happening with Born to Kill. It was on this past Sunday as part of Noir Alley, and will be on again at 8:00 PM tonight as part of Claire Trevor's day in Summer Under the Stars.

Trevor plays Helen, a woman from San Francisco who is in Reno getting her divorce. She's been staying in the rooming house of Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a woman who spends a lot of time drinking with next-door neighbor Laury. Laury is about to dump her current boyfriend for a new guy. Anyhow, Helen spends her last night in Reno gambling, where she meets Sam (Lawrence Tierney), a hard man who immediately excites her. She also runs into Laury and her current boyfriend, and Sam sees them. Helen doesn't realize that Sam is the new guy in Laury's life.

Sam, of course, knows, and he's insanely jealous. So when Laury and the old guy return home Sam is waiting in the kitchen. A scuffle ensues, and Sam winds up killing both of them! Some time later Helen returns to the boarding house, where Laury's dog is waiting to be let back into Laury's house. Helen opens the door, finding the bodies. So what does she do? Absolutely nothing. And what happens at the train station? Helen meets Sam again. She doesn't realize he's the killer, and he has no idea she's seen the bodies.

The pair get to San Francisco, where Helen is going to be married to Fred (Philip Terry). Meanwhile, Helen has a foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long) who is ridiculously wealthy, having inherited the money from Dad -- who just happens not to be Helen's biological father, which is why Georgia has the money and Helen doesn't. Sam works his way in to Georgia's life, seeing an opportunity for that money, but of course he'd still rather be with Helen.

Meanwhile, things aren't going well back in Reno. Sam's friend Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) had sent him off to Frisco until things blew over, but in the meantime, Mrs. Kraft has hired the private investigator Arnett (Walter Slezak) to figure out what the police couldn't. Arnett shows up in San Francisco, and suspects both Sam and Helen.

Born to Kill is a surprisingly amoral movie, up until the point where the Production Code kicks in and gives us the ending we all know we're going to get. Lawrence Tierney made a living playing nasty guys like this, and he's as good as ever. Trevor, whom we most recently saw in Baby, Take a Bow, is quite different here, but she also does a great job. Audrey Long and Philip Terry are theoretically supposed to be the biggest support, but their characters pale in comparison to their love interests.

More interesting are Mrs. Kraft, Arnett, and Marty. Marty, you should probably have realized since it's another Elisha Cook role, and he seems to bring something unsettling to everything I've seen him in. Slezak is good although the way his Arnett implies he's a drunk and shiftless makes you wonder how he could ever get anything done. And Esther Howard's Mrs. Kraft is a surprise. I didn't know much about this actress, mostly because she did a lot of shorts, B movies, and bit parts. But here she gets a bigger part, and runs with it for all it's worth.

Born to Kill is an absolute treat, and if you haven't seen it before I can highly recommend it. It's also available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

No comments: