BORN TO KILL (1947) – You can’t always get what you want

The following is my entry in The 110 Years of Claire Trevor Blogathon, being co-hosted by Virginie and Crystal at their blogs The Wonderful World of Cinema and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood from March 8-10, 2020. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on the life, career, and movies of this fabulous actress!


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

There are a lot of people in Born to Kill who want only precisely what they can’t have.


Let’s start with the biggest one first. Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) simply wants everything. He has an outsized sense of entitlement that would make Donald Trump look humble. To him, everything and everybody is a toy, intended for his amusement until he wearies of it and moves on to the next toy.

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Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) has just finalized a divorce in Reno and already has another man waiting in the wings — her ostensible fiancee, a rich man named Fred (Phillip Terry). (Unaddressed in the movie is the fact that Helen is already engaged to Fred before the ink on her divorce paper has even dried. So chances are that her dalliance with Fred might have been at least one cause of the divorce.)

On the night that Helen is preparing to leave Reno to meet up with Fred in San Francisco, she happens to stop back at her boarding house one more time. There, she discovers that two people have been murdered. Helen takes the sight unusually quietly and doesn’t even phone the police about it. Nothing must delay her trip to Frisco, after all, so why get involved?

But Helen gets involved whether she wants to or not. On the ferry to her train, she strikes up a conversation with a dashing man:  Sam, who unbeknownst to Helen was the one who committed the murders. The two hit it off, take the train to Frisco together, and then part ways, with the duo making a vague plan to meet up again in Frisco.


One night, Sam drops by unexpectedly while Helen is entertaining her foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long). Helen is heir to a fortune that Sam sees as his ticket to the good life. Since Helen has now dismissed Sam as a one-night stand, he figures he’ll take up with Georgia.


Lest I divulge any more of the plot, let me mention a couple more hangers-on who can’t have what they want. Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard, Detour) is a boozy old spinster who runs the boarding house where the murder takes place. All she wants is good, mindless times, and she nearly pays for it with her life.

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Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) is Sam’s sycophant. All he ever wants is a crumb of Sam’s approval, which he rarely gets. (If Marty’s desperation to please Sam strikes you as a little more than platonic, you wouldn’t be the first moviegoer to think so.)

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About the only one who gets what he wants is detective Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak), but that might be because he sets his sights pretty low. He uses a sparkling and expansive vocabulary in an attempt to rationalize his mercenary ways. As such, he’s about the only person in the movie who tells things like they really are, functioning as a rather sleazy Greek chorus. (For that reason, he’s probably my favorite character in the movie.)

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All of this is directed to a noir-thee-well by Robert Wise, who seems to flitter around these lowlifes and regard them even more shadily than the verbose detective does. Claire thinks that all she has to do to avoid her part in a murder plot is to distance herself from it. But Fate has a way of drawing these similarly sketchy people together, like a rope that will quietly lasso them in and then draw a noose around each of their necks.

Born to Kill is a thoroughly gripping film-noir entry, a perfect movie to watch when you’re feeling down about your lot in life. It’s as if the movie was saying, “Relax — you could be one of these people.”


A rich slice of film noir to start off #Noirvember

Over at Twitter, a Twitter member named Marya (@oldfilmsflicker) has designated November as the month of “Noirvember” in honor of the esteemed genre of film noir. I’m no noir expert, but I’ll try to sprinkle some fun noir stuff into this blog throughout the month.

For starters, film noir fans with sweet teeth (tooths?) will savor this 2007 gem.

LAURA (1944) – Shades of a woman

The following is my contribution to The Noirathon, being hosted by Maddylovesherclassicfilms from July 27-29, 2019. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ tribute to their film noir favorites!

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In a sense, Laura is a film-noir about movies.

Think about it. Laura begins her characterization in the movie as a portrait on the wall of her apartment. Into her milieu comes detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), who is investigating Laura’s murder that occurred in that apartment.


Via McPherson’s investigation (and some convenient flashbacks), we meet the two primary males who inhabited Laura’s life. The first is Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), Laura’s milquetoast fiancee. It seems strange that the two are engaged, since Shelby gets along far more famously with Laura’s acerbic aunt Ann (Judith Anderson). Shelby seems to want Laura more for her social standing than for any romantic interest.

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Shelby has a way with a quip but not with a job, until Laura hires Shelby to work at her advertising agency. And how did Laura come to work at an ad agency? Through the machinations of Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, who performs grand theft larceny on the movie), a nationally known columnist with whom she had crossed paths.

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Waldo carries on and on about his love for Laura, but his affection for her is as false as Shelby’s. Waldo’s way of showing his affection for Laura is to sic a private detective on any man besides Waldo who tries to start something up with Laura, Shelby included.

During Waldo’s endless narration of the story, he casually lets it drop that Laura was 22 years old at the time of her murder. And Waldo makes it clear that he and Laura have known each other for five years. It’s also made clear that Waldo (and definitely Clifton Webb) is no spring chicken. So, besides the movie getting one past the censors, it’s quite obvious that beautiful, spritely Laura is little more than a trophy girlfriend for aging Waldo.

Finally, there’s MacPherson. He puts together all of the information he’s gotten about Laura, looks at the only pictorial evidence he has of her — that painting (Didn’t these suitors ever take a photograph of her?) — and mounds it all together to form his vision/version of a woman, as a sculptor would mold some clay.


Isn’t this the same thing we all do at the movies? We project our thoughts and ideas into or onto those characters on the screen. That’s why you don’t see a particular movie character in the same way that your friend or your spouse does — and why three different men have completely different visions of Laura, none of which hold up under the harsh light of reality.

But as Waldo Lydecker would say, this psychological analysis is for another place. Suffice to say, this movie is still riveting, with sparkling photography, dialogue, direction (Otto Preminger’s directorial debut), and performances. So project all you like onto Laura — like the characters in the movie’s second half, you’ll still get a lot of surprises.

BODY HEAT (1981) – They’re hot-blooded, check them and see

The following is my entry in The Hotter’nell Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from June 21-23, 2019. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of summer- and heat-wave-related movies!

Having seen a lot of movies and having read a bit of Raymond Chandler, I found Body Heat downright laughable when it was first released. Seeing it again after nearly 40 years, I liked it a little better. There’s nothing wrong with the movie that a lesser case of pretension wouldn’t cure.

The movie takes place in the heat of Florida where one night, Ned Racine (William Hurt), a well-meaning but careless lawyer, happens upon luscious Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) after the two exit from a sweltering outdoor concert. Ned tries to flirt and make snappy patter with Matty, who twice warns Ned that she’s married. Frankly, Ned is so horny, he doesn’t care — which tips us off that he’s as sloppy at love as he is at legal counsel.

Eventually, Matty allows Ned to visit her home (her husband is currently out of town), but to Ned’s chagrin, she gives him only a chaste kiss before locking him out of the house. Now, here comes the scene that provides the movie’s acid test as to whether or not you’ll buy into its noirish stylization. (Spoiler paragraph alert follows.)

Ned is about to drive away from the house, but curiosity gets the better of him. He returns to Matty’s front door, looks through its window, and see Maddie standing frozen, staring back at Ned. Ned tries to find another entranceway but cannot, always seeing Matty teasingly staring at him. Finally at his boiling point, Ned picks up a nearby chair, smashes in the front door, and rushes into Matty’s waiting arms.

This is meant to be a noir-like point, showing us that Ned is so overcome with lust that he’ll do anything to get what he wants. All I could think while watching this was, either somebody would want me or she wouldn’t — I sure wouldn’t waste a good front door to find out the answer.

Anyway, we are meant to see that Ned and Matty have sex in every possible position before we get to the main plot point. Matty tells Ned how unhappy she is with her husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), and how she cannot divorce him because everything is tipped in her husband’s favor (he made Matty sign a prenuptial agreement). After a few minutes of this brazen exposition, Ned nonchalantly informs Matty that they’re going to have to kill Edmund. Again, this is film noir, where we’re supposed to believe that Ned is so frenzied with lust that he’ll do things a rational man would not do. I wasn’t convinced that Ned’s outrageous idea was anything but a machination of the screenwriter (Lawrence Kasdan, whose directorial debut this was after co-writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Upon its first release, film critic Pauline Kael wrote a scathing review of the movie, stating, “Kasdan has modern characters talking jive talk as if they’d been boning up on Chandler novels, and he doesn’t seem to know if he wants laughs or not.” A more generous reading of the movie is that it’s okay as an average murder mystery, but its attempts at stylized noir stick out like sore thumbs. As Kael pointed out, film noir was partially a reaction to Hollywood’s strict censorship code of the 1940’s and ’50s, meaning that filmmakers had to find unique ways of depicting sex and murder. Smashing doors in and talking jive doesn’t make much sense in a movie where four-letter words are uttered regularly and nearly all of Kathleen Turner’s physique can be put upon display.

Hurt and Turner do well enough under the circumstances, but it’s really the supporting players that stand out. Matty’s husband Edmund is supposed to come off as a self-absorbed fatcat, but Richard Crenna makes him fairly likable, probably more so than Kasdan intended. (Having appeared in an awful TV remake of Double Indemnity in 1973, Crenna should have known to steer clear of ersatz noir to start with.) As, respectively, a fellow lawyer and a local investigator, Ted Danson (in a pre-“Cheers” role) and J.A. Preston are as smooth as silk; the movie might have been more fun if the story had been told strictly from their points of view. And last but hardly least, Mickey Rourke steals the movie as an arsonist who reluctantly helps Ned with his murder plan.

The movie is watchable but hardly in the league with the film noir classics that it’s trying to emulate. By the time the movie is about halfway done, you wish someone would take Ned aside and give him back-to-back screenings of Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice in order to show Ned how poorly this kind of scheme could work out for him.