Take Born To Kill, Robert Wise’s first noir. It stars the bad girl deluxe, Claire Trevor, as Helen and Lawrence Tierney as the brutal Sam. These two are supported with a dandy cast of character actors, including Elisha Cook Jr., Esther Howard and Walter Slezak.
The movie begins in Reno. Helen has just finalized her divorce and heads back to her rooming house to settle her bill with the landlady. The landlady is drinking and yucking it up with Laury, her slutty next door neighbor. Laury talks about going out that night with an old boyfriend to make the new boyfriend jealous.
And does she. Sam is the new boyfriend, and a couple of minutes into the film he’s killed both Laury and her old beau. “There’s no man big enough to cut me out,” he growls.
The next morning Sam takes a train to SanFrancisco and meets Helen in the club car. There’s immediate chemistry between them. Helen majorly flirts with him, taunts him, then tells him that they can’t see each other, she’s engaged to a rich man.
What a great set-up. We’ve already seen what Sam does to any woman acting fast and loose with him. But that’s not the way it plays. And that’s my problem. Lawrence Tierney plays a great thug, but a lady’s man? C’mon. Do women fall for him even though he’s uneducated and crude? We’re supposing here that the woman doesn’t know he’s a psycho-killer. If it’s true he’s a lover, not just a killer, let’s see some of his moves. Big and strong doesn’t cut it. Five minutes, that’s all it would take to demonstrate a different side of his character or a shift in feeling with any of the women that would explain what happens next.
There are great characters in this movie: the googly-eyed Esther Howard as the landlady, the always-sultry Claire Trevor and Walter Slezak as the corrupt detective. And there are ridiculous characters: Audrey Long as the stupidly innocent Georgia Staples and Phillip Terry, Helen’s rich but dim fiancée. Come to think of it, everyone who is wealthy in this movie is an idiot.
And from the minute the story hits San Francisco, I don’t believe any of it.