A complicated noir-melodrama about a morose, murderous kind of guy (Lawrence Tierney) who marries an insecure woman for her money but can’t keep his thoughts off her sister (Claire Trevor). The feeling is mutual. One of Wise’s most admired noirs, Born to Kill found a place in critic Manny Farber’s book Negative Space, among the “Underground Films”: “The terrorizing of a dowdy, middle-aged, frog-faced woman that starts in a decrepit hotel and ends in a bumbling, screeching, crawling murder at midnight on the shore. For his big shock effect, director Robert Wise…uses the angle going down to the water to create a middle-class mediocrity that out-horrors anything Graham Greene attempted in his early books on small-time gunsels.” And Andrew Sarris called the film “a revelation…the most Nietzschean of all American film noir. The unyieldingly malevolent character played by Lawrence Tierney makes no sense except as a projection of Claire Trevor’s evil desires.” —BAM/PFA
One of the most successful directors of the 1960s, when he became an efficient maker of epic-length pictures, Robert Wise is one of Hollywood’s few popularly recognized filmmakers. He joined RKO in the 1930s as a cutter and eventually became one of the studio’s top editors, working in this capacity on classics such as The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). He became a director with help from producer Val Lewton, who assigned Wise to finish Curse of the Cat People (1944), a B-movie that had fallen behind schedule, and the resulting picture proved extremely haunting and enduring. Wise later directed The Body Snatcher (1945) for Lewton, but after the producer left RKO, he found himself locked into B-movies. His 1948 psychological Western Blood on The Moon, starring Robert Mitchum, and the acclaimed boxing drama The Set-Up (1949) were the only two important pictures that Wise got to do during his last four years at the studio. Wise… read more
Claire Trevor does such a fantastic job as an opportunistic and self-survivalist that verges on the misogynistic. Wise's subtle entrance into visual shades of noir are classy, but give way to the more invisible darkness held within a woman as she struggles to remain atop her lust for power and influence and forget her need for love and security. Not even Tierney's ruffian can hold the cards next to her.