Created by James Gunn (pseudonym of John Darcy Cannon; 1918--)
"It's quite all right, Mrs. Brent. I am a man of integrity, but I'm always willing to listen to an interesting offer."
-- Arnett maskes his pitch to Helen in Born to Kill.
But it's hard to pay much attention to Walter Slezak as annoyingly smarmy private "operative" ALBERT ARNETT when Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney are facing off against each other, chewing up scenery, spewing fire and spitting out blood.
Not that Arnett's just scenery -- it's a perfect role for him, and he plays the hell out of it. He a solicitous ass-kisser, a chubby little man prone to quoting poetry and philosophical nuggets, working out of a Reno coffee shop but putting on the big front for his clients, always keeping an eye out for a big score.
And he finds it when Mrs. Kraft, a hard-bitten old hag (Esther Howard) hires him to find the murderer of her drinking buddy. Arnett tracks the killer, Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), to San Francisco, unaware of just how dangerous he is, or how sick and twisted a game he's playing with recent divorcée Helen Brent (Claire Trevor), the sister of his new (and wealthy) bride.
Sam may be drop dead handsome, but he's damaged goods -- a brooding, violent bruiser with a massive chip on his shoulder, who takes what he wants when he wants it, by brute force if necessary. He's an animal, relentless and deadly as a shark. And despite herself, that turns Helen on. The catch is that Helen may be just as perverted as he is.
But as the two circle each other, each smelling blood, Arnett draws closer, sniffing a chance to get some real dough.
It's classic noir set-up, and that's exactly what it is: classic noir, full of bad choices and bad luck, plus some terrifically doomed characters, such as Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Sam's "pug-ugly" pal who he lived with in Reno (Were they?), and the aforementioned Esther Howard who chews it up as the beer-soaked Mrs. Kraft who just wants to avenge her friend's murder.
Born to Kill would be the first of what would be several solid crime flicks directed by Robert Wise, who went on to do Born To Kill, Mystery in Mexico and Odds Against Tomorrow; before getting all musical with The Sound of Music and West Side Story.
Report submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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