Born to Kill (1947)

dir. Robert Wise. Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) returns to San Francisco after finalising her divorce. On the journey, she has a chance encounter with an imposing, intense man called Sam, played by real life violent lunatic Lawrence Tierney. Sam becomes entwined in Helen’s complicated family circle, and her attraction to Sam is only strengthened as she leans more about his true vicious nature. Despite Tierney’s real world tough guy credentials, I didn’t find his onscreen persona to be either menacing or thrilling. During moments of conflict he seems visibly confused, and his almost monosyllabic dialogue makes him seem not quite all there. These choices dissolve any chemistry he’s supposed to have with Claire Trevor, who does all the heavy lifting to sell their supposed infatuation. The film also has an ugly pull towards blaming Claire Trevor’s character for the violence and chaos – This starts from her introduction as a newly divorced woman getting condescending looks from her male lawyer, leading to her ultimate role as lovesick co-conspirator. This misogynistic theme is partly revealed by the original title Deadlier than the Male and the U.K. title, Lady of Deceit.

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.