September 20, 2006

Born to Kill

Born to Kill was a Hollywood film from 1947, a rather minor noir film which few people know of, it merits only six reviews and only one of them positive on the movie review website,^Born+to+Kill+(1947) and only two pages of comments on imdb. But it is a very good film of its type.

What is interesting about Born to Kill is the way that it reverses the typical film noir stereotype- here it is the man who is irresistible and guides the women down into disaster through their sexual desire. The fascinating thing that ripple through this noir though is the influence of class- our male character, a drifter like the principal of Detour, is violent and uneducated as well as having undoubted sex appeal. His brutality and violence comes out of a sense of being cheated by the world and a need to maintain what he haves- again and again he furiously shouts that he will not be made a monkey of, not be tricked out of the women he owns (the homme fatale in this film owns his women, every women and murders those who turn him down). There are unpleasant notices of sexism throughout this film but the central character whose agonies and agonisations we perceive in all their horror is a woman- in three consecutive scenes she is accused of being without a heart, rotten to the core- firstly by a casual acquaintance, then by her boyfriend, then by a detective- but the concentration is on how she reacts, how she can't bear it and how her heartlessness is a consequence of her poverty. She has to supress the fact that she doesn't love her fiance and feels guilty about taking her sister's money because without that supression, that heartlessness she would have nothing. The ripple of class which rears like a wave through this picture is fascinating- every character bar the wealthy is corrupted by their desire for wealth- they have 'shiny surfaces' which mask a craving for respect and the security to have what they want. But this concentration on class is not snobbery- again and again the poor talk of their personal battles to confront the fact that they are poor- that they are the recipients of charity. It even corrupts the love between sisters- leading to a horrifying moment. Perhaps the most shocking moment of the film is the end, where the corrupt and sleazy police detective turns and reads the paper and says 'the way of the transgressor is hard more's the pity, more's the pity'- he thrives by being a successful transgressor, abandoning any feeling for personal gain, the other characters swayed in different ways by emotion either live by wealth or die by poverty.

In the end, that humiliation produces its rewards- sexual desire, effectively suicidal behaviour, abasement, masochism and ultimately murder to make this one of the blackest and most sociological of the noir films.


Anonymous said...

the idea that this is a minor film is antiquated now; ever since its inclusion in a Warners' box set (Noir Volume 2)its visibility has been raised considerably. Themes here are as dark and brooding as any film in the genre. The idea of the "superman" is articulated by Tierney's character that the strong take what they want and that is the way it is and always will be. Just about every element of the noir genre is here, a private eye, femme fatale, murder, hidden identity, low angle photography and Elisha Cook. What more could one ask for?