Born to Kill [1947]

The seamiest entry in the mostly decorous filmography of director Robert Wise showcases B-movie bad boy Lawrence Tierney as a psychotic drifter who's irresistible to women ("His eyes run up and down ya like a searchlight!" breathes housemaid Ellen Colby, just about the only female he doesn't bother targeting). A number of people end up dead by his hand, but the kicker is that he crosses paths with a woman--socialite-divorcee Claire Trevor--just as heartless as he, and even more treacherous. The script makes less sense with each passing reel, but there are ripe character turns by Walter Slezak, as a philosophical private eye who operates out of a diner; Elisha Cook Jr., as Tierney's more level-headed partner (in what other company would Elisha Cook be playing the more level-headed lowlife?); and Esther Howard, as a hard-bitten old bat who keeps an ill-advised rendezvous in the most nightmarish nocturnal wasteland San Francisco had to offer. --Richard T. Jameson

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