Sunday 16 December 2007

Murder By Contract (1958) Irvin Lerner

Now this is a little curiosity. It looks like it was filmed on a budget of about a hundred bucks with people I don't know at all. The only real star is Vince Edwards, who would become famous on TV as Dr Ben Casey, and I've only seen him early in Kubrick's The Killing and late in things like Space Raiders or the Knight Rider movie. Here he's a cool headed young man called Claude who wants to buy a particular house and he goes into the contract killing business to raise the money.

The opening scenes are real hooks. Claude passes the test to become a contractor and then carries out his first few hits, the third of which is the man who hired him. Then it's off into the big time: $5,000 for a hit instead of $500, long distance travel, the works. Regardless of the budget, the acting is coarse but great even though Phillip Pine is desperately trying to be Ernest Borgnine, the dialogue by Ben Simcoe and an uncredited Ben Maddow is great, the music by Perry Botkin is great if not plentiful enough so too often repeated and everything is both cool and intelligent at the same time. Add some histrionics and a plethora of obscenities and you're in Tarantino territory.

The intelligence is a real plus. Everything here is calculated even when it initially doesn't seem that way, with all sorts of lines and plot twists that impress. Much of the plot talks about the importance of planning in Claude's job and the film script feels exactly the same way. The other plus is the sparseness of the film. Everything feels focused because there's very little in the film except the main characters. There's no messing around with subsidiary nonsense, there aren't many locations and there aren't even many people in it. The dialogue is what keeps all that from making it look like an Ed Wood picture, because it makes everything alive instead and every character well defined.

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