Film Review: Born to Kill (1947)

Also known as: Deadlier Than the Male (working title, Australia), Lady of Deceit (UK alternative title)
Release Date: April 30th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Eve Greene, Richard Macaulay
Based on: Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I’ve seen plenty, too. I wouldn’t trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.” – Mrs. Kraft

Since I’m not posting enough to truly celebrate the month of Noirvember, my noir-centric reviews have been pretty nil, as of late. But I wanted to slip in one of the film’s I haven’t seen that’s been in my queue for far too long.

1947’s Born to Kill teams up Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor, which on paper seems like quite the duo. It also adds in the always entertaining Walter Slezak and superb character actor/cinematic weasel Elisha Cook Jr.

Needless to say, this has a well-rounded cast and it’s also directed by Robert Wise, who had a very long and successful career making pictures in just about every genre.

Weirdly, this one just didn’t hit the mark for me like I hoped it would.

Now there are some really good scenes, like the one linked below, which shows Elisha Cook Jr. being a total bastard, but ultimately, this story felt a bit clunky and I wasn’t that engaged by it.

Also, Tierney and Trevor didn’t seem to mesh together as well as I had hoped.

Still, Wise’s direction was generally good, at least from the visual side of things. The cinematography was great and Wise’s ability to capture visually appealing magic lived up to expectations but everything else kind of fell flat.

That being said, I mostly enjoyed this and didn’t find it to be a waste of time but sometimes, even with a lot of good pieces, things just don’t click in the right way.

A lot of noir lovers do like this film and my take on it may exist in contrast to most but this just didn’t give me what I needed.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the time, especially those starring Lawrence Tierney.

Film Review: The Prowler (1981)

Also known as: Most Likely to Die (working title), Pitchfork Massacre (reissue title), Rosemary’s Killer, The Graduation (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 6th, 1981
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Neal Barbera, Glenn Leopold
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Christopher Goutman

Graduation Films, Sandhurst, 89 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“I want you to be my date, Rose.” – The Prowler

I haven’t watched The Prowler in a long time but I did like it enough to rent with some regularity when I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. I also thought that “The Prowler” had a really cool look. The best slashers always have a cool outfit and a unique gimmick. This is the same reason why I love the bad guy in My Bloody Valentine. Like that movie, this is a film that isn’t spectacular but is made better by having a cool killer.

The film starts with a prologue that takes place in the 1940s. It is used to setup a connection between that time and modern times (or 1981 when the movie was released).

As is typical, someone is murdering young hot girls. It’s a big mystery and the murders are gruesome. You’ve probably seen this all before, maybe dozens of times, and there isn’t much to set this movie apart from its competition but slashers are rarely great and fans of these films don’t watch them expecting to experience a masterpiece like Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho.

Compared to some other films in the slasher genre, this one is a bit tame. Yes, there’s stabbings and gruesome murders but this is nowhere near as gory as some of the harder stuff out there. It certainly can’t compete with something like the Spanish slasher Pieces.

Surprisingly, this was a one and done slasher picture and didn’t churn out a bunch of sequels. But I guess that this early in the genre, studios were more into just making slasher pictures in general and not developing franchises. Friday the 13th only had one movie when this was made and A Nightmare On Elm Street was still three years away. The early ’80s were full of these one and done slasher pictures.

There isn’t much else to point out with this movie other than mentioning that it had two classic film-noir actors in it: Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney. Modern film fans probably know Tierney best as Joe Cabot, the mob boss, from Reservoir Dogs.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’80s slashers: The BurningPiecesMy Bloody ValnetineTerror TrainNew Year’s Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, The Mutilator, Sleepaway Camp, The House on Sorority Row, The Initiation, etc.

Film Review: Silver Bullet (1985)

Release Date: October 11th, 1985
Directed by: Dan Attias
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, Megan Follows, Terry O’Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, Bill Smitrovich, Kent Broadhurst, David Hart, James Gammon

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I mean, uh, what the heck you gonna shoot a .44 bullet at anyway… made out of silver?” – Uncle Red, “How about a werewolf?” – Mac

I’ve made no secret that I’m not a big Stephen King fan but maybe there is something to be said about film adaptations of his work where he actually provides the screenplay because Silver Bullet is a pretty good picture.

It is a typical werewolf story and there were several big werewolf movies in the 1980s but this one is only eclipsed by An American Werewolf In London, which is a true classic. While The Howling is beloved by many, and I like it a lot too, Silver Bullet surpasses it.

The film stars the always insane Gary Busey, as well as Corey Haim when he was still cute and showed some promise as an actor. The film also features Everett McGill, who was great in Twin Peaks, as well as small parts by Terry O’Quinn a.k.a. John Locke from Lost and Lawrence Tierney, the boss from Reservoir Dogs.

The movie utilizes some pretty stellar practical effects. In fact, it wastes no time in showing you the werewolf in action and it isn’t afraid to keep it obscured in an effort to hide flaws in the effects. The werewolf looks damn good and seeing it rip people to shreds from the get go is a real treat. Even the transformations of the werewolf look good.

One scene that was absolutely impressive was the hallucination in the church where we see all the townspeople transforming. I can’t imagine how difficult this was to capture in the mid-80s with budgetary constraints and without CGI to fill in the blanks.

The story of Silver Bullet is initially a whodunit mystery with a werewolf twist. Once the reveal happens, midway through the film, it goes into high octane and never relents until the big finale, which may be a bit hokey but is still really awesome.

Silver Bullet is pretty underrated and fans today don’t seem to know much about it. There were a lot of Stephen King adaptations that were a lot more popular than this one but this is definitely one of the best. It is infinitely superior to that 1990 television miniseries shitfest It. In fact, it is superior to all of the television miniseries of King’s works that were super popular throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

And don’t be fooled by those lackluster King adaptations, this one has a great amount of blood and gore. It also has some humor, as the werewolf steals the baseball bat from an attacker and uses it against him.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Rating: 9/10