Claude is a young man with a regular job, no history of trouble with the law and no chance of making any real money. He also has the brains and emotional detachment to make the big bucks as a hit man, and that becomes his new job title. A string of successful hits gets him sent to Los Angeles for his latest job. There he is accompanied by two goons: one who is perpetually nervous and the other who quickly worships the young man as a hero. The cold, ruthless hit man finally becomes unglued when he finds out that his latest target is a woman. She's a witness, set to testify against his boss, and guarded day and night by the police. It's her femininity that worries Claude: women are unpredictable, they don't do what you expect. Claude eventually proves that he is the unpredictable one and his own worst enemy. Written by
Murder by Contract is directed by Irving Lerner and written by Ben Simcoe. It stars Vince Edwards, Philip Pine, Michael Granger, Caprice Toriel and Herschel Bernardi. Music is by Perry Botkin and cinematography by Lucien Ballard.
Claude (Edwards) one day decides he's had enough of being a regular Joe earning regular Joe wages. He decides to become a hit man, and after enacting a few clinical kills he works his way into the confidence of the mysterious Mr. Brink. This earns him a "big hit" in Los Angeles, where he is to snuff out the main witness in a big upcoming trial. All is going well until he finds out the target is a woman, so where once Claude was calm and assured, he now becomes irritable and irked......
With the help of its appearance on the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics DVD set, and a certain Martin Scorsese proclaiming it as one of the biggest influences on his career, Murder by Contract is getting the exposure it so dearly deserves. An odd, even kooky, type of noir flavoured picture, it's a film that is like many of the late 50s film noirs that don't have the classic noir look. It's light, airy and set predominantly on the salty sea climes of the West Coast of America. It's with the characters, or in this case mainly the central character, where many of these "lighter" shot 50s crime movies get their noir worth. And Murder by Contract is a beaut in that respect.
He doesn't like guns!
For two parts of the running time it's a film oozing a sense of cool. Claude proves to be a calm and methodical protagonist, his dialogue sparkles with intelligence and sophistication, he knows the world and his place within it. Words like existentialism and spare, the latter of which Scorsese uses a lot, are words bandied about frequently in conjunction with Lerner's (City of Fear) movie. Those words signify how much of a great job Lerner and Ballard did, where shot in 7 days with a minimal budget they have crafted a picture of unique quality, where maximum impact is garnered from such minimal space and sequences. Perry Botkin's score also aids the oddness on offer, predominantly electric guitar based, it's a fusion of The Third Man and Zorba the Greek, unsettling and at odds with a hit man based yarn, yet sneakily putting a sense of disquiet into the mix.
I don't like pigs!
It's with the last third where film really comes alive, both physically and psychologically. Once Claude gets to Los Angeles and hooks up with Mr. Brink's men, Marc (Pine) & George (Bernardi), who are babysitting him while he enacts the hit, things change drastically. Marc and George are in turn fascinated and irritated by Claude's calmness, tagging along as Claude takes in the sights, gets a bit of R&R and generally chills out. But then it's revealed that the target is a woman and Claude changes, he become unglued. He tells all that a woman is not dependable, he wants double the money or he's not doing it. It's then where we realise there's Freudian repressions lurking underneath the once icy calm exterior. We recall his outburst upon finding lipstick on a cup, his irritation at the party girl sent to his room for company, again lipstick an issue. There's emotional scars and these are further given a scrape during the finale as Claude desperately tries to finish the job, his repressions leading to classic film noir closure.
A terrific little B noir, excellently constructed and acted, with dashes of uniqueness and sly characterisations. 8.5/10
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