76 user 36 critic

Born to Kill (1947)

A calculating divorcée risks her chances at wealth and security with a man she doesn't love by getting involved with the hotheaded murderer romancing her foster sister.


Robert Wise


Eve Greene (screenplay), Richard Macaulay (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Watch Now

From $2.99 (HD) on Prime Video



Learn more

More Like This 

Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

After being hired to find an ex-con's former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit.

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Stars: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley
The Set-Up (1949)
Crime | Film-Noir | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Because aging boxer Bill Thompson always lost his past fights, his corrupt manager, without telling Thompson, takes bribes from a betting gangster, to ensure Thompson's pre-arranged dive-loss in the next match.

Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias
Crossfire (1947)
Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A man is murdered, apparently by one of a group of demobilized soldiers he met in a bar. But which one? And why?

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Stars: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan
The Big Clock (1948)
Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

After murdering someone, a magazine tycoon tries to frame an unknown, innocent man of the murder instead, while the innocent man tries to solve the murder himself.

Director: John Farrow
Stars: Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, Charles Laughton
Crime | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

Insurance detective Steve Hastings is sent by his company to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent. His first lead is the agent's fetching sister, Victoria, whom he trails to ... See full summary »

Director: Robert Wise
Stars: William Lundigan, Jacqueline White, Ricardo Cortez
Phantom Lady (1944)
Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A devoted secretary risks her life to try to find the elusive woman who may prove her boss didn't murder his selfish wife.

Director: Robert Siodmak
Stars: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis
Pitfall (1948)
Crime | Film-Noir | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Married insurance adjuster John Forbes falls for femme fatale Mona Stevens while her boyfriend is in jail and all suffer serious consequences as a result.

Director: André De Toth
Stars: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

A lawyer who is planning to run for District Attorney accidentally kills a gangster who owns the nightclub where the attorney's girlfriend is a singer. Although he manages to cover up his ... See full summary »

Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Tom Conway, Martha O'Driscoll, June Clayworth
Certificate: Passed Drama | Film-Noir | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

An embittered, vengeful POW stalks his former commanding officer who betrayed his men's planned escape attempt from a Nazi prison camp.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Stars: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh
Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Rough city cop Jim Wilson is disciplined by his captain and is sent upstate, to a snowy mountain town, to help the local sheriff solve a murder case.

Directors: Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino
Stars: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond
Film-Noir | Mystery | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

When a woman he meets is murdered, a soon-to-ship-out sailor has until dawn to find the killer, aided by a weary dance hall girl.

Directors: Harold Clurman, William Cameron Menzies
Stars: Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas, Bill Williams
Side Street (1950)
Certificate: Passed Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A struggling young father-to-be gives in to temptation and impulsively steals money from the office of a shady lawyer - with catastrophic consequences.

Director: Anthony Mann
Stars: Farley Granger, Cathy O'Donnell, James Craig


Complete credited cast:
Claire Trevor ... Helen
Lawrence Tierney ... Sam
Walter Slezak ... Arnett
Phillip Terry ... Fred
Audrey Long ... Georgia
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Marty
Isabel Jewell ... Laury Palmer
Esther Howard ... Mrs. Kraft
Kathryn Card Kathryn Card ... Grace
Tony Barrett Tony Barrett ... Danny
Grandon Rhodes ... Inspector Wilson
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jason Robards Sr. ... Conductor (scenes deleted)


In Reno a man kills a girl he likes and her boyfriend out of jealousy; it may not be the first time. A woman whose divorce has just come through finds the bodies but decides not to become involved. The two meet next day on the train to San Francisco unaware of this link between them. They are attracted to each other, and the relationship survives his marriage to her half-sister for money and status. It even survives the woman discovering that he was the murderer, though she may not realise how easily someone who has killed this way before can do so again. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


RELENTLESS SUSPENSE! (original ad - all caps) See more »


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

3 May 1947 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Deadlier Than the Male See more »

Filming Locations:

Reno, Nevada, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Film debut of Scott Brady. See more »


They took a train from Reno Nv. to San Fransisco Ca. but the shot of the train coming at the camera head-on is a Pennsylvania RR streamlined K4 locomotive on their 4 track mainline in Pennsylvania. See more »


Mrs. Kraft: You know, you ought to put on some meat, Laury. You're so skinny, can't grab hold of you anywhere.
Laury Palmer: I haven't noticed anybody having any trouble.
See more »


Bridal Chorus
Music by Richard Wagner
Arranged by Roy Webb
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

"Neither of us looks like a scoundrel"
14 March 2009 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

Many of our finest pictures revolve around a single captivating performance, and this is especially true of B-pictures which can less afford to rely on pyrotechnics. In the case of Born to Kill, a dark little drama from RKO, all eyes are on Lawrence Tierney. You know Lawrence Tierney – he is the bald, mountain-sized mob boss from Reservoir Dogs. Here, forty-five years earlier, he is thinner and has hair, but he is nevertheless just as menacing.

The director of Born to Kill was Robert Wise. Wise cut his directorial teeth at Val Lewton's horror B-unit, and although his only full-length horror for Lewton, The Body Snatchers, was not brilliant, he still carried with him much of the atmospheric technique that characterised Lewton films. Simple things like an open doorway in the background of the shot, or placing the camera at waist height (often more effective than low angles) convey to us a sense of unease. And what is so great about Wise's formal style is that it is always subtle – he never calls attention to any shot, but if you pay close attention his craftsmanship is on display. For this reason Wise is rarely remembered as a great director, although he did leave a legacy of many great films behind him.

Among Wise's greatest assets was his ability to define character and bring out the best in performance through space and framing, and this brings us back to Mr Tierney. Tierney was not the best at vocal delivery, but he had amazing presence. I sometimes think Born to Kill would have been even better if they had stripped out all his dialogue and just told him to look mean for ninety minutes. Take his opening scene at the casino; there is no dialogue, and in fact he barely moves. Wise cleverly emphasises Tierney's stillness by having a lot of bustle going on behind him. This wordless scene establishes Tierney's character better than any expository dialogue could, and gives the brutality of his next appearance all the more impact.

But Wise was not just a director who focused on looks and technique. He had previously been an editor and, conscious of his lack of first-hand experience with a cast, went to lengths to learn about acting and coaching. Apparently Wise often encouraged his actors to slow down their performances, allowing time to bring out character and emotional weight. Sometimes this leisurely pacing would be lost in the editing of the cheap quickies he was making around this time, but here and there you see it. Despite Tierney being at the centre of things, he is not the only member of the cast to shine. Claire Trevor manages something very tricky – she convincingly plays a bad actress when her character unconvincingly acts nice. Walter Slezak – a supporting player who could successfully tread that line between character actor exaggeration and naturalistic depth – is perfect as a sleazy detective. Elisha Cook Jr., who is almost as much part of film noir furniture as Venetian blinds, gives one of his more believable performances. Philip Terry on the other hand is a little wooden, and Esther Howard is a little overstated, but you can't always have a full flush of aces.

Another weak link is Paul Sawtell's backing score, which is at best mediocre and at worst inappropriate. He appears to have misunderstood the elements of the story, for example playing sad, romantic music when Claire Trevor's fiancé walks out on her. Anyone who has been paying attention should realise her character and their relationship don't merit that – especially in a picture as cold and cynical as this.

All in all though, Born to Kill is a treat. It's probably Robert Wise's first really accomplished film, and is actually better than many of his later A-pictures. The script, considering it's for a B-picture adapted from a pulp novel, is unusually intelligent and full of nifty dialogue. There are plenty of great little touches (which may be from the script, or ideas of Wise or the actors themselves), such as Slezak carefully placing his half-smoked cigarette between two bricks before entering a building. And you get to enjoy Lawrence Tierney when he was still handsome enough to be kissed (albeit with his eyes scarily open), and still lean enough to swing a blunt instrument. This picture is well worth discovering.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 76 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Stream Popular Action and Adventure Titles With Prime Video

Explore popular action and adventure titles available to stream with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed