Julia Ross secures employment, through a rather nosy employment agency, with a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hughes, and goes to live at her house. 2 days later, she awakens - in a different house, ... See full summary »
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
When Vince Edwards asks to see the Pacific Ocean, they drive by Thelma Todd's restaurant on the left. See more »
When the three are driving around in Los Angeles it is very obvious that the car is in the studio in front of a projection screen. You can see that the windshield has been removed and studio lights are reflected in Claude's sunglasses. See more »
I'm George. This is Marc.
Pleased to meet you, boys. Now that we've said hello, let's see how fast we can say goodbye.
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Stylized and spare to the point of awkwardness, but somehow utterly fresh, too...
Murder by Contract (1958)
This cult-style low budget film is both fascinating and detached to the point of coldness (if not boredom), and whether you'll like or not might depend on attitude. The relentlessly cold-blooded murderous main character (played by Vince Edwards), in his late-50s handsome and sharply dressed style, is just false enough (if not exactly unconvincing) to keep the movie from taking on a life of its own in any conventional sense. We spend a lot of time watching this man get phone calls and then perform murders of various kinds (off camera, for the most part), and then zero in on the big one with a couple cronies watching. And yet he isn't especially fascinating or complex, just very hardened and determined. And so his functional presence, good looking as it might be to some viewers, isn't enough to lift up the movie.
And yet the story is told in such rapid, spare, and matter-of-fact terms it's downright original. I can't think of a movie like it, though I just happened to see "Blast of Silence" which is a far better low-budget story of a gunman, and it comes from the same period (1961). What helped that later movie, and many other offbeat non-Hollywood affairs, is all the location shooting (that is, the locations themselves were fascinating), and "Murder by Contract" almost studiously avoids any sense of place, or mood and ambiance from a place (except for bright, spare, fringe of L.A. stuff, which is nice). This series of mostly rooms and interiors (some with the same oddly speckled walls and doors) creates a blankness that is both drab and defining.
If this movie isn't really existential in the dramatic Orson Welles sense (or Carol Reed, or what the heck, Stanley Kubrick), the main character really is a film noir staple of a man out of place in the world and utterly utterly alone. His solution is a cold and increasingly false one--kill kill kill. For money, all toward some dream house on the Ohio River, of all places. I think the idea there is that his dream is actually modest, not some love nest in the south of France, but rather a place of honest comfort, like the farm Sterling Hayden returns to in "Asphalt Jungle." It may be no coincidence that Ben Maddow worked on the screenplay for both films.
So if you can adapt to the minimalist style (and acting), and absorb the rather intelligent cinematography by Lucien Ballard (a big name for this small film), you might start to see why it has such a lasting reputation. The music is pretty terrific, a kind of 1950s electric guitar ambiance ahead of its time. In fact, much of the movie is forward thinking out of desperation to make it cohere and succeed without any money. Director Irving Lerner (famously caught spying for the Soviets during WWII though never prosecuted) has had a long career as a secondary director or editor to some of the greats in Hollywood, and some of that talent and visual acumen is shown off here, whatever the larger limitations.
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