Murder By Contract (1958) – Irving Lerner

I’ve been checking out some noir titles over the past few weeks, checking in with one of my favorite genres. This was perhaps my least favorite of the bunch. I think it could have been a little better constructed, and perhaps delved into the issues that plagued the film’s lead character, Claude (Vince Edwards).

Claude has designs on buying a house on the Ohio River, but can’t make enough money in a reasonable amount of time to cover it. So he decides, because it’s so easy to make happen, to become a contract killer, and he very quickly proves himself.

He gets his assignments and executes them and his targets easily, though never choosing to use a gun to do so.

When a time sensitive assignment comes up in Los Angeles, Claude hops a train, and finds himself in the sunny city, and enjoys what it has to offer. He’s saddled with two thugs, Marc (Phillip Pine) and George (Herschel Bernardi) who don’t seem to understand how Claude works. He hasn’t even asked who the target is!

When Claude learns that he’s supposed to kill a woman, his anxiety goes through the roof, and he informs his employer that it will cost double the going rate for him to take out Billie Williams (Caprice Toriel).

It seems Billie is a witness against a mob boss in an upcoming trial, and they want her removed. Claude will break his own rules, and it’s all going to come apart on him in the climax, it is a noir film after all.

I do like how the film is paced, I don’t think we get enough info about Claude. We know his singular motivation is that he wants to buy the house, and apparently has a problem when he’s assigned to kill women. We don’t understand his psychology, or anything more than this simple tenet.

There’s some great stuff with Claude and his mob pals who ferry him everywhere, always reminding him, and us, that the clock is ticking, and that if things aren’t done so, other options may have to be explored.

Claude almost walks away, but then tumbles upon one last plan, and like I said, it’s going to cost him.

Amazingly, this film was shot in seven days, and it is fairly entertaining. I think I just wanted more from my characters. And the other thing that will amaze modern viewers are some of the things on sale in a toy store that Claude and his minders visit.

It’s entertaining, but I wanted more. What did you think of it?

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