Albert Arnett (Born to Kill)

Created by James Gunn
Pseudonym of John Darcy Cannon

“It’s quite all right, Mrs. Brent. I am a man of integrity, but I’m always willing to listen to an interesting offer.”
— Arnett maskes his pitch to Helen in Born to Kill

The 1947 noir classic Born to Kill from RKO is not a private eye film, although it does feature one in a prominent role.

But it’s hard to pay much attention to Walter Slezak as annoyingly smarmy private “operative” ALBERT ARNETT when Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney are squaring off, chewing up scenery and each other, spewing fire and spitting out blood. And as good as Trevor is in this, this is Tierney’s film all the way.

Not that Arnett’s just scenery–it’s a perfect role for him, and he plays the hell out of it. He’s a solicitous ass-kisser, a chubby little man prone to quoting poetry and philosophical nuggets, working out of a Reno coffee shop, but putting on the big front for his clients, always keeping an eye out for a big score.

And he finds it when Mrs. Kraft, a hard-bitten old hag (Esther Howard) hires him to find the murderer of her drinking buddy. Arnett tracks the killer, Sam Wild (Tierney), to San Francisco, unaware of just how dangerous he is, or how sick and twisted a game he’s playing with recent divorcée Helen Brent (Trevor), the sister of his new (and wealthy) bride.

Sam may be drop-dead handsome, but he’s damaged goods–a brooding, violent psycho with a massive chip on his shoulder, who takes what he wants when he wants it, by brute force if necessary. He’s an animal, relentless and deadly as a shark. And despite herself, that turns Helen on. The catch is that Helen may be just as perverted as he is.

But as the two circle each other, each smelling blood, Arnett draws closer, sniffing a chance to get some real dough.

It’s classic noir set-up, and that’s exactly what it is: classic noir, full of bad choices and bad luck, plus some terrifically doomed characters, such as Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Sam’s “pug-ugly” pal who he lived with in Reno (Were they?), and the aforementioned Howard, who does a little chewing of her own as the beer-soaked Mrs. Kraft, who just wants to avenge her friend’s murder.

Born to Kill would be the first of what would be several solid crime flicks directed by Robert Wise, who went on to do Mystery in Mexico, The Set-Up, The Captive City and Odds Against Tomorrow; before going all musical with West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

The film was based on the 1942 novel Deadlier Than the Male by James (Edward) Gunn (not to be confused with sci-fi writer James E. Gunn). This Gunn was an American film and television screenwriter and producer, whose film credits include Affair in Trinidad, The Young Philadelphians, The Unfaithful and Over-Exposed. He later moved on to write for television, where he became known for his work in detective and crime stories, including 77 Sunset Strip, Checkmate, and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

In 1986, there was another film, this one in French, based on the novel, Corps et biens, written and directed by Benoit Jacquot.



  • BORN TO KILL | Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (1947, RKO)
    Based on the novel Deadlier Than the Male (1942) by James Gunn
    Screenplay by Eve Greene and Richard Macaulay
    Directed by Robert Wise
    Producers: Herman Schlom, Sid Rogell
    Starring Lawrence Tierney as Sam Wild
    and Claire Trevor as Helen Brent
    With Walter Slezak as ALBERT ARNETT
    Also starring Elisha Cook, Jr., Esther Howard, Philip Terry, Audrey Long
    (1986, Films du Semaphore)
    Based on the novel Deadlier Than the Male (1942) by James Gunn
    Written and directed by Benoit Jacquot
    Starring Lambert Wilson, Dominique Sanda, Jean-Pierre Léaud
Report submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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