YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 15: Murder By Contract (1958)

Until recently, Vince Edwards was on my radar for only two reasons: he played Dr. Ben Casey on TV, and he co-starred in one of my favorite noirs, The Killing (1956), which I recommended for YouTube viewing earlier this month.

And then I saw Murder By Contract (1958).

There’s so much to say about this film, I scarcely know where to begin. There’s simple but engrossing plot. The all-guitar score, reminiscent of the zither playing in The Third Man (1949). The depiction of violence that shows you nothing, yet causes you to see everything.  The slow-paced yet wholly effective direction. And, of course, Edwards’s memorable performance of a man you wouldn’t want to meet in broad daylight, let alone in a dark alley. (Or in a drainage pipe, as the case may be.)

I cannot stress this enough. Watch this film.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Claude is one scary dude.

Edwards plays a killer-for-hire named Claude, a determined sort who’s saving his earnings to buy a house, and whose unique talents allow him to rapidly rise in the echelons of the organized crime outfit he works for. After a series of successful murders, he’s given a contract to kill a witness before she can testify in a high-profile trial in Los Angeles that starts in two weeks. The bulk of the movie focuses on that two-week countdown.

WHAT ELSE?

Well worth mentioning are the characters in L.A. who serve as the liaison between Claude and the crime organization. They’re superbly played by Phillip Pine and Herschel Bernardi. Pine had small parts in several noirs (The Set-Up, Red Light, and D.O.A.), but had a more successful career on the small screen, playing in numerous TV series from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s. I was much more familiar with Bernardi, who also enjoyed a successful television career, including the role of Lt. Jacoby on Peter Gunn, and the title role in Arnie, which aired in the early 1970s.

Pine and Bernardi are outstanding.

Director Irving Lerner also directed Vince Edwards in the 1959 feature City of Fear and in several episodes of Ben Casey.

The composer of the film’s unique score was Perry Botkin, Sr., who also composed the music for TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies. If you’re a Hillbillies aficionado, you might recognize the music heard in Murder By Contract around the 13-minute mark. It was used in the TV show as well.

TOMORROW . . .

Join me for my next YouTube recommendation on Day 16 of Noirvember! (I can’t believe the month is half over!)

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 15, 2020.

4 Responses to “YouTube Noir: Noirvember Day 15: Murder By Contract (1958)”

  1. What quirk in that character’s mind led him to say to himself “Murder. That would be a good way to make money.” Maybe it is my innate laziness but it would never occur to me.

  2. Looking forward to seeing this one.

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