"Born to Kill" which is also known as "Lady of Deceit" is one of those movies which garner praise from those who adore film-noir. That's fair enough as each to their own but as someone who isn't fussed by film-noir what I watched was an entertaining thriller which is well lead by Claire Trevor but is flawed by questionable motives. And the biggest one of those is why women seem to be attracted to a character called Sam as he has only one dimension and that is thuggish.
Having been in Reno for the past 6 weeks in order to get divorced Helen (Claire Trevor - Farewell My Lovely) is ready to leave but after a night at the casino where she lays eyes on the hulking Sam (Lawrence Tierney - Custer of the West) at the Craps table she returns to the boarding house to discover a young couple murdered on the kitchen floor. Rather than call the police she calls the train station to find out the time of the next train to San Francisco. At the station she meets Sam again who is leaving town because it is he who murdered the couple, not that they realise the connection between them. In San Francisco Sam meets Helen's foster Sister Georgia (Audrey Long) and soon marries her but there are deep feelings between Sam and Helen that they can't ignore and keep going in secret. But as Helen discovers Sam's connections to the murder she chooses to protect him rather than shop him.
The interesting thing about "Born to Kill" is the perverse nature of the story which in fairness is hard to fully comprehend 65 years after it was released. There is a touch of shock about it, from the suggested brutality of the early two murders to Helen continuing on an affair with Sam, even kissing him passionately on his wedding day. It makes them both despicable people and as we get to know Helen more and start to understand that she is jealous of Georgia and her wealth that element of being despicable increases to the point of being icy and calculated. On that subject Claire Trevor's performance carries the movie as she delivers this multi-layered character with corrupt morals.
But whilst the shock factor of "Born to Kill" is good it is a movie heavy with flaws. Take the character of Arnett, a private investigator looking into the murder, somehow he has a reason to follow Sam's friend Marty to San Francisco and when we eventually learn why it is a flimsy reason. We also have the question as to why women are so attracted to Sam because whilst Lawrence Tierney wasn't ugly neither was he anything special and with the character being a thug it just doesn't make sense. Add to that the whole friendship which Sam has with diminutive Marty as he seems to pussy foot around him, knowing that Sam is dangerous and is concerned for him but over plays the whole protective side.
Basically it makes "Born to Kill" an uneven movie and that continues with some over the top characters. It is hard not to like Esther Howard as landlady Mrs. Kraft but she is such a comical character with exaggerated facial ticks that she seems out of place. The same can be said of Walter Slezak as Arnett because whilst the character is interesting the elements of humour feel out of place. Thankfully director Robert Wise keeps things moving at a decent pace so that despite the issues you are not given time to dwell on them.
What this all boils down to is that "Born to Kill" is a decent movie with an element of shock which makes it worth a watch. But it is a movie which will have greater appeal to film-noir fans other than just general film fans.