Born to Kill is a 1947 film released under RKO pictures. It's not a terribly classy film, possibly the least classy noir I've seen to date. When characters are straight out asking for beer and not, say, whiskeys and sodas, you know you're in trouble. But it does have plenty of fedoras, and women with improbable hairstyles.
It stars Lawrence Tierney (of "Reservoir Dogs" fame), Clair Trevor (from "Key Largo" and "Murder, My Sweet"), and Walter Slezak, but none of their performances are especially memorable. Far more memorable is Elisha Cook Jr. (from the Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Star Trek) who, although his performance is slightly undermined by sleaziness, has a sort of manipulative charm. It's hard not to cheer for these characters who are clearly smarter than those they share the screen with. Another memorable performance is Esther Howard's alcoholic old lady, who makes up for in vim and vigor that she lacks in class.
The fight scenes especially seemed pretty strange, and kind of take away from the grim and gritty tone with their bizarre poses. There are some surreal facial expressions as characters seem unsure what to do. There are also some pretty sloppy make-outs.
The dialogue (at its best) is what lends the movie its shine. It's blunt and forceful, like an oncoming train. Characters relentlessly hit on each other. There's some advice about dames which isn't especially misogynistic and struck me as relevant to my own life. There's also a quite profound bit of wisdom delivered in a cafe. And there's a plot-relevant biblical quote which seems a little too convenient to be real, but works anyways. Unfortunately, sometimes characters nervously babble and make unecessary statements. But overall I would say it's pretty sharp, if low-brow.
Ultimately this movie fails due to a lack of class in other areas. Characters literally spit at each other, for example. This lack of class hurts the movie when it tries to be literary and intellectual. (Walter Slezak's character is fond of literary allusions, but he isn't exempt from the no-class rule).
I think this film is ultimately just kind of shady. Sure, a lot of noirs are, but I think the best noirs keep a certain classiness that this movie fails to attain (if it was even trying.)
Best Line: "As you grow older you'll discover that life is very much like coffee. The aroma is always better than the actuality", delivered pleasantly by Walter Slezak.