Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Paid To Kill (1954)

Paid To Kill (released in the US as Five Days) is one of the many crime B-movie collaborations between producer Robert L. Lippert and Hammer Films. Like most of these movies it’s an unassuming and competent production with a very definite touch of film noir.

Dane Clark (who starred in three of these co-productions) is James Nevill, a successful American businessman in post-war Britain. He is about to pull off the deal of his life with eccentric entrepreneur-explorer Cyrus McGowan (Howard Marion-Crawford) when he gets a telephone call from McGowan (who is leading an archaeological expedition in Mexico) telling him the deal is off. Nevill is now facing financial ruin. His one thought is how to provide for his wife Andrea (Thea Gregory). He comes up with an ingenious plan. He will pay someone to kill him so that Andrea will get the insurance money.

He picks on his old buddy Paul Kirby (Paul Carpenter) to do the killing. Kirby and Nevill both had a disreputable and wild youth. Nevill made good; Kirby didn’t. Kirby is an alcoholic loser who depends on handouts from Nevill. Surely he’d be happy to make a thousand pounds by killing his old friend?

The deal is made and Nevill has only to wait. While he’s waiting to be killed McGowan suddenly returns to England and tells him the deal is now very definitely on. That’s good news - there’s no longer any reason for Nevill to want to die. The bad news is that he can’t contact Kirby to tell him the deal is off. So now he knows he’s being stalked by a killer that he paid.

The plot soon becomes more complicated and Nevill discovers that he has more to worry about than just having Paul Kirby trying to kill him.

The basic plot idea is hardly original but screenwriter Paul Tabori throws in enough twists to keep it reasonably interesting.

Montgomery Tully was a solid journeyman director and while his work was rarely startling it was always competent and he does pull off a fairly effective visual set-piece in a rain-soaked laneway. The movie has a fairly effective noir look to it and it has atmosphere.

Its biggest asset is Brooklyn-born Dane Clark. His career never took off in a big way in the States but he was an ideal actor for this sort of role. He could play a thrusting go-getter while still remaining sympathetic. He had the kind of crumpled look that lends itself to noir and he has the ability to make Nevill a three-dimensional character. The supporting cast is good and the presence of one of my favourite British character actors, Howard Marion-Crawford, is a definite bonus. He has great fun as the blustering blundering but well-meaning Cyrus McGowan.

At just over 70 minutes this movie is well-paced and there’s no danger of boredom setting in. James Nevill finds himself in a classic noir situation where events spin out of his control and he finds himself facing a danger that is not the danger he thinks he’s facing. He can’t go to the police without implicating himself in what was after all an attempted insurance fraud and he soon finds himself wondering if there’s anyone he can really trust. Nevill is a decent guy but his one mistake could cost him dearly.

VCI’s DVD release (another of their Hammer Noir double features) boasts an acceptable transfer and the pairing of this movie with the odd but very interesting The Glass Tomb combined with the very low price makes this disc a top value purchase for noir and B-movie fans.

Paid To Kill is not an ambitious film. It’s content to be a very entertaining noirish thriller. That’s all it is, and that’s all it needs to be. A fine piece of British movie-making. Highly recommended.

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