Murder by Contract (Irving Lerner / U.S., 1958):

Killing to the existential hepcat is just a source of income, the logical extension of capitalism: "Instead of price-cutting, throat-cutting." The "contractor" (Vince Edwards) is a taut body thatís willed out its soul, leaving only a rifle-sharp eye and Łbermensch delusions. Terse fragments of scenes (methodical, neat rubouts in hospitals and barbershops, sparsely scored to Italianate guitar plucking) illustrate his rise as hit man, soon the middleman is himself nullified and Edwards is given the chief assignment, offing an irritable witness (Caprice Toriel) stashed behind a wall of police protection. In unnervingly blank Los Angeles, he alternates Zen monologues about the inescapability of death and the unpredictability of women with sight-seeing, snorkeling and golf sessions, to the aggravation of the two gangland stooges (Phillip Pine and Herschel Bernardi) assigned to chaperone him. "Look, we donít pretend to be Superman. Me? I donít even claim to be Mighty Mouse!" Ionescoís Tueur Sans Gages is fascinatingly concurrent with much of the material, Irving Lerner gives it a dapper reading, rich in limpid camera setups and such strict perversities as the exploding TV set. Verdouxís discourse about the difference between warriors and murderers is updated, toy shops and gun shops, a key sequence staged amid the debris of a dilapidated studio -- the grunge playacting of loneliness, whether itís a hipster imagining himself as an icy executioner or a secretary doubling as a pushed-around escort. "Boy, while it lasts, itís pretty gorgeous." (It ends in a smoke-filled tomb.) Baronís Blast of Silence purposely scrapes its varnish off, bits from it emerge in Le Samourai and Taxi Driver. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. With Michael Granger, Kathie Browne, Joseph Mell, and Frances Osborne. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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