Murder By Contract, 1958. 8.5/10

How does one interview for a contact killing job? Well, we find out. Actually, Mr. Moon (Michael Granger) isn’t so tough of an interviewer; he only lasts about ten minutes, thanks to our prospective murderer Claude (Vince Edwards). Claude has a cunning plan: if the house he wants costs x, and a killing is worth y, at some point y = x. The more bodies, the less time it takes to get Claude’s dream house.

After a few quick jobs, Claude goes out west, and meets his contacts Marc (Philip Pine) and George (Hershel Bernardi). They think he’s weird; hey, you know, all these ‘contracts’ are “oddballs.” I would hope they are. George and Marc just can’t figure him “you’ve got to feel!” Not, exactly, Claude’s either “hot” or “cold.” A stove and fridge combo?

This is intensely psychological; usually, at least in movies, crimes just happen. Here they’re explored, examined, even savored. Since Claude doesn’t much value life, he’s not too socially aware. It’s funny, especially with the hip score as an accent, how his handlers can’t handle him.

Finally they get to scoping out the mark. It’s a woman, Billie Williams (Caprice Toriel). Now, all of a sudden, Claude’s rattled. “I don’t like women.” In that case, why have second thoughts? Anyway, he goes into action, interviewing a disgruntled former employee of Billie’s–a drunk painter. He poses as an insurance adjuster to get info on the hit.

He’s got Billie staked out. Actually, he’s wired a remote control device to her TV. It doesn’t do the trick because she’s got a whiz-bang remote, so the blast is harmlessly disipated. Marc want him to follow up with a gun. Well, he doesn’t want to use anything “illegal.” Here’s the plan: a bow and arrow.

George practices with it (why him?). Next stop–a sporting goods store. Man, there’s a machine gun for $124.95! “A warehouse full of murder” says Claude. He’s sort of right. George is supposed to use the bow and arrow in such a way that Claude can shoot her with the rifle.

Billie wants a woman as a bodyguard. Anyway, the three bad guys are in the brush overlooking her house. Billie’s new ‘maid’ arrives. From the hillside…a flaming arrow! That will get someone’s attention. Yes, that would be the maid. She’s the one that gets it. They think it was Billie, but the body was covered when it was taken away. The paper confirms that it was Billie.

“It’s hard for me to believe that you turned out to be human.” Really, how’s that? Claude has a prostitute come around. Aha! She spills the beans; it was the policewoman who took the bullet. Now Claude grills her about the news. She does have inside contacts, so she knows what the score is. The question is–will she get out alive? Barely.

The guys know the real deal “the contract’s a jinx!” Looks like they’re taking him for a ride. They say they need to hide him for a couple days… translation: he finishes the job, or they finish him. He collapses; of course it’s a ruse. Marc is overwhelmed and disarmed. Claude yells for George to help him “finish the contract.”

But he goes in search of him with a pipe–a scream is heard (scratch George). Next scene it’s just Claude; he phones the big boss. He still holds out for twice the going rate (because the hit is a woman). Next stop, the county building, to look at the blueprints of Billie’s property.

Sure enough, that night he scoots through a culvert and then into a chimney clean-out to gain inside access. Knocking out the bodyguard, he assumes that role when Billie comes into the room. He’s nervy enough to ask her about the case. He’s all set to strangle her, but can’t do it.

She realizes her predicament, and talks him out of doing it–she’ll give him a chance to slip away. He’s spotted outside anyway, and is blasted and gassed in the same tunnel he used to get in. The end.

What an unusual crime movie! Almost a thriller, in the sense that the protagonist is not just a criminal, but a psychopath. George and Marc make a strange stand-in for everymen, but they’re all we’ve got. The tone is consistently disturbing–both menacing and jarring. There’s no wasted scenes; if anything, the plot moves too quickly.

What we’re left to ponder is what amounts to a moral dilemma for Claude. Despite the fact that that he tries with great earnestness to kill Billie twice, he agonizes over it when he’s given one more shot at it. That proves his undoing. The question is why the hesitation? It’s also interesting that Billie would be okay if he just bugs out.

It might be said that they understand each other, perhaps an unusual circumstance for both of them–more certainly for Claude. That slight moment of redemption for Claude makes the police ambush seem cruel. Not so much because he’s killed; but that he has to suffer. His calculated indifference is shattered, but letting his guard down proves fatal.

Sort of a cult-noir. Highly effective, and very entertaining. 8.5/10.

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