Murder by Contract
Before he was America’s favorite doctor in the hit television drama Ben Casey, Vince Edwards starred as a ruthless petty criminal in a pair of film noirs by Irving Lerner, a director with roots in New York’s Workers Film and Photo League. Murder by Contract is the first and best of these two films, a masterpiece of minimalism and restraint that imagines what an Antonioni drive-in feature might look like. Edwards plays a cold-blooded contract killer who is sent on assignment to Los Angeles to snuff out the woman who is set to testify against his underworld employer. As he quietly strategizes the most effective way to infiltrate her heavily guarded hilltop mansion, Edwards takes in the sights of the City of Angels, all the while towing a round a pair of ill-matched handlers.
Shot on a Poverty Row budget over eight days and with maximum precision by Lucien Ballard (The Killing, The Wild Bunch, Fixed Bayonets), the film remains a major touchstone for Martin Scorsese. Blacklisted shortly after making Murder by Contract, Lerner would occasionally resurface behind the scenes on other films, among them Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, but his contributions were largely uncredited. His final job was editing Scorsese’s New York, New York.
“This is the film that has influenced me most… The spirit of Murder by Contract has a lot to do with Taxi Driver. Lerner was an artist who knew how to do things in shorthand, like Bresson and Godard.”—Martin Scorsese.
Bing Theater | $5 admission | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.