Murder By Contract (1958)

80-81 mins | Drama | December 1958

Director:

Irving Lerner

Writer:

Ben Simcoe

Producer:

Leon Chooluck

Cinematographer:

Lucien Ballard

Editor:

Carlo Lodato

Production Designer:

Jack Poplin

Production Company:

Orbit Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

The following Los Angeles area locations are featured in the film: Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley, the Hollywood Freeway and the downtown interchange, the Thelma Todd House on Pacific Coast Highway, the Glendale train station, the Hall of Records at the Los Angeles Civic Center and the driving range in Studio City. In an interview quoted in a modern source, director Martin Scorsese said about Murder By Contract : "This is the film that has influenced me the most. I had a clip of it in Mean Streets but had to take it out because it was too long." Scorsese goes on to say that the sequence in Taxi Driver in which "Travis Bickel" gets into shape was inspired by Murder by Contract ... More Less

The following Los Angeles area locations are featured in the film: Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley, the Hollywood Freeway and the downtown interchange, the Thelma Todd House on Pacific Coast Highway, the Glendale train station, the Hall of Records at the Los Angeles Civic Center and the driving range in Studio City. In an interview quoted in a modern source, director Martin Scorsese said about Murder By Contract : "This is the film that has influenced me the most. I had a clip of it in Mean Streets but had to take it out because it was too long." Scorsese goes on to say that the sequence in Taxi Driver in which "Travis Bickel" gets into shape was inspired by Murder by Contract . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
5 Jan 1959.
---
Daily Variety
10 Dec 58
p. 3.
Film Daily
31 Dec 58
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
13 May 1958
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 58
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Dec 58
p. 84.
Variety
10 Dec 58
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dressing
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Dial coach
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1958
Production Date:
completed early February 1958
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 October 1958
Copyright Number:
LP12201
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80-81
Length(in feet):
7,217
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18973
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In search of a high-paying job, Claude decides to forgo his life as a law-abiding citizen to become a contract killer. Brinks, an underworld boss, refers Claude to Mr. Moon, one of his underlings, to ask for a job. Moon is at first evasive with the inexperienced killer, but later relents, asks for his phone number and decides to test Claude’s nerves by making him wait two weeks for a call. After Moon gives him his first assignment, Claude proceeds to a barber shop where, posing as a barber, he slits his victim’s throat with a straight razor. For his next job, Claude poses as a doctor, enters the hospital room in which his prey is hooked up to a tube pumping life-sustaining medicine into his body and disconnects the tube. Following Brinks’s orders, Claude, now an accomplished assassin, kills Moon and then travels to Los Angeles to eliminate Billie Williams, a witness scheduled to testify against the gangland boss in an upcoming trial. Claude is met at the train station by Brinks’s henchmen, Marc and George, who are astounded at the killer’s aversion to guns and disinterest in his assignment. Claude, who views murder simply as business, prefers to go sightseeing rather than be apprised of the details of the case. One day, after hitting golf balls at a driving range, Claude insists on attending a movie with Marc and George. After slipping out of the theater and waiting for the others to leave, Claude tails them, and once assured that they are not being followed, asks to be taken to the house in which Billie is being guarded ... +


In search of a high-paying job, Claude decides to forgo his life as a law-abiding citizen to become a contract killer. Brinks, an underworld boss, refers Claude to Mr. Moon, one of his underlings, to ask for a job. Moon is at first evasive with the inexperienced killer, but later relents, asks for his phone number and decides to test Claude’s nerves by making him wait two weeks for a call. After Moon gives him his first assignment, Claude proceeds to a barber shop where, posing as a barber, he slits his victim’s throat with a straight razor. For his next job, Claude poses as a doctor, enters the hospital room in which his prey is hooked up to a tube pumping life-sustaining medicine into his body and disconnects the tube. Following Brinks’s orders, Claude, now an accomplished assassin, kills Moon and then travels to Los Angeles to eliminate Billie Williams, a witness scheduled to testify against the gangland boss in an upcoming trial. Claude is met at the train station by Brinks’s henchmen, Marc and George, who are astounded at the killer’s aversion to guns and disinterest in his assignment. Claude, who views murder simply as business, prefers to go sightseeing rather than be apprised of the details of the case. One day, after hitting golf balls at a driving range, Claude insists on attending a movie with Marc and George. After slipping out of the theater and waiting for the others to leave, Claude tails them, and once assured that they are not being followed, asks to be taken to the house in which Billie is being guarded around the clock by the police. Claude is rattled when he discovers that Billie is a woman and demands more money to complete the job because he deems women unpredictable. Posing as an insurance agent, Claude visits Miss Wiley, Billie’s former maid, to question her about her employer’s daily routine. When Miss Wiley tells Claude that Billie is terrified to leave the house and spends her days playing the piano and watching television, Claude rewires the electrical lines into Billie’s house to deliver a high-voltage jolt when she turns on her television set. The next morning, however, Billie uses a remote control to switch on her set, thus avoiding certain death and thwarting Claude’s carefully conceived plan. With only three days remaining before the trial, Marc questions Claude’s abilities and boasts that he could easily kill Billie himself. When the guards are doubled around the house, Claude abandons his aversion to guns and hatches a scheme to draw Billie to the door where she will be within range of a high-powered rifle. After teaching George to use a bow and arrow, Claude sends him into the hills surrounding Billie’s house and instructs him to shoot some flaming arrows at the house, thus starting a fire that will draw out Billie. As Claude waits in the hills with his rifle, a policewoman arrives to guard Billie. When the arrows strike the house, the officer, who was modeling one of Billie’s glamorous peignoirs, runs to the door and is shot by Claude. After Claude reads a newspaper account detailing Billie’s death, he packs his bags and readies to leave town. Before leaving, he phones an escort service to arrange a companion for dinner. When the escort, Mary, arrives, she nervously chatters on and blurts out the Billie is still alive. After getting Mary drunk, Claude asks her where she got her information and she explains that her mother’s uncle, a member of the district attorney’s staff, told her. Certain that the contract is jinxed, Claude refuses to finish the job. George and Marc offer to drive him to Union Station to catch his train, but following Brinks’s orders, detour to a deserted movie studio where they intend to kill Claude. After feigning illness, Claude catches Marc off guard, grabs his gun and pummels him to death with it. Panicked, George runs away, but Claude catches him and kills him with a lead pipe. Claude then phones Brinks, notifies him that his lackeys are dead and demands $10,000 to silence Billie. Proceeding to the Hall of Records, Claude buys a blueprint of Billie’s house and determines that a large drainage pipe runs through the hills and into her basement. That night, Claude wriggles through the pipe and into the house where he knocks the guard unconscious. Telling Billie that he is the new relief man, Claude watches a she sits down at her piano to play a piece of music, then sneaks up in back of her and removes his tie, intending to strangle her with it. He hesitates before he can slip the noose around her neck, however, and she screams, alerting a carload of arriving police officers. When Claude climbs back into the pipe, the officers fire their guns into it, killing him. As Billie picks up the discarded tie, Claude’s bloodied hand slips out of the pipe’s opening. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.