Robert Wise's 1947 crime picture Born to Kill is noir right down to its very soul. Based on James Gunn's novel Deadlier Than the Male, photographed in unflinching starkness by Robert De Grasse with gowns by Edward Stevenson. Wait. "Gowns by Edward Stevenson", the guy that made Lucille Ball such a fashion-forward and timelessly snazzy dresser in all of her TV shows? That guy? Yes indeed, the Texas born Stevenson had been making Hollywood's leading ladies look their best since the 1920s and helped RKO gain respectability in the looks department. His one Oscar win was shared with Edith Head for 1960s The Facts of Life starring, you guessed it, Lucille Ball.
Born to Kill is a lurid tale of murder, lust, secrets and twisted loyalties. As the viewer is taken on the journey of violence and, shall we say poor choices, the viewer is also shown what their closet would look like if they had money or their best friend was Edward Stevenson. Claire Trevor as Helen Brent is obsessed with murderer Sam Wild played by Lawrence Tierney. Her other obsession is money. She doesn't have any of her own, but she's around it and, boy, she dresses it.
Claire Trevor as Helen Brent
Here's Helen at the courthouse in Reno where she has just divorced some poor schmuck. He probably didn't have enough money. He probably was sane. All is perfection. Note the hat and gloves, and there's a surprise.
The rivets appear to be part of the suit jacket, but they actually belong to the strap of the bag which blends seamlessly with the ensemble. Imagine having a purse that you can only wear with one outfit!
Isabel Jewell as Laury Palmer
Laury is a gal who likes a good time and likes men. Her clothes give no doubt as to her intentions. Currently she likes a guy named Sam. Laury likes 'em tough. It won't last.
Helen meets Sam. Sam meets Helen. I guess he was able to see something beyond this chapeau. The fact that Claire Trevor can actually carry this thing off says a lot about character. I have one question for ladies of the 1940s - why?
Now, this is quite the fetching travel outfit. The hat matches the scarf. The bag is ueber stylish and the fur coat is flung carelessly around the shoulders - looking like it doesn't care.
Audrey Long as Georgia Staples
This is Helen's half sister Georgia. Georgia is the moneyed one in the family. She always looks nicely put together and at ease. She's a good kid. Helen should look out for her.
Now, that's a hat a gal can be jealous of. Helen spangles up and sparkles as much as she can edging close to over-the-top, but somehow staying true to her character.
Georgia on her wedding day. I haven't quite made up my mind about the loops, but she looks demure without being prissy. She's a lovely bride. Too bad the bridegroom is a murderer with the hots for her half-sister.
Too bad Georgia's Matron of Honour can't get her mind off the bridegroom. Her bridal like veil silently speaks her intentions as she stands in front of the minister and can't take her eyes off the groom. Too bad Helen can't see that the rest of the world, including her nice guy fiance Fred Grover played by Philip Terry, aren't as blind and dumb as she thinks they are.
This silky number is what Helen wears around the mansion late at night to make warm milk or her new brother-in-law.
As Helen becomes further embroiled with the unpredictable Sam, her look begins to soften. She's getting what she wants, but she's losing herself.
Esther Howard as Mrs. Kraft
This is Laury Palmer's friend Mrs. Kraft. She's on a dangerous quest, but she's dressed for it. A hat that size just has to come with a handy hat pin.
This robe seems more like something Georgia would wear. Helen seems to be trying to hang on to some sense of normalcy.
Not a spangle to be seen in Helen's desperate final act to save Sam for herself.
Stripped of the hat and coat, the "Mother Superior" vibe of this dress is cheekily at odds with a woman who realizes she's lost her soul.
Helen may be one messed up, misguided gal but, thanks to Edward Stevenson, she looks good every step of her downward spiral.
I'm thrilled to be participating in Angela of The Hollywood Revue's Fashion in Film Blogathon featuring many eye-opening and fascinating posts.