An Old, Forgotten Movie and I Was Transfixed

I have just finished sitting here, transfixed, watching Vince Edwards (billed as Vincent Edwards) on Encore/Mystery West in the 1958 Film Noir mystery, “Murder by Contract.”

There is nothing big time about this picture.

Everything was done on the cheap, in Los Angeles. Many of the ‘outdoor’ shots were staged, using rear projections. The musical accompaniment was hauntingly played by a single guitar. The cast was small, the script predictable.

Edwards, who was later the title star on ABC’s “Ben Casey,” was known as a stoic, reserved actor and stayed true to form.

I’m trying to figure out what about this movie held my interest?

I came in a few moments after the opening, but never really wanted to turn it off. I knew there would be a moral ending, as this was 1950’s Hollywood. No disappointment there. All the violence was implied or sanitized. A prostitute who came to Edwards’ hotel room was expecting dinner before sex!

Maybe it was my fascination with Herschel Bernardi that kept my interest. Certainly no pretty boy, Bernardi was particularly plain in this film. I remember him as “Arnie,” from the 1970 sitcom of the same name.

For much of his life, he made huge money doing voice over work. He had a beautifully timbered voice; very friendly and warm. Of course, he’s best known (or maybe his character is known – he was anonymous) as the voice of “Charlie the Tuna” from the Starkist commercials (I assume there’s another actor providing the voice now as Bernardi died in 1986).

Watching older movies is something I’m doing more of now that we’ve taken a digital cable package. There are at least a dozen movie (though they’re really pairs of channels, with each two showing the same lineup, offset by three hours)

channels available to me, mostly with older, smaller, less requested movies.

Seeing little gems like this, or the opportunity to catch great actors early in the careers, has made it all worthwhile.

I found this quote, attributed to Martin Scorcese, concerning this movie:

“This is the film that has influenced me most. I had a clip out of it in Mean Streets but had to take it out: it was too long, and a little too esoteric. And there’s a getting-in-shape sequence that’s very much like the one in Taxi Driver. 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. The film puts us all to shame with its economy of style, especially in the barbershop murder at the beginning. Vince Edwards gives a marvellous performance as the killer who couldn’t murder a woman. Murder By Contract was a favorite of neighborhood guys who didn’t know anything about movies. They just liked the film because they recognized something unique about it.”

– Martin Scorsese

It is sad to note that it would be difficult to get my daughter or anyone of her age to watch black and white movies or TV shows. Simply put, the monochromatic look implies old… and old is bad.

One thought on “An Old, Forgotten Movie and I Was Transfixed”

  1. When my sister and I were in our late teens (about 25 years ago!) we were both fascinated with the Sherlock Holmes series of films…all black and white…and that is why we watched! A family from school spends every Friday night watching black & white films together…rediscovering a lost art…a wonderful tradition to pass on!

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