PAID TO KILL: paying for a murder and then changing your mind

Dane Clark in PAID TO KILL

Dane Clark in PAID TO KILL

In the 1954 British noir Paid to Kill, a hard charging executive takes one too many risks, and his industrial empire and reputation are about to be ruined. Despondent and humiliated, he decides to take care of his beloved wife by over-insuring his life and then contracting for his own murder. Suddenly, his business fortunes are happily reversed…but he can’t find the hit man so he can call off the murder. And now he’s dodging murder attempts left and right.

There’s classic noir cinematography when our hero, on foot, is being chased through alleys and tunnels by the murderous driver of a large vintage coupe. Midway through his ordeal, there’s a surprise in the plot and he must recalibrate his search for the person trying to kill him. When the real hit man is revealed at the end, there’s plenty of treachery to go around.

That call-off-the-hitman premise was used in the earlier noirs The Whistler and The Pretender, but Paid to Kill applies some novel twists.

The characters are very broad but we’re getting through this movie in only 71 minutes, so that’s a function of the economical story-telling, and there isn’t much of a chance to reflect on the contrivances. Paid to Kill was made by Hammer Films, a British studio known for its horror movies. (Paid to Kill was released in the UK as Five Days.)

The protagonist is played by American star Dane Clark, who was trying to reinvigorate his leading man career in British films (before returning the the US for a prolific career in television drama). Clark had made another (and lesser) noir for Hammer Films, The Gambler and the Lady.

Paid to Kill plays from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and video clips are available on the TCM website.
paid to kill poster

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