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Murder by Contract

Screening on Film
Directed by Irving Lerner.
With Vince Edwards, Phillip Pine, Herschel Bernardi.
US, 1958, 35mm, black & white, 81 min.
Print source: HFA

At the time of Murder By Contract’s production, the double-feature as an institution was gradually coming to an end. The film tells a story that runs parallel to this change. A pedantic and compulsive but shrewd petty-bourgeois character hires himself out as a contract killer. His victim is a woman who is the key witness in a trial. He doesn’t succeed in accomplishing his mission; he doesn't have the heart to do it. His client then puts two men on him while the killer in turn searches for the client he now wants to kill.

The film plays through the dialectics of the relationship between subject and object as conveyed by a tool that triggers a process in which all positions are exchanged. The object becomes the tool and the tool wants to become the subject. A catastrophe of Hegelian dimensions.

At the same time, the film is an example of a B-movie liberated from the slavery of large-scale productions—that for Hollywood are merely a means of making money—and able to reveal breathtaking dialectical counter-aesthetics. – Hartmut Bitomsky

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Gene Hackman crouched beside a toilet with audio equipment

From the HFA Collection...