If 1958's wonderful Murder By Contract is any indication of director Irving Lerner's talents, it's a crime that he's not better-known. Made on a shoe-string budget with a group of solid, no-name actors, the film is an entirely original look at the life of a hitman, from his first job to his last. Lerner tells his story with a remarkably economy, shaping characters and scenes with little to no dialogue, and wasting no time with unnecessary introductions. Combined with that business-like coldness, however, the film offers a surprising sense of humor that gives it a depth that few of its low-budget, no-name companions could match.
Murder By Contract is the story of Claude (Vince Edwards), a man whose normal, stable, mainstream life isn't earning him the money he needs to move ahead in life. His primary focus is buying a house for himself and his unseen girlfriend, and he decides the most practical path to that goal is contract killing. Claude is meticulous and infinitely patient; in order to become a better killer, he trains himself not to feel, and to kill only with tools that are not illegal (knives, his hands, etc. -- no guns). When he feels he is ready to begin work, he contacts Mr. Moon (Michael Granger), a man who, though he denies any knowledge of the dark things at which Claude hints, agrees to call him -- eventually. And only once. The scenes of Claude waiting are among the best in the film: Virtually wordless, they are brief, poetic glimpses into his soul, and elaborate more fully on his character than pages of dialogue ever could. In just a few shots, we see his limitless patience, his focus, and his determination; by the time Mr. Moon calls, only three or four minutes of screen-time have passed, but we know Claude well enough to understand exactly why he chose contract killing as his key to the future. Nothing affects him: Not stress, not the passage of time, and not doubt.