The Killing (1956)

My thoughts on the new Blu-ray of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is over at Flickering Myth and appears below.

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Kubrick’s third feature was something of a make or break for him. Given what happened following its release that may sound somewhat ridiculous, but in the film world of the mid-1950’s Kubrick, even at the incredibly young age of 28, truly needed a project that would show off his clear-eyed vision and premium levels of creativity and storytelling. His previous two features, Fear and Desire(1953) and Killers Kiss (1955) (also included as an extra on this release) had met with limited success, both financial and critical. The master-waiting-to-happen had to have a project to really put everything at his disposal into.

He found that project with an adaptation of the noir crime novel Clean Break by Lionel White. Along with the hard boiled plot plotter Jim Thomson, Kubrick set about taking the novel’s action packed reportage style and placing it as a supremely morally ambiguous heist movie.

The actual plot of The Killing is relatively straightforward. A group of guys want to get rich quick by holding up a racetrack. Things go wrong and people fall out (to put it mildly!)In effect, it is full on film noir. But being something of a pulp story seen through Kubrick’s eyes it is much more concerned with the overall impression. This impression, both real and imagined, of the brutality of organised crime life contrasts neatly with the relationship trauma of the husband and wife pairing of Elisha Cook Jr (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep) and Marie Windsor (The Narrow Margin).

The feelings and build up of tension that emanates from the looks of terror, the various bits of grimness  that are alluded to just off camera (this was the 1950s, audiences couldn’t see everything spelled out and were in many cases better off for that…) and the tightly wound dialogue put this more into a psychological drama type of territory. As with all Kubrick films, a point riffed on by Ben Wheatley in the extras, these aren’t really genre films, they’re Kubrick films.

The closing chapters of the movie could in a sense be seen as opining that crime is ultimately futile. On closer inspection however Kubrick looks like he is saying absolutely everything is futile… and with that stark message, close credits.

This deluxe Blu-ray package includes features looking at Kubrick’s output of the 1950’s with the critic Michel Ciment, an interview with lead actor Sterling Hayden, plus Kubrick’s second feature the romantic crime movie Killer’s Kiss. Also included is the previously mentioned appreciatory interview with filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers) plus trailers for both films.

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