Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Review: Stanley Kubrick's "THE KILLING" is Still Killer Noir

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 85 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Killing (1956) – B&W
Running time:  85 minutes (1 hour, 25 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Stanley Kubrick
WRITERS:  Stanley Kubrick with Jim Thompson for additional dialogue (based upon the novel by Lionel White)
PRODUCER:  James B. Harris
EDITOR:  Betty Steinberg
COMPOSER:  Gerald Fried


Starring:  Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor, Ted DeCorsia, Joe Sawyer, James Edwards, Timothy Carey, Joseph Turkel, Jay Adler, Kola Kwariani, and Art Gilmore (narrator)

The Killing is a 1956 American Film-Noir thriller and crime drama from director Stanley Kubrick.  The film is based upon the 1955 novel, Clean Break, from author Lionel White.  The film follows a veteran criminal who assembles a five-man team to help him pull off a daring racetrack robbery.

Mention Stanley Kubrick’s name and most film fans will immediately think of his films such as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, or later Kubrick films like The Shining and Full Metal Jacket.  Not many will remember the film that first earned him the notice of Hollywood heavyweights like Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando, a terrific little film-noir gem called, The Killing.

After spending five years in Alcatraz, ex-convict Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) decides that if he’s going to commit crimes, the reward should be worth the risk, and he’s found one that’s very worth the risk – a million dollar heist of a racetrack.  Clay masterminds a brilliant and complicated scheme to steal $2,000,000, and recruits several conspirators including track employees and a crooked cop.  The only flaw in Johnny’s near-perfect plan is that one of his gang members, George Peatty (Elisha Cook), tells his shrewish wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor), about the planned robbery, and she shares it with her boyfriend.  Add a little dog and things get complicated very quickly.

The Killing is one of the best heist films I’ve ever seen.  A superb cast of character actors, most used to playing tough guys, policeman, and shady types, gives this film a solid Film-Noir atmosphere and creates a edgy, taunt little thriller that you can’t stop watching until its concluded.  Sterling Hayden plays Johnny Clay as a firm, no-nonsense guy that any hood would follow, and in a quiet, subtle fashion, he gives this film added edge.

Stanley Kubrick shaped The Killing using a non-linear structure, in which the narrative moves backwards and forwards in time.  Many viewers will recognize non-linear structure as a Quentin Tarantino signature style in such films as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  In fact, Tarantino credits The Killing with influencing his decision to shape his film narratives in a non-linear structure.

The film has a few problems that keep it from being a truly great film.  Art Gilmore’s narration is poor, delivered in that stereotypical monotone used for crime films.  Some of the dialogue is a bit too stiff, and the film drags much of the first half hour.  However, The Killing pays off the viewers’ patience quite handsomely in the form of an excellent crime film about small time hoods masterminding the perfectly plotted heist.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Original Post:  Sunday, June 03, 2007

EDITED: Wednesday, May 1, 2024

1957 BAFTA Film Award:  1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

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