johnlink ranks THE KILLING (1956)

My interest in THE KILLING has always been based on the fact that it is early Stanley Kubrick (made before he was even 30). But, in all honesty, I did not even know what it was about. As I was browsing movie choices last evening I saw that it was a heist film. I never knew Kubrick made a heist film. It took me all of a quarter of a second to decide on watching THE KILLING after learning that fact.


I watched THE KILLING (1956) on 6.13.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

In his article on THE KILLING for his Great Movies series, Roger Ebert points out that seeing early Kubrick won’t necessarily give away any thematic foreshadowing of a masterful career. All of his movies were so individual and unique, that even his early films don’t unlock some secret code to learn more about the man. If anything, the only thing we deduce about Kubrick from watching THE KILLING is that he was a masterful story teller and director even from a young age, and that respected actors like Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook Jr. would do really good work for him.

The story unfolds in non-linear fashion. Johnny (Hayden) has put together a team of non-criminals to knock off a race track during a big horse race. His team is entirely non-experienced, and each has just a single job (though nobody knows what anyone else is doing). The projected two million take is going to be split evenly among the team, save for a couple of real criminals who are asked to do the most public parts of the job. They get a low cut and learn nothing about the job so that they have a reduced risk.

Kubrick does a meticulous job in letting information out drip by drip. We meet the team members in such a way that we remember them uniquely and don’t necessarily know their relative importance to the overall job until later. Some of the dialogue early on is a little too pulpy, though this is worked through by the time we meet George (Cook) and his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor).

George a weak man and Sherry regrets marrying him. She weasels information about the job out of him which, as we might suspect, comes back to cause a problem in the third act.


THE KILLING is a gem. The heist is smart and the dominoes fall just creatively enough to keep us constantly entertained. The characters are wonderful. An unusual assassin (Timothy Carey) is an interesting and ticky dude until he turns nasty, and then the movie proves it can get nasty as well. A wrestler (Kola Kwariani) has the goofiest scene in the movie; one which works though it shouldn’t. Hayden brings gravitas to his leading man role. We want him to succeed.

But the real star of this movie is the young Kubrick behind the camera. His visuals in this black-and-white film are memorable. The horse racing looks sharp. The tracking shots are patient and show us more space and more in the light than a normal film noir would. Even his scenes of shadow don’t look like an homage to the 40s, but rather a re-imagining of how dark and light work in a crime film. This is particularly notable in a scene where a crooked cop (Ted DeCorsia) meets a mob boss (Jay Adler) to whom he owes some money.


While this isn’t considered the top level of Kubrick’s craft, that is only because he would go on to make some of the best films ever made across a variety of genres. If you haven’t seen THE KILLING, do yourself a favor and find it.





~ by johnlink00 on June 14, 2014.

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