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'The Killing' has been overshadowed by Stanley Kubrick's subsequent better known and better made movie masterpieces. Films like 'Dr. Strangelove', '2001' and 'A Clockwork Orange' are much more flamboyant and intellectually exciting than this early hard boiled crime thriller, but for my money it is still one of his most entertaining movies, and in its own modest way just as brilliant as his more talked about films. 'The Killing' is still one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made, and one which influenced many film makers working in this genre, not the least of which Quentin Tarantino, who obviously worships this picture, and used its innovative structure as major inspiration for 'Pulp Fiction'. Kubrick wrote 'The Killing's script as well as directing, but made the smart move of asking "the Dime Store Dostoevski" Jim Thompson, author of pulp classics like 'The Killer Inside Me' and 'The Getaway' to supply the fresh and memorable dialogue. Sterling Hayden, who later achieved screen immmortality as General Jack D. Ripper in 'Dr Strangelove', is perfect as ambitious small time crook Johnny Clay. He is surrounded by an almost flawless supporting cast. I qualified that because I wasn't totally convinced by Coleen Gray who plays Johnny's girlfriend. However she only really has one scene, and the rest of the cast more than makes up for her. Especially memorable are the mis-matched husband and wife played by Elisha Cook, Jr ('The House On Haunted Hill') and the sultry Marie Windsor (noir classic 'Narrow Margin'). Their scenes together are simply terrific. Also noteworthy are the two scenes featuring legendary crazy Timothy Carey ('The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie'). Carey was one of the most extraordinary performers to set foot in front of a movie character, and is unforgettable. Kubrick obviously thought highly of him as he subsequently cast him in his anti-war classic 'Paths Of Glory', a move which antagonised the movie's star Kirk Douglas. Even if 'The Killing' didn't feature such a strong performance from Sterling Hayden it would be worth watching just to catch Cook, Windsor and Carey. On top of that you have some other great actors such as Vince Edwards, an innovative script, hip dialogue and some brilliant directorial touches. This exciting heist movie can't be recommended highly enough, it's a real treat for film buffs. A brilliant film that still packs a punch after almost fifty years, something I doubt you will be saying about many movies currently showing in today's theatres. 'The Killing' is a super cool suspense movie and not to be missed!
At the age of 27, Stanley Kubrick's third film, The Killing, took
Lionel White's hard-boiled, non-linear story of one man (Johnny Clay,
with quick-talking, straightforward ease by Sterling Hayden) and his
crew planning and tasking a race-track robbery. It's almost fifty years
old, but by this time Kubrick intently defined his style, and somehow
the film seems to have themes and characters that are identifiable (and
recognizable) with any period. The supporting characters are as sharply
drawn (and psychologically involving) if not more so than Johnny Clay.
Driving us into this world of schemers shouldn't be dense, and as
Kubrick passes by any pretense - and keeps the compositions and
material entertaining and absorbing - and it allows a viewer a lot of
promise on repeat viewings.
While the story elements are similar to the sort of Kubrick-movie psychology (mostly dealing with men who are head deep in a rather existential crisis of what's against society), what's unique is how the craft is intuitive. On a low budget, and even with a cast that's very good if not excellent, everything is always assured in the style and turns grinding in the plot. I could watch this movie another two times (after three in the past two years or so) and still see shots so detailed yet with the tone that of the most inspired film-noirs. It's questionable as to where Kubrick got influence for some of the compositions, with usage of shadows and the dark (and light shades too), but whether or not it was some famous expressionist or from the 40's film-noirs, the mark of Kubrick uncurling as an artist is evident.
One remark by some is that the narration is sometimes irritating, that the kind of B-movie police drama expository tone, and the information is too much. The voice is not my favorite part of the film, but the narration itself, the information, is an interesting mold in the film's structure. It adds on a layer to that existentialist subtext, as every description makes it sounds like the narrator's a reporter looking back on the past events with a (detached) objectivity. For me, this did make it a little much to concentrate on in the first viewing, however this is a film that demands un-thwarted attention for it's 83 minutes. If you turn away for too long, a piece of the puzzle will be out of sight. It's a great film, and it's gone on to inspire a flock of homagers and imitators in the last half century. A+
Director Stanley Kubrick is best known for "2001: A Space Odyssey." "A
Clockwork Orrange" or "The Shining" but I always found this to be my
favorite of his films. This is film noir at some of its best: a tight
no-nonsense story with tragic consequences, some of the best film noir
actors in the business and great cinematography, which looks even
better on DVD.
Sterling Hayden is the gang leader in this heist film and the big man was up to the task as he usually was in these kind of crime films. He wasn't as rough a character as he was in "Asphalt Jungle," but his role reminded me of that film.
What made this movie so appealing to me were four very interesting character actors: Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Kola Kwariani and Ted de Corsia. Few people had those loser-type film noir characters down pat as well as the tough-talking Windsor and the meek and wimpy Cook. They played a husband-and-wife team here: that's film noir heaven!
Kwariani plays a burley chess-playing wrestler who fights six cops at one time and Carey is a long-distance racist rifleman who talks through clenched-teeth and shoots a racehorse! As I said, some very interesting characters here.
And, oh yeah.....for you over-55 readers, there's Vince Edwards, alias Dr. Ben Casey of TV fame, as a Windsor's young adulterer boyfriend trying to horn in on the money from the robbery.
This film is full of surprises and always fun to watch.
Stanley Kunbrick was still in his twenties when he made this film, yet his
confidence and self-assurance are all over it. It is a well-written story,
co-written by Kubrick (based on a novel called "A Clean Break"), about a
meticulously planned horetrack heist told from the point of view of the
several people who were in on the plot. Most of these guys weren't
professional criminals, but otherwise honest men who were down on their luck
and needed a break. They turned to this audacious plan in desperation,
thinking they could do some real good in their lives with their share of the
money. I won't give away the ending of course, but keep in mind this is a
Kubrick film. That's all I say about that.
Standouts include Sterling Hayden as the ringleader, Marie Windsor as a snide, manipulative woman, Elisha Cook as her milquetoasty husband, Timothy Carey, as creepy as ever, and Kola Kwariani, the thinking man's Tor Johnson, as a chess expert/hired thug.
Speaking of chess, this is the first movie I've ever seen with a scene taking place in a chess parlor. Being from a provincial New England town, and not being a chess afficionado, I never knew such places existed.
Nowadays, every dang films from studios are being beef up to epic size
length. To be honest, I find this very dull and pointless and too many
filler scenes, which aren't necessary at all. The Killing is great example
of keep it short and sweet with no fat on it. It's just straight to the
point and no complicated plot twists over plot twists over plot twists like
modern hesist film. Kubrick's direction is very brilliant in this film.
It's very straightfoward, even if it's in nonlinear sequences, which is very unique for its time. Nowadays, too many films are use nonlinear sequences to add gimmicky appeal to the audiences, which is waste of time. Sterling Hayden is wonderful as Johnny Clay, who is the mastermind of the hesist plan. He should have get nomination for Academy Awards because no one can play that character like Hayden. It is seldom to watch nice and taut film that is clocked approximately 90 minutes.
This film have all basic elements of film noir, which is one of my favorite genre. You can see Kubrick's signatures began to show in this film, i.e. 3 ways enemies. Kubrick is the star of The Killing, that's for sure. The directors who want to make a hesist film should learn from The Killing because it's outstanding film. One of the best hesist film of all time.
There's little to fault in Stanley Kubrick's classic robbery tale. The acting is first-rate with Marie Windsor, as Mrs. Peaty, a sarcastic stand-out. The story just pops off the screen - and at less than 90 minutes, there's literally no filler. I love the winding time line ("earlier that day" etc.), which has been liberally utilized by Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs). This film was made right before Kubrick's WWI marvel, Paths of Glory, and his genius is apparent in both. No wasted words or actions. Love that last line!
Everything about this movie fascinates me. Even the unexpected ending has a
compelling and unique flavor to it. Sure, it looks like many crime dramas
of the 50's. But we are talking about of a movie with a director of the
prodigious talents of Stanley Kubrick.
Sometimes you wonder which genre Kubrick could not have handled brilliantly. He seems to know exactly what to do in such a wide variety of movies...Crime, Drama, War, Surreal, Historical Epic, Science Fiction and Black Comedy. My only wish would have been if Kubrick could have made MORE movies. When he died, that left only Woody Allen as the only major director who is working as a pure artist in the film medium.
THE KILLING is filled with crime-noir touches that form an absorbing whole that is hard to beat. The acting is top-notch, the scenes are set in gold taking from every crime movie and creating a whole that could not have been done so well by just any director - perhaps only Hitchcock could have pulled this off. Then there's the jazzy score that underlines the action which punch and atmosphere that just curdles off the screen.
Even if you're not a Kubrick fan (which might surprise many people when they find out he was the director) you will enjoy this movie.
Right to the end...which I won't reveal...but has an inevitability written with classical balance and a submission to fate that leaves a wry smile on your face.
Sterling Hayden is great in this role and he populates this character with just the right sort of mystery to keep you guessing until the end.
Recommended without reservation.
The story of a meticulously-planned race track hold-up is a stunner in every
minute you watch it, and the film's progressive use of a partly documentary
style has often been acclaimed as uniquely supporting the dramatic
goings-on. It definitely put a modern touch to the somewhat out-of-fashion
film noir in 1956, but still greatly relied on its basic
A fine new note was the neat distinction between the gang's members' motives, ranging from repaying underworld debts (De Corsia) and hope of offering a better life for his ill wife (Sawyer) to the vain ambition of pleasing his vamp wife by doing something special (Cook).
Despite the film's qualities, Kubrick's treatment of the women's rôles seems more than old-fashioned today. Women here are either the homely and sweet type (Coleen Gray) or the Bette-Davis-eyed and cherchez-la-femme type (Marie Windsor). Both are accordingly taller or smaller than their respective partners by a head.
I should like to mention one of my favourite pans: that's when the bald philosopher-catcher walks up to Joe Sawyer's bar. Lucien Ballard's camera follows him all across the crowded tote hall, a take which must have been very difficult to organize and shoot. Later, the scene is repeated with Sterling Hayden.
This motion picture is also a monument for the great histrionic art of Elisha Cook, Jr., in a stand-out performance as the born loser. (German dubbing gives him the apt voice of Stan Laurel's speaker Walter Bluhm.) This little man never just did his job in unnumerable supporting rôles but has rendered effective homage to the tragic figure on the silver screen more than any other (non-comical) character actor I can think of. Regardless of his versatility in lots of different films, his impersonations of a likeable man who is doomed to fail make him unforgettable: take his lethal parts in "Phantom Lady" (1944), "Shane" (1953) or the likes, the audience's sympathy was always with this fine actor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The formidably promising talent shown in "Killer's Kiss" helped to
secure for Stanley Kubrick studio backing for his next straight
thriller, "The Killing," made in 1956
This was a much more "professional" job than its forerunner Kubrick had the casting of a bunch of actors so experienced in the "character" parts that as soon as they came into camera view you recognized them from a score of Hollywood movies
"The Killing" lacks for me the dimension of humanity of its predecessor It reminded me of one of those documentaries that give you every conceivable fact with immaculate accuracy and leave you without the heart of the truth This has something to do with the style of the storytelling . Once again there is a narrator; only instead of a lonely failure with blood in his veins, this one sounds like a "March of Time" commentator: loud, confident, detached
The film opens on the horses preparing for the off at the track and, even before the titles end, the dramatic music has started building the tension
One by one we are introduced to the characters as once again, we don't know for a while what the plot is going to be; but this one uses the time to build the mystery and tension rather than to deepen the characters
Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is a convict just out from five years in Alcatraz, master-minding the two million dollar hold-up He collects (how, we are never told) a bunch of flawed human beings to fit, like jigsaw pieces, into the intricacy of his plan There's an Irish barman, an amiable old book-keeper, a tough crooked cop; and there's little George Peatty, played by Elisha Cook Jr he of the bulging eyes and mobile mouth; here the incarnation of fear and uncertainty and in countless other Hollywood thrillers the personification of the staring-eyed boy killer...
Kubrick plays tricks with time as his characters become caught in the plot He takes each of them and plays his incident through to the next turn of the screw; then goes back to an earlier moment in time to see what somebody else was doing
Even the incidental small parts have "character" stamped right through them The marksman hired to shoot a winning racehorse to cause a diversion from the robbery is a war veteran with deformed speech The old retired wrestler, who picks a fight with the police to create another diversion
If "Killer's Kiss" had one big dramatic set-piece, "The Killing" has a score of small dramatic touches to heighten the irony and the tension
"The Killing" is one of the most skillful and entertaining suspense movies of the Fifties It mesmerized like a ticking time bomb, and every few minutes, with sure skill, Kubrick recorded a new peak of suspense And all with very little violence, again, though with the obligatory sudden death
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While people die violently in The Killing, the title comes from the
thought of a financial killing. This film is a choreographed chess
match - Kubrick had a lifelong passion for chess - with human pieces,
where the gambit is a racetrack heist of two million dollars.
The heist is brilliantly conceived. Johnny Clay, recently paroled, must have thought of nothing else in prison except this heist. The precision with which this scheme comes together is exquisite and absolutely flawless. There is one minor loose end during the heist itself when Marvin Unger shows up at the track drunk, contrary to instructions, but this is a red herring.
The heist is brilliantly executed. It goes literally like clockwork, and that is the best, maybe the only, metaphor to describe it. It reminded me of a road rally where drivers had to be in certain positions at certain times. Clay recruits accomplices on the inside, track employees, who must play small, but critical parts, for the heist to work. Everyone does his job beautifully, the heist comes off with hardly a hitch. One accomplice is killed by police, but no one else - conspirator or bystander - gets hurt, and Clay gets away clean. No military operation was ever planned so minutely or executed so precisely.
But, once Clay has the money, things come a-cropper. We know, of course, that the plan cannot succeed. Nefarious plans *never* succeed in film noir. It's a rule.
How this particular scheme came undone and was foiled seemed contrived and forced to me. Here is this exquisitely planned operation, flawlessly executed with military precision. And yet this scrupulously planned, perfectly timed attention to detail is tossed aside once Clay has the money. It's almost like he expected to fail, or never counted on succeeding, like he thought, "Okay, I've got two mil in small bills. Now, what do I do?"
But, that would be telling. How the perfect crime is foiled is the film's climax, and its only weak moment.
Sterling Hayden is brilliant as Johnny Clay. His precise, clipped, monotone delivery, almost like a newsman, is perfect here. The liner notes for my DVD said that the studio wanted Jack Palance or Victor Mature for the role, but Kubrick held firm. Either would have been good, but Hayden was brilliant. Marie Windsor is not one we would think of as a femme fatale, but she is also very good as the selfish, vain, scheming and very attractive wife of one of the co-conspirators played by Elisha Cooke, Jr. He married out of his league, and in film noir, that's a guarantee for disaster.
One of Kubrick's best, and one of the best film noir's ever done. A solid 8 out of 10
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