After just being released from a five year stint in prison, Johnny Clay has assembled a five man team, including two insiders, to carry out what he estimates will be a $2 million heist at Lansdowne Racetrack, that take, minus expenses, to be split five ways. Besides Johnny, none of the men truly are criminals in the typical sense. In addition to the other four team members, Johnny has hired two men external to the team to carry out specific functions for a flat fee, the other four who will not meet the two men for hire or know who they are, while the two men for hire will not be told of the bigger picture of the heist. None involved are to tell anyone, even their loved ones, about the job, each of the five who has a specific reason for wanting his share of the money: Johnny, in wanting to get married to his longtime girlfriend Fay, the two who have known each other since they were kids, realizes that to live comfortably, he has to shoot for the moon instead of carrying out the penny ...Written by
This was the first film on which Stanley Kubrick worked with a cinematographer. Lucien Ballard was hired because Kubrick was officially working on a film union production for the first time, which meant he could not be both director and cinematographer, as he had done in the past. The two often did not agree on camera and lighting matters. Relations between them became so strained that Ballard stopped going to the dailies. See more »
When Marvin Unger jots down the time and place of the gang's meeting on his betting ticket in the first scene at the racetrack, he misspells the abbreviation for "apartment" as "APP". But when we next see the ticket in close-up (when Marvin slips it over the counter to George, the cashier) it reads correctly: "APT" See more »
At exactly 3:45 on that Saturday afternoon in the last week of September, Marvin Unger was, perhaps, the only one among the hundred thousand people at the track who felt no thrill at the running of the fifth race. He was totally disinterested in horse racing and held a lifelong contempt for gambling. Nevertheless, he had a $5 win bet on every horse in the fifth race. He knew, of course, that this rather unique system of betting would more than likely result in a loss, but he didn't...
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A crime classic, and a monument for actor Elisha Cook, Jr.
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 rules.
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.
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