The Killing (1956) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Crooks plan and execute a daring race-track robbery.

  • 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 ante stuff that put him behind bars; Marvin Unger, a bookkeeper who is bankrolling the plan, is doing it out of his friendship and loyalty to Johnny; Randy Kennan, a crooked police officer, is already late with his repayment to a loan shark; Mike O'Reilly, one of the track's bartenders, wants to be able to provide better overall care, most importantly medical, to his bedridden wife, Ruthie O'Reilly; and milquetoast George Peatty, one of the track's ticket clerks, is trying to buy back the love of his shrew of a wife of five years, Sherry Peatty, if he ever had her love at all. The elaborate plan requires meticulous timing by all seven men. Beyond any unforeseen problems causing the plan to fail, what the other four team members are unaware of is that weak minded George told Sherry of the broad issue that he will be involved in a heist in an effort to hold on to her emotionally, she, in turn, who told her boyfriend Val Cannon, with Sherry and Val having their own ideas of absconding with the entire take of the heist after the fact.

  • After getting out of prison, Johnny Clay masterminds a complex race-track heist, but his scheme is complicated by the intervention of the wife of a teller (George Peatty) in on the scheme, the boyfriend of the wife, airport regulations, and a small dog.

  • Johnny Clay has a plan. After spending 5 years in Alcatraz, he decides that if he's going to commit crimes, the risk had better be worth the punishment. He then proceeds to mastermind a brilliant criminal scheme to steal $2,000,000 from a local racetrack in which "no one will get hurt." The only flaw in his plan is that he does not consider one of his co-horts' greedy, shrewish wife and her ruthless boyfriend. That's when something goes wrong...

  • Ex-convict Johnny Clay tells his girl friend, Fay, he has plans for making money, and indeed he has. He rounds up a gang and brings them in on a seemingly fool-proof scheme to rob a race track of $200,000. The first thread unravels when Sherry Peatty, wife of gang-member George Peatty, tells her boyfriend Val Cannon about the plan, and he cuts himself in on that action also. The robbery is completed and the gang goes to the hideout where Johnny will join them later. Val sticks up the robbers, a shot is fired, and all hands are soon dispatched. Johnny, with the money in a suitcase, joins Fay at the airport. And the fat lady still hasn't sung.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), an ex-convict, organizes a $2 million racecourse hold-up. His accomplices are race track cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.); the barman Mike O'Reilly (Joe Sawyer), crooked policeman Randy Kenna (Ted de Corsia), and former alcoholic Marvin Unger (Jay C. Filppen) who finances the operation. Johnny's fiancee, Fay (Colleen Gray), worries that he may go back to prison for this but he tells her that the risks are worth taking.

    George needs the money to give to his nagging and narcissistic wife Sherry (Marie Windsor), who is having an affair with mobster Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), whom is trying to persuade Sherry to let him kill George so they can run off with his money. Mike needs the money to care for his constantly sick wife. Randy is revealed to need the money to pay off some local bookies for bad gambling debts.

    During their meeting to discuss the details of the robbery, George catches Sherry spying on them and subdues her. He sends the others, including George, home to talk with her. Johnny knows that Sherry is a grifter only out for money, and he tells her that he will give her a generous share of their loot when it gets pulled off. But Sherry, being who she is, tells Val who agrees to steal the money afterwards so they can have it all for themselves.

    Johnny hires Nikki Arane (Timothy Carey), a gunman-for-hire and Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwarain), a former ex-con and Russian wrestler, to create diversions at the start of the 7th race when the hold-up will begin.

    Here is how the heist is executed in detail from different points of view:

    At the start of the 7th race, Maurice starts a brawl at Mike's bar. The racetrack guards subdue him. While they are occupied, George opens the door to the payroll office and Johnny slips through. Johnny gets out a rapid-firing shotgun that Mike planted earlier in his locker, puts on a mask and holds up the four clerks at the payroll office. Johnny stuffs $2 million in cash into a large bag and throws it out the window. Randy, waiting below, takes the bag, drives to a motel, and leaves it in a room that Johnny is renting. Johnny then escapes from the racetrack in the confusion and panic caused when Nikki shoots the racehorse, Red Lighting, with a high powered rifle from a distant parking lot. But Nikki is killed by a black policeman (James Edwards), whom he had earlier insulted by calling him a "nigger", who shoots him down as he attempts to flee out of the parking lot.

    Afterward, George, Mike, Randy and Marvin wait at Johnny's apartment for him to show up with the loot when they are surprised by Val Cannon and an accomplice of his demanding to know where the loot is. A gunfight ensues and everyone is killed, except George who, though mortally wounded, drags himself home and kills Sherry who admits that she betrayed him, before expiring himself.

    When Johnny learns that his partners are in trouble, he stuffs the racetrack loot in an old suitcase and goes to the airport and meets with Fay so they can leave town. They both purchase tickets to Boston, but the airport officials refuse to let Johnny carry the large suitcase on the plane, and he reluctantly checks the suitcase in for luggage.

    On the airport runway, the suitcase containing the money falls off a luggage truck which swerves to avoid hitting a snobbish, rich woman's pet dog. The suitcase breaks open, and the money is scattered in all directions. Johnny and Fay attempt to escape from the airport, but they cannot hail a taxi. "What's the difference?", Johnny says as the police close in on them.

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