The Killing (1956)

Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

The film was shot in 24 days

Hitchcock like in style…

4 November 2006 | by faraaj-1 (faraajqureshi2401@gmail.com) (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

Kubrick directed 15 odd movies in half a century (let’s exclude Spartacus). His skills as an auteur may not have been recognized till Strangelove but they were on display in films like Lolita, Paths of Glory and of course The Killing, his first certified classic.

The Killing is about an intricate race-track heist involving a group of non-professionals with clean records. The mastermind, Sterling Hayden, has however spent some time in prison. The unique thing for the time is the non-linear structure of the film – particularly the heist sequence. This was probably Hayden’s finest role – yes, better than Jack D. Ripper of Strangelove or Altman’s The Long Goodbye – as the doomed hero, Johnny Clay. He is very tall and physical and quite brilliant in this role. He is well-supported by an old favorite of mine from The Maltese Falcon, Elisha Cook Jr. whose venomous wife, Marie Windsor plays a femme fatale of sorts. There is also the cult favorite Timothy Carey as the person assigned to shoot Red Lightning. Reservoir Dogs, a cult film inspired by The Killing is dedicated to Carey.

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Sterling Hayden                                                            Marie Windsor

While The Killing is certainly noirish, it does not have the pure noir look – well, pretty much most of it is filmed in the daytime. In fact, if Kubrick was inspired, it would have been more by Hitchcock’s tight pacing than by Chandler or Cain’s hard-boiled dialog. The camera-work and editing are brilliant – for me even better than later Kubrick classics. Kubrick was forced to add a voice-over by the studio – something he really wasn’t inclined towards. His ingenious solution was to have the VO not directly comment on the movie, but to add another layer to the films structure. It works! This film is not dated, although the Marie Windsor character is a bit one-dimensional and what is visible in the short length of the movie is the tight pacing

Reception

The film performed poorly at the box office, failing to secure a proper release across the United States, and it was only at the last minute that it was promoted as a second feature to Bandido! (1956), but failed to make money. However, it garnered critical acclaim, landing on several critical Top-Ten lists for the year. Time magazine wrongly predicted that it would “make a killing at the cash booths”, asserting that Kubrick “has shown more audacity with dialogue and camera than Hollywood has seen since the obstreperous Orson Welles went riding out of town on an exhibitors’ poll”—recording a loss of $130,000.A.H. Weiler, film critic for The New York Times, wrote, “Though The Killing is composed of familiar ingredients and it calls for fuller explanations, it evolves as a fairly diverting melodrama. … Aficionados of the sport of kings will discover that Mr. Kubrick’s cameras have captured some colorful shots of the ponies at Bay Meadows track.

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Other observers should find The Killing an engrossing little adventure.” Variety magazine liked the acting and wrote, “This story of a $2 million race track holdup and steps leading up to the robbery, occasionally told in a documentary style which at first tends to be somewhat confusing, soon settles into a tense and suspenseful vein which carries through to an unexpected and ironic windup … Hayden socks over a restrained characterization, and Cook is a particular standout. Windsor is particularly good, as she digs the plan out of her husband and reveals it to her boyfriend.” Although Kubrick and Harris had thought that the positive reception from critics had made their presence known in Hollywood, Max Youngstein of United Artists still considered them to be “Not far from the bottom” of the pool of new talent at the time,but Dore Schary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was impressed with the film, and offered the duo $75,000 to write, direct and produce a film, which became Paths of Glory (1957).

Rotten Tomatoes rates it 97% fresh, based on 33 reviews compiled retrospectively.[12] It has gained a cult following. For example, Eddie Muller placed the film at 15th among his top 25 favorite noir films, saying, “If you believe that a good script is a succession of great scenes, you can’t do better than this. Hey, that scene was so good, let’s do it again from somebody else’s perspective”

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In 1999 film critic Mike Emery wrote, “Kubrick’s camerawork was well on the way to finding the fluid style of his later work, and the sparse, low-budget circumstances give the film a raw, urgent sort of look. As good as the story and direction are, though, the true strength of The Killing lies in the characters and characterizations.” The same year director Peter Bogdanovich, writing for The New York Times, noted that whileThe Killing did not make money, it, along with Harris-Kubrick’s second film Paths of Glory, established “Kubrick’s reputation as a budding genius among critics and studio executives.”

On January 9, 2012, Roger Ebert added The Killing to his list of “Great Movies”. In his opening remarks, Ebert writes, “Stanley Kubrick considered ‘The Killing’ (1956) to be his first mature feature, after a couple of short warm-ups. He was 28 when it was released, having already been an obsessed chess player, a photographer for Look magazine and a director of ‘March of Time’ newsreels. It’s tempting to search here for themes and a style he would return to in his later masterpieces, but few directors seemed so determined to make every one of his films an individual, free-standing work. Seeing it without his credit, would you guess it was by Kubrick? Would you connect Dr. Strangelove with ‘Barry Lyndon?'”

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Kubrick’s first classic, and still one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made.

Author: Infofreak from Perth, Australia
14 January 2003

‘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.

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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!

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