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Peter T Chattaway

Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956)

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The thread on those new Kubrick DVDs got me thinking about his earlier, shorter films today, so I brought out my copy of The Killing (1956) -- Kubrick's third self-produced film, and his first with a "Hollywood" cast and crew -- and watched it with my roommate tonight.

I haven't got a whole lot to say about this film that I didn't already post to the OnFilm group when I last saw it two years ago, so I'll just copy the relevant comments here; I will add, though, that during one of the Elisha Cook scenes, I suddenly leaned over to my roommate and said, "If they ever remake this film -- William H. Macy!"

I also love Kubrick's versatility, the way he went from genre to genre, making masterpieces in each one like he'd been working in each genre forever -- first film noir here, then an anti-war film with Paths of Glory (1957), then an ancient epic with Spartacus (1960), then darkly hilarious satire with Dr. Strangelove (1964), then brilliant sci-fi with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and so on. There are many stylistic consistencies across these films -- Kubrick's penchant for high-contrast lighting, for example -- but these traits are applied to such different TYPES of films that it never seems repetitive.

. . . it is a fine, fine specimen of its genre. It stars Sterling Hayden as the guy who organizes a racetrack heist, and Elisha Cook as the racetrack clerk who plays a key part in the heist but whose wife, a shrewd, scheming, sharp-tongued siren played to perfection by Marie Windsor, messes things up. (Hayden would later play Jack D. Ripper, the general who starts the war to protect his "bodily fluids", in Dr. Strangelove, but I know him best as the corrupt Irish cop in The Godfather.)

Because it's about a heist that goes very wrong, and because it hops back and forth in time in the third act, the film has been cited as an influence on Reservoir Dogs, but there aren't THAT many parallels. The clown mask that Hayden wears during the heist echoes an earlier reference in the film to the crying clown in the opera Pagliacci, which may again hint at Kubrick's fondness for the classics; the mask also anticipates the more sinister disguises worn by various characters in A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. There isn't a whole lot else I feel like commenting on in this film, apart from the obvious underlying theme that even the best-laid plans can go awry because of unforeseen factors (but shouldn't Hayden have bought a suitcase BEFORE the heist, just in case anything went wrong? couldn't he have left everyone else's share of the money in a bag in a locker or something somewhere?), but I WAS startled by the one character's use of the word "nigger" when he wants the black guy manning the parking lot to leave him alone. It's clear we are supposed to be offended by this, and this insult does lead, somewhat indirectly, to the character's downfall later on, but still, I wouldn't have expected a film made in the mid-1950s to be that blunt.

Favorite dialogue: The bit about "rubbing out a horse" ("And if they catch you, this isn't first-degree murder! Heck, It isn't even murder! I don't know WHAT it is . . . shooting horses out of season?").

Trivia note: This film was based on the novel Clean Break, and all of Kubrick's subsequent films were also based on novels or short stories.

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I have only seen this the once, a few years ago, but it was a great film that I should revisit soon.

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I picked this up on VHS at Goodwill today, along with Alfred Hitchcock's romantic comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, on DVD. A pair of odd ducks. How high on my "to view" list should this (and/or the Hitchcock) be?

Edited by du Garbandier

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I'd say THE KILLING should be quite high on your "to view" list. Excellent film. I wouldn't bother too much about MR. AND MRS. SMITH; it's so-so.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Where would you rate The Killing among Kubrick films?

Below the masterpieces (PATHS OF GLORY, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON), but above everything else (FEAR AND DESIRE, KILLER'S KISS, LOLITA, THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET, EYES WIDE SHUT).

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Ryan H. wrote:

: du Garbandier wrote:

: : Where would you rate The Killing among Kubrick films?

:

: Below the masterpieces (PATHS OF GLORY, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON), but above everything else (FEAR AND DESIRE, KILLER'S KISS, LOLITA, THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET, EYES WIDE SHUT).

Yeah, that sounds about right. Though I might give it a slight edge over Paths of Glory -- might. (It depends on whether I'm in the mood for an anti-war flick or in the mood for a good film noir.)

(Have you seen Fear and Desire, Ryan? It's the only one of Kubrick's feature-length films that I HAVEN'T seen yet, mainly because, as I understand it, it's the only one that was never officially released on video. Oh, and I note that you left Spartacus off the list.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Ryan H. wrote:

: du Garbandier wrote:

: : Where would you rate The Killing among Kubrick films?

:

: Below the masterpieces (PATHS OF GLORY, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON), but above everything else (FEAR AND DESIRE, KILLER'S KISS, LOLITA, THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET, EYES WIDE SHUT).

Yeah, that sounds about right. Though I might give it a slight edge over Paths of Glory -- might. (It depends on whether I'm in the mood for an anti-war flick or in the mood for a good film noir.)

(Have you seen Fear and Desire, Ryan? It's the only one of Kubrick's feature-length films that I HAVEN'T seen yet, mainly because, as I understand it, it's the only one that was never officially released on video. Oh, and I note that you left Spartacus off the list.)

Woah! I'd easily rate Lolita above Barry Lyndon and Paths of Glory, although Paths of Glory is one of the few "war" films I can stand watching. I've seen only part of The Killing - I'd like to sit down with it again someday and finish it.

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Yeah, that sounds about right. Though I might give it a slight edge over Paths of Glory -- might. (It depends on whether I'm in the mood for an anti-war flick or in the mood for a good film noir.)

I could understand why a comparison between the two of 'em could be considered a toss-up.

(Have you seen Fear and Desire, Ryan? It's the only one of Kubrick's feature-length films that I HAVEN'T seen yet, mainly because, as I understand it, it's the only one that was never officially released on video. Oh, and I note that you left Spartacus off the list.)

I left SPARTACUS off the list because Kubrick disowned it. Sure, it's still a Kubrick film, but given the restrictions put on his vision for the film, I tend to think of it in a separate category, alongside the pseudo-Kubrick films, ONE-EYED JACKS and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

Anyway, I have seen FEAR AND DESIRE. The entirety of the film is on YouTube (or at least it was on YouTube, since that's where I saw it).

Edited by Ryan H.

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Woah! I'd easily rate Lolita above Barry Lyndon and Paths of Glory, although Paths of Glory is one of the few "war" films I can stand watching.

It's hardly unusual to see BARRY LYNDON and PATHS OF GLORY rated above LOLITA. LOLITA is one of those hotly-debated Kubrick films, and one that's generally neglected. Some people seem to love it, but I'm damned if I know why; I don't think it's half the movie that BARRY LYNDON or PATHS OF GLORY manage to be. Kubrick's LOLITA is an altogether rather dull and hopelessly neutered version of a sublime novel (Kubrick would have done well to stick closer to Nabokov's screenplay).

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: I left SPARTACUS off the list because Kubrick disowned it.

But didn't he disown Fear and Desire, too? I thought that was why it had never been released on video. (Maybe "disown" isn't the right word. He might have acknowledged his authorship of it, but he apparently wanted to keep it relatively hidden, like an old diary perhaps.)

: Sure, it's still a Kubrick film, but given the restrictions put on his vision for the film, I tend to think of it in a separate category, alongside the pseudo-Kubrick films, ONE-EYED JACKS and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

One-Eyed Jacks? Tell me more! I don't believe I have ever heard of a Kubrick connection with regard to that film before.

As for Spartacus, Kubrick did direct it (or most of it; the prologue was directed by some other guy who was fired a couple weeks into production, if memory serves), and some aspects of the film are VERY Kubrickian (the obsessiopn with military/gladiatorial training and tactics, the kinky hints of voyeurism and formalized sex, etc.). So, yes, it was a transitional film, wherein the once-indie filmmaker proved himself capable of working the Hollywood big leagues, but I wouldn't disown it just because Kubrick wasn't as in-control of it as he wanted to be.

: Anyway, I have seen FEAR AND DESIRE. The entirety of the film is on YouTube (or at least it was on YouTube, since that's where I saw it).

Thanks for the tip -- I'm downloading the clips as we speak!

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But didn't he disown Fear and Desire, too? I thought that was why it had never been released on video. (Maybe "disown" isn't the right word. He might have acknowledged his authorship of it, but he apparently wanted to keep it relatively hidden, like an old diary perhaps.)

Yeah, "disown" isn't quite the right word. He was very embarrassed by it (and KILLER'S KISS, for that matter), but he didn't wash his hands of it in the way he did regarding SPARTACUS.

One-Eyed Jacks? Tell me more! I don't believe I have ever heard of a Kubrick connection with regard to that film before.

Kubrick was set up as director of ONE-EYED JACKS and had a great deal of influence over the script and casting. Here is an interesting article that explores Kubrick's vision for ONE-EYED JACKS, thanks to an archival transcript of a meeting between Kubrick, Brando, and producer Rosenberg.

As for Spartacus, Kubrick did direct it (or most of it; the prologue was directed by some other guy who was fired a couple weeks into production, if memory serves), and some aspects of the film are VERY Kubrickian (the obsession with military/gladiatorial training and tactics, the kinky hints of voyeurism and formalized sex, etc.). So, yes, it was a transitional film, wherein the once-indie filmmaker proved himself capable of working the Hollywood big leagues, but I wouldn't disown it just because Kubrick wasn't as in-control of it as he wanted to be.

The John Baxter biography--the only biography of Kubrick I've read--went into great detail about the production of SPARTACUS. It seems that some key elements of Kubrick's vision were denied by Douglas (Kubrick wanted a great deal more moral ambiguity than he was allowed), and so I'm sympathetic to Kubrick's frustration with the film. But you're also right to note that there are very Kubrickian aspects to the film, but I tend to think of it as a film Kubrick worked on, rather than a film Kubrick really owns.

On a related note, it's worthwhile to note that Kubrick wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the restoration of the "snails" scene with Olivier and Curtis. It was a moment he thought should have remained on the cutting room floor.

Thanks for the tip -- I'm downloading the clips as we speak!

No problem.

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