The Killing

Stanley Kubrick, USA 1956, 83 minutes

Ex-con Johnny Clay (genre mainstay Sterling Hayden) plans one last job before going straight. He is going to steal the takings from the local racetrack. Clay assembles his gang, including hen-pecked track cashier George Peatty (the wonderfully weaselly Elisha Cook Jr.), a psychotic marksman, and a chess playing brawler (the Tor Johnson-esque Kola Kwariani - this man has to be seen and heard to be believed). Every member of the gang has their role to play, at just the right time, for the plan to work. Inevitably, a minor detail goes wrong and it all starts to fall apart - Clay's last job. Period.

Kubrick's breakthrough film, an adaptation of Lionel White's novel Inside Straight, made for some $320,000 (at times it shows - we're in the realm of the cardboard set), is a classic film noir. There are no real surprises on offer - there could hardly be when the film has the favoured doom laden voice-over and back-to-front type narrative structure found in many of the best film noirs (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, etc.). Similarly, as soon as you see Sherry Peatty you just know she's the femme fatale who's inevitably going to betray her husband somewhere down the line. So, the real joy comes from seeing the masterful way in which Kubrick plays out the pieces, like the chess master he is. Of special note is the way his direction, nicely rendered by Lucien Ballard's crisp cinematography, creates a claustrophobic world - the camera, like the characters, wants to escape but cannot, no matter where it moves.

A brilliant film, and one well worth seeing - whether as an example of what Kubrick was capable of doing with limited resources, a classic film noir, or one of those many movies which Tarantino has liberally drawn from.

"Fatally flawed humans, complicated inter-locking timetables, and meticulous plans gone awry ****" - Virgin

Review by Keith Brown
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97

Sterling Hayden plays a small-time criminal involved in The Killing. Things going tragically wrong is a favourite theme of Kubrick: explored in 2001 and in Dr. Strangelove. The robbery, planned by Johnny Clay (Hayden) is conducted successfully until the robbers are robbed following betrayal by the femme fatale character - Sherry Peaty - the adulterous wife of one of the participants in the crime. Using flash-backs and flash-forwards Kubrick rejects the conventional beginning, middle and end narrative style. Instead he picks up a character, takes them a certain way, drops them and then introduces another one. A similar technique is adopted during the robbery itself permitting simultaneous events to be described. The effect, however tends to make the plot appear more complex than it really is.

Review by Malcolm Maclaren
Taken from EUFS Programme 1993-94