A group of men plan a daring robbery at a racetrack in which they wish to make away with over 2 million dollars. However, many obstacles surface which threatens to undo everything.
When one ponders the film legacy of a master like Stanley Kubrick, very few tend to remember this great little gem. Films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980) are forever intertwined with the name of Kubrick. An Auteur to say the least, Kubrick’s films take on lives of their own. Through their ambitious undertakings, a Kubrick film is very difficult to mistake. The epic scope of his vision is clearly presented through his ambitious obsession to create a world that is cold and unrelenting. His use of widescreen and his fascination with the tracking shot, whether it be represented through a steadicam or a dolly, is a visual representation of his love for the medium of film and the capabilities of it as well. A genius to say the least, his films leave a tremendous wallop once completed.
There are many dominant themes that are present amongst Kubrick’s later offerings. But, before he became the artist he is heralded as today, Kubrick struggled to alleviate himself from the watchful eyes of the studio. In 1956, he was not yet an auteur but rather an aspiring filmmaker determined to define himself as an artist.
The Killing is a very interesting film in many ways. On one level, the film is a nostalgic piece of filmmaking recalling some of the greater screen classics from the past. From Double Indemnity (1944) or any film noir for that matter, in regards to the presence of one truly vindictive femme fatale, played with vigorous passion by Marie Windsor, and Citizen Kane with its fluid, invigorating and inventive camera set ups and movements. But, it is also a film that is not completely under Kubrick’s control. Yes, it is his film but according to legend, many people were unable to follow Kubrick’s non-linear storytelling technique and he was forced to place a truly dreadful voice over narration that completely undermines the visceral capabilities presented by the visuals. This narration, reminiscent of “Dragnet”, seems out of place within this film. The narrator is never given any introduction as to who he is and how he came to obtain these facts. This truly takes away from the films’ overall power.
The film noir aspects of the film are a success in more ways than one. From the role of the femme fatale and her control over the weak-willed man to the interesting use of lighting and shadows (reminiscent of German Expressionism) to the unconventional camera set ups emphasizing the constricting and claustrophobic environments present all add tremendous depth to the overall impact of the film.
On the other hand, the film fully embraces the seductive words of the pot-boiler thriller. This sort of heavy handed genre became a huge success during the 1930s in the literary field and its successes merged into the film world in classics such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946). This film genre has existed for some time and it is truly complimented through its’ relation to film noir (some would say that they are the same thing). That being said, this genre does have a way of being over the top, in regards to dialogue and acting, which forces it to be categorized as campy in some instances. The dialogue is torn from the tongue in a lighting quick manner and borders on near melodramatics at times. Some of the words spoken are near laughable which allows this film, in some instances, to lack a truly serious tone (this is not necessarily the films fault though because it strives to capture the essence of the pulp fiction novels). However, for the most part, this film plays it straight and presents the viewer with a film that never really slows down. It overcomes these minor quibbles and truly distinguishes itself as a solid form of entertainment.
This film is what brought Stanley Kubrick to the eyes of the world. It exemplified a true talent in the making and did wonders for his career. His next two films, Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960), came about as a result of the great American actor, Kirk Douglas, having watched The Killing and being so impressed by it that he personally requested to work with Kubrick. This was a great honor to be bestowed upon Kubrick but he was slowly becoming disillusioned with the fact that his vision was being tampered with by a profit obsessed studio system. Soon, Kubrick vowed to have final cut over all of his movies so that his canvas could never be contaminated again. That is why when one views a later Kubrick film, it is very easy to spot the unique interpretation of life presented by him.
This film may not be as polished or visually decorative as his later films but Kubrick still manages to incorporate select sections of his vision within this film. Early techniques that he would later establish as his art are introduced here and toyed with. He would soon perfect it all. In retrospect, The Killing was not his first film but it was the film that helped to establish him for the next forty years and beyond.
*Of note-the next time you watch Reservoir Dogs (the planning of a robbery that does not go as planned and the violent consequences as a result) or Pulp Fiction (non-linear form of story telling); remember this film and how influential it has been for aspiring filmmakers.
*It is also interesting to note that Tarantino’s third film, Jackie Brown, was adapted from the novel entitled, Rum Punch, written by Elmore Leonard who has been clearly inspired by the works of Raymond Chandler.