How often do people actually seek out the early works of well-known directors? Are fans of a certain director actually interested in seeing absolutely everything in their filmography? Answering these questions is probably easier with a movie lover in mind, but is a bit more difficult if you consider a casual moviegoer. A director like Stanley Kubrick is best known for films like A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining, but Kubrick dabbled in crime and film-noir long before he gained any recognition from anyone. The Killing is just that; film-noir that is one of Kubrick’s first full-length features before he was ever even a blip on the radar.
One of the more intriguing aspects of The Killing is that it features a nonlinear narrative. It’s told out of chronological order. A good portion of both Quentin Tarantino’s and Christopher Nolan’s résumés are filled with nonlinear films. The story takes something simple and puts a slightly complicated spin on it. The film revolves around a robbery at a racetrack, which sounds straightforward enough. The way The Killing gets you to that point is something unique though. You’re continuously strung along as Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) masterminds this elaborate plan that takes more than half the film just to set up and get all the right people together. There is so much riding on the plan going right and such an emphasis on the money everyone is going to receive if they pull it off that you expect something bad to happen when it finally comes time for everyone to play their part. The film gives you all the players up front though. All the cards are on the table as far as whose involved is concerned, but the robbery and its aftermath is where the payoff truly lies.
It was interesting being able to see a character walk through a house in one continuous shot without walls obstructing our view. The ability to go through walls thanks to the way the sets were built gives you an interesting perspective. There’s also another scene where George (Elisha Cook Jr) is first shown talking to his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor). They re-locate themselves several times during the scene in the same room, but the camera is always strategically placed to make you feel like you’re sitting right next to them and actively part of their conversation. The digital restoration can probably take credit for this, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film this old look this good. The film may be lacking color, but it’s still crisp and clear. The lighting is fantastic, especially in the scene where the clown mask comes into play during the robbery.
I’ve always had this thing about gangsters. I think a lot of people do otherwise gangster movies and the crime genre in general wouldn’t be as popular as it is. But that cliché gangster voice is just incredibly entertaining to me. It just reminds me of Rocky and Mugsy from “Looney Tunes.” The Killing is filled with guys that talk like that and it’s incredible. The narration just made it feel all the more genuine, which is odd since apparently Kubrick hated adding the narration into the film. That criminal atmosphere just speaks to you in ways other films don’t. There’s quite a bit of dialogue in the film that does the same. It’ll probably sound dated to most, but that’s the way gangsters should sound. “Standin’ outside the door measuring the keyhole,” and “That’s a pretty head you got on your shoulders. You wanna keep it there or carry it around in your hands?” are things you’d never hear anyone say these days.
As Johnny Clay first has everyone gathered and they’re discussing the plan for the robbery, there’s this big roundtable discussion. It’s littered with booze, chain-smoking, and wise guys getting slapped in the face. It’s fantastic. But the way the scene is filmed, the way it makes you feel like you have to lean this way or the other to see around somebody else’s head to get a glimpse of whoever’s talking, is very reminiscent of the war room scenes in Dr. Strangelove.
The Killing isn’t going to change your mind on what your favorite Stanley Kubrick film is. It will, however, reveal that Kubrick had a unique vision of cinema even when he was first starting out. With a compelling cast, an engrossing story, and a straightforward but completely satisfying conclusion, The Killing is incredibly solid from beginning to end.
Special features on Criterion Collection releases are referred to as “Supplements” and The Killing has plenty of them. The unique thing is that an entire full-length movie is included as a special feature. Stanley Kubrick’s film Killer’s Kiss (in a restored high-definition digital transfer, of course) is on this Blu-ray in its entirety along with its own special features. Geoffrey O’Brien, a movie critic, analyzes Killer’s Kiss in a nine minute featurette. He basically spends that time comparing Killer’s Kiss to the rest of Kubrick’s works. The trailer for Killer’s Kiss is also included. James B. Harris was a producer that partnered with Stanley Kubrick on several pictures including The Killing and formed Harris-Kubrick Productions. In this twenty-one minute featurette, Harris tells the story of how he and Kubrick became partners along with how The Killing originated, the differences between the movie and the novel, Sterling Hayden joining the cast, and quite a bit more. It’s pretty fascinating and filled with tons of behind the scenes information. Next up are two excerpts from the French TV series Cinéma cinémas featuring Sterling Hayden in an in-depth interview from 1984 that totals around twenty three minutes. Hayden goes into detail about his entire career and admits to not knowing what he was doing the majority of the time. He also makes it a point to say that he has no idea what Kubrick saw in him while having one of the worst days of his life while trying to film his scenes for Dr. Strangelove. Poet and author Robert Polito discusses Jim Thompson’s collaboration with Kubrick in a nearly nineteen minute featurette. Thompson collaborated with Kubrick on the screenplay for The Killing and is credited with “additional dialogue” in the credits. Polito mostly analyzes the film while pointing out similarities to Thompson’s other works. Lastly, the trailer for the film is also included. As an added bonus, a booklet is included with the film featuring an essay by film historian Haden Guest and a reprinted interview with actress Marie Windsor.
The Killing Criterion Collection Blu-ray is not rated, features a new digital restoration of the film, is available in monaural sound, and is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It is approximately 84 minutes long and is a black and white film. The Killing will be released this Tuesday, August 23rd and should be available in both retail stores and most online retailers.
Sources: imdb.com, retrojunk.com