The killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956)


The killing, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1956).

Score: has not aged well.

The second movie in the career of Stanley Kubrick (the third if you count the so-embarrassing-he-had-to-destroy-the-negatives Fear and desire), The killing is a modest heist movie. It tells the story of how Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) plans to rob the earnings of a racecourse. For that, he will count with the cooperation of cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), corrupt policeman Randy Kenna (Ted de Corsia), barman Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer) and financing from Marvin Unger (Jay C. Filppen). Meanwhile, George’s selfish and abusive wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) is planning on getting rid of her husband with the help of her lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards) so they can run away with the money.

The reason this film doesn’t appeal to modern audiences is that it takes itself way too seriously. The music breaks into the scenes in an overly dramatic way. The film is very smug about the way it’s telling the story, the only problem is we have seen this done dozens of times by its successors, in more elaborate and varied ways. Sterling Hayden delivers his lines comically fast and inexpressively, with forced pauses that are only there because the screenplay had an ellipsis. I was picturing the victims telling the police: “He was wearing a clown mask and spoke abnormally fast!” The bar brawl. The bar brawl was glorious.

The voiceover. It’s one of those rules of screenwriting: “never use voiceovers! Show the characters doing stuff instead!” Like every other rule, it can be bent or broken, but this is just not the case. Times and places are important, but anyway it would have been more elegant to use text, or show a clock, or show where the character is going, or use dialogue, or just trust the audience’s intelligence. But the voiceover just goes on an on, adding useless detail like: “he had acid reflux that morning so he decided to stop by the store later and see if they also had some of those chocolate bars he liked so much…” I don’t care what he’s thinking! On with the action! Apparently the studio made Kubrick add the narration and he hated it, which is only natural.

Would only recommend if you are an unconditional old Hollywood fan.

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