Thursday, February 28, 2013
(May 1956, U.S.)
It's a Stanley Kubrick classic double feature, folks! First KILLERS'S KISS and now THE KILLING! Man, I just love it when coincidental shit like this happens! Don't you?
Perhaps the best way to introduce the contents of this film, particularly for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is to immediately mention Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). This is significant because THE KILLING was a major influence for that film in that it involves the telling of the crminal heist-gone-wrong from the different perspectives of each participant. Those who love Tarantino's film should know where its source of material and inspiration came from. From that, you can get more than a good sense of where young Kubrick was coming from when he adapted the story from a pulp novel known as CLEAN BREAK.
As pure film noir, THE KILLING is as furious and violent as previous gangster pictures like LITTLE CAESAR (1931), THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) and the original version of SCARFACE (1932) from decades prior. Johnny Clay (played by Sterling Hayden - later in DR. STRANGELOVE) is a veteran criminal planning one last heist before settling down and marrying the woman he loves. His plan is to rob two million dollars from the money-counting room of a racetrack during a featured race. By assembling a team of inside men, a corrupt cop and a sharpshooter, and by employing percise, detailed timing of the entire operation, it would seem the plan couldn't possibly go wrong (but then, where would the fun be in THAT if the plan didn't go wrong?). Through narration, flashbacks and jumps in the story's timeline, we're given the details of every moment of the day that leads up to the robbery in progress, the getaway that follows and the double-crossing at the payoff that makes it all go sour. And as film noir cliche would have it, the problems are ultimately caused by the double-crossing (there's those words again!) femme fatale who wants the money all for herself and her young lover. When it's all over, though, all the team members (even the femme fatale!) are dead except for Johnny Clay. Now that he's free to keep all the loot, his escape plan is all that remains. But you have to figure that it's never going to go according to plan when you watch the man sloppily place two million dollars cash in a second-hand suitcase that looks like it's just aching to pop open. Pop open it does, right on the airport runway with the cash flying in every direction. What's worse is that the mishap is caused by a stupid, little poodle! Like any heist film, you naturally want the bad guy to get away with it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. When they don't (as in this case), it's almost tragic to watch them get so damn close to their precious victory, only to have to watch it all fly away with the wind (literally!).
Although a box office dud, THE KILLING fared well with critics and it was finally the film Kubrick needed to get him the proper Hollywood attention that would allow him to proceed with a career that has stood the test of cinematic history. There are reasons Stanley Kubrick has always been my favorite film director, and with each film that I'm able to discuss, it seems I can always find just a little more to appreciate and treasure in his work.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sherry Peatty (after being shot by her husband): "It isn't fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line."