The Killing, 1956.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
A group of men plan to steal money from a local race track, scrupulously planning the heist, and coming across a host of obstacles.
The Killing is rarely cited when referencing heist films such as Inside Man and Ocean’s Eleven, yet it is deeply imbedded in their – and many others’ – genetics. Coming from the great Stanley Kubrick, expect a film as carefully constructed as the caper within it. Even with a story that now seems standard, The Killing has barely aged, and despite some predictability (mostly thanks to a number of contemporary films copying its style) the finale packs a punch.
Building up to a perfectly devised conclusion, The Killing relies on a motif of meticulousness, with the loud diegetics of ticking clocks, the constant criss-crossing of people, and uniform dress. The art of the film lies in the subtle themes, referenced by Kubrick’s detailed direction. With it being one of his first films, and in black-and-white, there are restrictions he would have dealt with, leaving you wondering, “what if?” had Kubrick made this later and with more success. Still, there isn’t much you can argue with (and for an early effort, it foretells Kubrick’s brilliance).
Made in 1956, the worry that dialogue and acting would be hammy is disregarded thanks to a sharp script and a terrific ensemble. Leading the pack is Sterling Hayden, gruff and weathered. The older man characterisation makes his motives more believable, whilst giving the film a maturity on the whole. Next best is Elisha Cook Jr., similarly borne with recognisable motivations – trying to get the attention of a woman (the acidic Marie Windsor). Cook Jr. is one of those “I know that guy” character actors, somewhat distracting for a while, before his becomes the most empathetic characters. They aren’t as fun as Danny Ocean and co, but they are believable, likeable (apart from controversial opinions about gender and violence), and entertaining to follow.
There is a lot of joy to be found in The Killing, a father-figure to the heist genre. Gripping and filled with noir-esque elements, this is a wonderful re-release. And the restoration work is phenomenal; not every 50s film has come out from the retouches quite as pristine. The extras include another Kubrick film, Killer’s Kiss, and a very interesting interview with Sterling Hayden in which he looks back over his career, and comments on his distaste of Hollywood.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Piers McCarthy – Follow me on Twitter.