When ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) says he has a plan to make a killing, everybody wants to be in on the action. Especially when the plan is to steal $2 million in a racetrack robbery scheme in which "no one will ge... more »t hurt." But despite all their careful plotting, Clay and his men have overlooked one thing: Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), a money-hungry, double-crossing dame who's planning to make a financial killing of her own...even if she has to wipe out Clay's entire gang to do it! Directed in a revolutionary story-telling technique by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, The Killing is tough, taut, tense and one of the greatest crime thrillers ever made!« less
Old school black and white noir. A bit too slow for our taste.
Kubrick Does Noir
Reviewer | 10/27/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An ex-con engineers a race track heist in "The Killing," a taut and suspenseful film noir from director Stanley Kubrick. Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is fresh out of Alcatraz after five years, and immediately goes to work on a job he figures to be worth upwards of two million dollars. He puts together a gang who are not real criminals, just "Some guys with problems and a little larceny in them." Marvin (Jay C. Flippen) is good for some front money Johnny needs; George (Elisha Cook Jr.) is a cashier at the track, and Mike (Joe Sawyer) is a bartender there; Randy (Ted de Corsia) is a cop with loan shark payment problems. Clay's got it all figured out, a precision plan that can't go wrong as long as everyone does his part and keeps quiet about it, before and after. But George has a wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor), who wants nice things, and he can't resist the temptation to let her know it's all going to get better real soon. Trouble is, Sherry has a boyfriend, Val (Vince Edwards), who has more than a little larceny in him, as well. As it is with all "perfect" plans, there are, after all, imperfections. The presentation of this film is not one of them, however; Kubrick keeps the tension high throughout, working with a tight narrative and an out of sequence chronology through which he dispenses bits of information, building the suspense, until it all fits together in the end like pieces of a giant puzzle (Much the same as Tarantino would do with "Pulp Fiction" many years later). The stoic delivery, coupled with the stark black and white photography of the film, creates an almost surreal, fatalistic ambience that works so well with this material; especially at the end, for it underscores the climax and heightens the drama of the final moment, all of which makes for a truly unforgettable scene. The supporting cast includes Coleen Gray (Fay), Kola Awariani (Maurice), Joe Turkel (Tiny), and Timothy Carey, who makes his detached and indifferent hit man, Nikki Arane, one of the most memorable characters in the film. It must be noted, however, that Elisha Cook Jr. gives what may have been his best performance ever, here. His scene, after it all goes bad for him and he stumbles into his apartment, bullet holes in his face and wide-eyed with acceptance, to confront Sherry, is so cool and underplayed that it becomes one of the lasting impressions of the movie. Kubrick wrote the screenplay (with some help from Jim Thompson with the dialogue), adapted from the novel "Clean Break" by Lionel White. "The Killing" is one of Kubrick's earliest and best films; and it's not just for Kubrick fans or for those who love the "noir" genre. This is an excellent piece of work that will definitely be appreciated by anyone who likes good movies."
Did THE KILLING make a CLEAN BREAK from the Brinks'job?
Brian A. Glennon | South Boston, Massachusetts | 11/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie: THE KILLING (1956) by Stanley Kubrick, was the film which brought the twenty-eight year old director to Hollywood's attention. Based on the 1955 crime novel CLEAN BREAK by Lionel White (and re-named THE KILLING for its 1988 redistribution), director Kubrick incorporated the author's use of the staggered time interval (which began in chapter eight) within this well balanced and tightly paced story of seven disparate characters brought together to orchestrate a logically planned two million dollar robbery of a race track in broad daylight.
A brilliant effort of film making by Stanley Kubrick as he demonstrated an impeccable choice in cast selection, choosing established 'B' movie actors such as: Elisha Cook, Jr. as George Peatty and Jay C. Flippen as Marvin Unger (both actors had appeared in "The Three Stooges" skits more than once); then Sterling Hayden as the main character, Johnny Clay: though one of the beauties of this film is that all of the actors had such memorable performances. The limited acting abilities of these stars only added to the subtle gritty reality of their lumpenprolitariat roles which carried this film as much as any special effect.
While Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay and maintained a number of elements from the book, he eliminated Lionel White's character of Maurice Cohen and had Johnny Clay assume those duties; and also replaced the boxer, Tex, with the burly (and hairy) wrestler Maurice Oboukhof for the spectacular bar room fight diversion. In the book, Marvin Unger deeply despised Johnny Clay; but in the movie, Unger demonstrated a fatherly pride and deep paternal admiration for Johnny Clay - the movie is noted for its admirable male commeraderie!
But how much more was Stanley Kubrick influenced for this movie outside of the Lionel White novel was suggested during the actual stick-up scene performed by Sterling Hayden's character, Johnny Clay. In the book, Johnny tied a loose handkerchief around his face as a disguise, but this was changed in the movie to a full rubber clown mask - almost an exact duplicate of the masks published in police photographs used by the bandits in the 1950s Brinks robbery in Boston; a robbery that was then nationally advertised as "The Crime of the Century"! The similarities continued as the Brinks building was robbed of two million dollars by seven armed men in rubber masks and got clean away. This is too strong a resemblance to be ignored, and the well-read Stanley Kubrick may have also been influenced by this event, coupled with the novel CLEAN BREAK, to produce his advanced and visionary robbery debut film.
Still, the movie: THE KILLING by Stanley Kubrick, is a brilliant and typically Kubrickian ahead-of-its-time work of art which is a *must* watching experience in black & white for all its lasting and provocative scenes."
"I know you like a book. You're a no-good, nosy, little tra
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 08/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While not his first film, I do believe The Killing (1956) was the first film by writer/director/producer Stanley Kubrick to really showcase his talents and earn him the public, critical, and professional accolades that would eventually lead to bigger, more lavish productions like Spartacus (1960) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Based on a novel called "Clean Break", by Lionel White, the film was co-written and directed by Kubrick (Jim Thompson, who wrote the novel "The Grifters", wrote the dialog). Starring in the film is Sterling Hayden, whom I'll always remember best as the character of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from one of Kubrick's later films, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and his stance on fluoridation (he was against it). Also appearing is Jay C. Flippen (Oklahoma!), Elisha Cook Jr. (House on Haunted Hill, Rosemary's Baby), Marie Windsor (Support Your Local Gunfighter), Vince Edwards ("Ben Casey"), Coleen Gray (The Leech Woman), Ted de Corsia (20000 Leagues Under the Sea), Joe Sawyer (The Challenge of Rin Tin Tin), Timothy Carey (One-Eyed Jacks), and Kola Kwariani, former professional wrestler `Nick the Wrestler' and chess expert, in his only silver screen appearance.
The story here details that of a `daring and methodical' heist of a horseracing track, which begins as we meet the principal participants...there's Johnny Clay (Hayden), the brains of the operation, Marvin Unger (Flippen) the money man, George Peatty (Cook) and Mike O'Reilly (Sawyer), both inside men (meaning they actually work at the track), and Randy Kennan (de Corsia), a crooked cop, who rounds out the core group. Each man is your fairly average Joe type (except maybe for Clay, who just spent a nickel in the joint), drawn into the plan by their own, particular circumstances, for example, George, a somewhat spineless weasel of a man, is married to a real manipulative piece of work named Sherry (Windsor), who becomes a pivotal part of the story later on...anyway, the setup is solid, but things become complicated as George, perhaps in an effort to prove his manhood to his generally disinterested wife, lets loose with some of the details, to which she relates to her even more manipulative gigolo boyfriend Val (Edwards), with the intent being on taking George's cut after the score and running away together, but Val's got the greedy eyes for the bigger prize...the job does end up going down as relatively planned, just like clockwork, but the major complications develop afterwards, proving yet again the hyperbole "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley"...that last bit basically means `often go wrong'.
All in all The Killing is a most excellent film, featuring some really innovative direction in terms of non linear storytelling, a style which people may often associate with director Quentin Tarantino's films, particularly Reservoir Dogs (1992) and/or Pulp Fiction (1994), but it's a technique that's been around for awhile, one that he basically copied, and quite well...come to think of it, much of his stuff is copied from other films, but I digress...the main difference between one of Tarantino's films and this one, to me, is the near seamless quality in switching between timeframes. Here it feels completely natural, and doesn't disrupt the flow of the story. In the other examples I mentioned, it's a bit more hectic and random, which isn't a criticism but an observation (I dig Tarantino's stuff immensely, but I do get annoyed when people seem to believe he actually developed they very stylized techniques displayed within his films). Within the notes, it's actually stated, after Kubrick finished this film, he was pressured to edit the film in a more linear fashion, which he did, and, after viewing the newly edited version, it confirmed to him his original version was much stronger, and that's what ended up getting released. This non-linear aspect isn't present throughout the entire film, but rather primarily used during the actual heist sequences. One aspect that is present through much of the film is narration, providing details and a bit more depth to a particular action or character. I'm curious how this film would have played out if there'd been no narration. The movie plays out extremely well, feeling a little like a documentary given the narrative and blending in of stock racing track footage with the shot footage. The performances were strong all around, especially Sterling Hayden as the no nonsense brains of the operation. It did feel a little strange near the end that he should have thought of everything so very carefully only to miss out on a key detail with regards to that cheap suitcase (if you've seen the film, you know what I mean)...I know it sets up for the wonderfully ironic ending, but it still, it felt a little out of character. Check out the scene where Johnny Clay nails Sherry to the wall with his astute and completely accurate observations with regards to the type of person she truly is...another performance I really liked was Marie Windsor's character of Sherry, acid tongued, wife to George. She knew exactly how to work him, but then the suffered the exact, same treatment from her boyfriend Val...as the worm, turns, I suppose...she also had some of the best lines in the film, none of which I'll post here as there's no way I can duplicate the delivery, which is just as vital as the lines themselves. One most excellent scene to watch for is when George's wife is caught snooping as the gang is reviewing their plans, and, in a effort to find out how much he shared with her, one of the members gives George a much deserved, massive slap upside his fool head (it looked pretty realistic to me), all in a beautiful close up shot. Check out the startled, moonfaced expression on George's face...and then pause it on that frame...I may get a print of that and put it on a t-shirt. If you like strong, stylish, no nonsense crime dramas, this is one definitely worth seeking out. I've watched it twice so far, and it was just as good the first time as it was the second.
The film is present in full screen, which I do believe is keeping with the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the picture is very sharp and clear with no noticeable flaws. The Dolby Digital mono audio is strong and comes through extremely well. As far as special features, there is an original theatrical trailer, along with a four-page booklet insert highlighting the making of the film, along with providing details with regards to Kubrick's style, technique, and creative vision. Pretty skimpy, but know this film was released to DVD sometime ago (I think in 2001), and the inclusion of special features weren't as prevalent than as it is now, or, at least that's my opinion. The film alone is worth getting this DVD, and if you're really interested in learning more, your local library, or the Internet, are both viable sources of information.
By the way, I'm most definitely not an advocate of animal cruelty, but, if I were the character of Johnny Clay in this film, the urge to throttle that ugly, little dog (and its owner), featured near the end, would have been undenialable. "
Gritty noir classic, A lost Kubrick Gem!
Brian A. Glennon | 11/18/1998
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Listen up Noir fans - get this film! The Killing is nothing short of brilliant. This little-known gem is also the U.S. directing debut of - hold onto your fedora - Stanley Kubrick! True fans of Noir crime fiction will also appreciate this: guess who wrote the screenplay? The master himself, Jim Thompson (also wrote the novels The Grifters, Aftter Dark..., The Killer Inside Me, Heed The Thunder). This film is a classic "caper" flick with Sterling Hayden giving us his terse, gruff best as the leader of a gang who wants to pull a payroll heist. Trouble, big, violent, ugly trouble ensues. I won't spoil it for you, but I promise this flick delivers in a big way and it is surprising how much they got away with given the year this baby was shot. Unlike many movies of the era, this thing pulls no punches and is about as subtle as a brass-knuckle sandwich. Footnote: real fans of the noir genre may also appreciate this. James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential (to name just one of his many outstanding novels), cited The Killing as his favorite film of all time and the inspiration behind many of his stories and characters.ENJOY!"
Kubrick's Ticket to the Big Time
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 03/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Film noir has been an excellent launching pad toward the top ranks of directors, as exemplified by such up and coming cinema talent of the past as Edward Dmytryk, Richard Fleischer and Anthony Mann, to name a few.
One other cinema great had his ticket punched into the medium's big leagues with a highly imaginative low budget 1956 effort. That director was the youthful Stanley Kubrick and the film was "The Killing." Just one year later Kubrick would receive international praise for his brilliant anti-war vehicle "Paths of Glory" starring Kirk Douglas.
While "The Killing" has been compared stylistically as well as story-wise to John Houston's brilliant 1950 hit "Asphalt Jungle," Kubrick took an interesting u-turn from the "Asphalt Jungle" scenario to achieve a unique tour de force. While both films were built around scoring a big heist, "Asphalt Jungle" was structured around using professional criminal types while "The Killing" could have been sub-titled "The Criminal Amateur Hour" and herein Kubrick achieved solid dividends.
The Lionel White-Jim Thompson script featured three criminal professionals; mastermind Sterling Hayden, who also starred in "The Asphalt Jungle," Timothy Carey, a professional marksman, and strongman Kola Kwariani. Hayden, who has just been released from prison, culled the rest of his gang from the amateur ranks.
Many viewers who appreciated "The Killing" credit noir veterans Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook, Jr. of stealing the film. They form an odd relationship in which Cook fawns to please his faithless wife, who sarcastically derides him in turn.
One of the film's chief plot points emerges after Windsor is able to squeeze information out of Cook to leak to her boyfriend Vince Edwards, who is as faithless toward her as she is to her husband.
Jay C. Flippen provides the cash to Hayden and his team, funds he embezzled from the company where he works. Flippen's seedy downtown Los Angeles apartment is the meeting point for the makeshift mob of amateurs that hopes to pull off a big heist, A Killing as it were, by robbing a racetrack of its cash take the day of the biggest race of the season.
Hayden has two people who yearn to associate with him for different reasons. Flippen is despondent and feels life is passing him by. He dreams of traveling the world with Hayden, someone he looks on as a surrogate son.
A diplomatic Hayden lets Flippen down easily. He plans on spending his time with the girl who has loved him since their school days, played by Colleen Gray, another noir veteran who starred in "Nightmare Alley."
A daring caper like this can be more easily achieved with a crooked cop on its team. That element is satisfied with the participation of Ted de Corsia, a sinister element in many films, including the Jules Dassin police drama "The Naked City." Hayden is more of a putative criminal strategist than sinister. At one point Hayden calms de Corsia down when he wants to work over a meddlesome Marie Windsor.
Two other unique character types appear in the main cast. Timothy Carey plays a bizarre shooter who gets himself in trouble ultimately by hurling racial invective at James Edwards, a kindly racetrack parking lot attendant.
The other offbeat character type is stolid, muscular Kola Kwariani, who is hired to start a fight at the track to distract attention. A professional wrestler, Kwariani was a chess-playing friend of Kubrick's from his Brooklyn days.
In my book "L.A. Noir" I rated "The Killing" as one of the best noir films ever made. No lovers of the genre should miss it.