Two years after the failure of Fear and Desire Kubrick moved onto his next project Killer’s Kiss. Similarly to his first feature film Killer’s Kiss had a very low budget; Kubrick was forced to borrow $40,000 from his uncle to finance the project. Despite having a similar budget to his previous film the step forward Kubrick had taken is more of a giant leap forward as Killer’s Kiss is superior to Fear and Desire in every possible way.
Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a middleweight boxer who never fulfilled the promise he had at the start of his career. At twenty nine years old Davey Gordon seems to approaching the end of his life as a boxer. Meanwhile, whilst a Davey Gordon fight is live on TV, Gloria Price (Irene Kane), a fellow resident, is resisting the advances of her boss, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera); this leads to Vincent following her to her apartment. The altercation leads to Gloria’s screams awakening Davey Gordon, whose window is opposite Irene’s, who in response rushes across to her apartment to her rescue. Due to his actions Davey becomes involved in a dangerous love triangle.
With its Femme fatale and a boxer in the twilight years of his career (similar to Robert Wise’s The Set Up) Killer’s Kiss contains elements of Film Noir. The Femme fatale (in the shape of Gloria Price) draws Davey Gordon into a world of violence, murder and gangsters with her vulnerability and innocent charms. Though the film is a tad rough at the edges Kubrick’s camera work really draws people in with its eerie use of the foggy surroundings, furthermore Kubrick does an excellent job in using the cinematography to entice the audience into the chase. While the script is much improved upon in comparison to his previous effort (removing some of that horrible and pretentious dialogue), the script is still lacking in interesting characterisations, namely Frank Silvera who makes for a dull, unthreatening and quite poorly written villain, because of this it becomes clear that the tension raised is down to other factors rather than the writing.
The central story is rather lacking somewhat, but there is a sense of a foreboding atmosphere in the dingy, dark and menacing streets of New York (the ominous feel is heighted by the low key cinematography during these scenes). Further tension is raised due to some quite brilliant set pieces, particularly the chase upon the rooftops (with the Brooklyn Bridge looking staggering in the foggy setting) and the final fight scene in a room full of naked female mannequins, but it is mainly because of Kubrick’s outstanding cinematography that these scenes have they impact that they do as Kubrick’s visual style is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. The impressive scenes that illuminate Kubrick’s directorial and visual flair is the tense chase across the New York rooftops, the highly kinetic boxing sequences (not greatly dissimilar to the cinematography employed in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull) and the incredible hallucinatory dream sequence in which the camera speeds down a city street (Kubrick used a negative image for such a sequence, similar to the ones he employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey), these scenes added a touch of quality to proceedings of which the story is lacking. Yet there are some flaws, the acting again is rather weak in places, the ending (added at the insistence of the studio which went completely against the wishes of Kubrick) feels rather tacked on. The film’s final scene is one of generic happiness, it is clear by looking at his filmography Kubrick would have never even considered, let alone filmed, such an ending.
In comparison to his previous effort Fear and Desire his second outing is a much better film for a number of reasons. Firstly the editing is much more fluid and not quite as poorly done, the script is much improved and the actual image quality is far beyond that in Fear and Desire. Killer’s Kiss is a massive improvement over Fear and Desire; Killers Kiss seems to be so much more professionally made than Fear and Desire, and with the low budget Kubrick had to work with the finished product turns out to be rather impressive. With Killer’s Kiss Kubrick has slipped into a more conventional Film Noir style of storytelling and concentrating more on a narrative, but keeping his striking use of symbolism evident throughout his film.
Killer’s Kiss is more a visual treat than an impressive storytelling feat, but it’s the first good film Kubrick as ever made as well as being the first film that effectively showcased his talents without being let down by sloppy editing and a hopeless script. Solid yet, with exception of the visuals, unremarkable effort from Kubrick, his next film however is when churning out great films becomes second nature to him.
Stanley Kubrick’s third feature film, his first film to based upon a novel, is one that stands in the shadows of films that are intergalactically huge, however The Killing is not a forgotten Kubrick film but the film is vastly underrated.
Based on the novel entitled Clean Break by Lionel White, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing tells the story of a two million dollar heist of a race track during its featured race. Veteran criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) wishes to perform one last heist in order to settle down with his wife, and thus recruits a group of men to help him do so. The group contains, a weedy, weak and pathetic teller (Elisha Cook Jr), a corrupt cop (Ted de Corsia) and a devoted husband (Joe Sawyer) struggling to cope with his wife’s illness. Clay also enlists the help of outsiders in order for the heist to be successful.
Unlike his last two projects Kubrick had some money to play around with (yet the budget of $320,000 was still small for Hollywood standards even in the 50s), and this shows as the calibre of actors involved is far more impressive than in the likes of Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss. Also in contrast to his previous film Kubrick relinquished his duties as a cinematographer handing duties over to Lucien Ballard who captured the style of Kubrick’s earlier and later works. The Killing is the first example of Kubrick creating a truly great film; it is also the first example in which his writing talents have been fully exhibited as Kubrick creates high levels of tension as he shows the viewer the painstaking motions that are needed to be gone through in order to create a successful heist. Clearly the planning and preparation is just as vital as the execution.
Being influenced by films like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing influences the genre equally as much as Huston’s film, take Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for example which, similar to The Killing, tells the story from the many different perspectives of those involved in the heist. Both film’s concentrate on how each of members became involved in the heist, both The Killing and Reservoir Dogs use a nonlinear narrative to tell this. The Killing also uses flashbacks to reveal the input and the role each member of the team had on the heist (the heist in Reservoir Dogs was not shown on screen). Whereas The Killing discusses the plan and shows the heist in action, Reservoir Dogs basis the central story in the aftermath of the heist. The fact that The Killing reveals every factor of the heist makes for compelling viewing as the viewer gets to see every little thing fall perfectly into place, the film is not about the big picture of crime itself, but about all the little important factors that add up to create the bigger picture. One interesting view on this film is that there is element of artistic talent in the why such a heist has been planned and executed, people are fascinated at how a crime like this heist is pulled off, how each of the cogs in the machine operate.
Kubrick also creates an interesting array of characters of whom share similar screen time, however each of the individual members of the team are unaware of the others whereabouts or actions thus allowing George Peatty to tell his wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor), about the upcoming heist, this in turn gets the interest of others (as Sherry mentions this to her boyfriend) who would like to swoop in and steal the money. Essentially there are so many cogs in the machine that the incorrect execution of an important task could cause a chain reaction of events. Kubrick also gives the characters motivations for joining in such a heist, George Peatty looks to fix his damaged relationship with his wife, Mike O’Reilly needs the money to give his wife the care she desperately needs and the cop has run into some money trouble and needs to pay off his debts. There is an element of Kubrick feeling some sympathy for the characters as they have forced into a crime because of the issues they are experiencing in their life (ill wife, broken relationships, money issues), it’s almost like a last resort.
The story is told in documentary style as every aspect of the heist is laid out on the table almost in a way to allow the audience to appreciate the thought that went into conducting such a plan, Kubrick does not go as far as glamorising the crime or lifestyle, but he doesn’t exactly judge his characters on a moral level. The Killing represents Stanley Kubrick’s first great film as the good performances, tightly written script and excellent execution make for one very entertaining crime film.