26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2007
During a span of 46 years, Stanley Kubrick made only 13 feature films, from "Fear and Desire (1953)" to "Eyes Wide Shut (1999)". Although each has its own charm and unique taste and style, none looks much like the other in terms of genre and theme. "The Killing" represents Kubrick's entrance into the dark shadowy world of film noir. He was the master of exploring the dusky side of human nature in his pictures, focusing on crime, deceit, betrayal and morality. So, film noir & Kubrick: what a perfect fit.
The term "killing" refers to an elaborate heist of a race track. The robbery is masterminded by ex-Alcatraz inmate Johnny Clay, who rounds up a motley assortment of crooks, most of whom are small-timers as well as insiders in the race track lounge. Clay and his trusted accomplices have different stories and motives. We know a lot about them because the movie has an unusually convulted narrative structure, which was ahead of its time albeit outdated today. Flipping back and forth in time, he introduces a character, takes him a certain way where each gets a chance to tell his version of the story. Such kind of flashbacks and flashforwards are used in heist sequence, reflecting the various aspects of the robbery in different space and time.
That non-linear storytelling works well with Kubrick's deft directorial touch, but when the film was first released in 1956, United Artists dumped it on the grounds that it was too weird for average viewer and nobody would sit through that. Then Kubrick decided to re-edit the film. After watching new version he absolutely hated it, and put it back the way first edited it. It was his very first triumph to gain absolute control over his work.
Overall, "The Killing" is a perfect classic film noir, depicting man's foibles of greed and betrayal devastatingly real. Its importance not only comes from its influence on modern day noirs, such as Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown", but also it manifests what Kubrick was capable of doing with a shoestring budget of $320,000, even at an age of 27.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2012
With typical Amazon misleading sloppiness, the Criterion Blu-ray edition of this film is described as "a no-frills DVD transfer, in 4:3 ratio and with its original mono soundtrack. Criminally, just one trailer is all that's been dug up as an extra. --Paul Tonks". But of course it isn't. It's a BD absolutely festooned with extras, one of which is a whole other Kubrick film remastered in HD, "The Killer's Kiss", thrown in for free together with the umpteen interviews, documentaries and fat booklet. Never trust a word on Amazon concerning contents: always refer to something like Bluray.com for accurate information.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
One of Kubrick's early films, and the first to show the world that here was a film director who would never produce run of the mill movies. Its essentially a heist movie set a horse race track, but made in a film noir style complete with narration and a multitude of interesting characters, who are virtually all up to no good.
For the 1950's this is a highly original film. Events are not neccessarily seen chronologically, so we get to see an event and then get to see in detail how one of the major players affected the event. Think how Pulp Fiction played with time. Well this does it on a smaller scale but more often.
As films go this one is pretty much perfect. I was only going to give this 4 stars but when I tried to justify this I honestly couldn't think of anything wrong with it so ended up giving it 5. The cinematography, script and Kubrick's assured direction are all excellent.
The film could probably do with a digital remaster, there is one character - 'Maurice Oboukoff' - who I could really only a understand few words of when he spoke, but he had a strong accent and only spoke in one scene, so it didn't affect my enjoyment of the film.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2012
Film Noir is one my favourite genres and even more so is the Heist genre that was part of it: The Killing ranks with the seminal Heist film Asphalt Jungle as one the best noires made. The story follows Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) who plans a a robbery of race track with some other criminals but as with most of these films it isn't long before things start to go viciously wrong. Elisha Cook Jr. plays his usual loser act (he usually gets small film noir roles in I Wake Up Screaming, The Big Sleep and Born To Kill and others) but gets a bit more meatier role in this noir. Stanley Kubrick directs brilliantly and stylishly: in one scene the gang sit around a table in a dark room as a lamp hangs over is visually brilliant and the robbery scene from a few of characters perspectives is gripping. The ending has been criticised but I think it fits perfectly in the nightmarish world the film operates in where things go horribly wrong. What surprises me though is Kubrick only made two noires this and the equally good Killer's Kiss (1955), it's a real shame as he could have made some other really good ones. Some say The Killing was just a stepping stone to Kubrick's better and later films but I think The Killing is one his best films.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2002
An early piece of cinema from acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick (2001, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket etc.) The story tells of a group of men who come together to rob a race-track in the middle of their biggest race. Each character has his own part to play in the crime and the robbery can't go ahead unless they all perfom their own part.
When it comes to the actual robbery, we get to see the crime form each man's point of view, which means the time of day repeatly shifts to keep up. It's a style not unlike 'Pulp Fiction' (Quentin Tarentino has said on many occasions that this is one of the films that inspired him to write that film as well as Resevoir Dogs)
You could say that the acting is wooden, or 2-dimensional, but it seems to fit the film noir setting of the piece. There is a 'True Romance' style shooting and a final twist at the end thrown in for good measure.
If you haven't seen this film before, you are missing out on a cracking bit of drama. It comes with Tarentino's seal of approval, and it's a Kubrick, what more do you want !!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
You can't help wondering if Sterling Hayden didn't get the feeling that he was just rehashing his biggest hit The Asphalt Jungle when he starred in heist movie The Killing six years later, but today Kubrick's shoestring production holds up much better than its big studio predecessor. Only three films into his career and Kubrick was already setting out his big theme - society's need to break individuals that threaten it into manageable cogs in the machine, aided in its task by their own character flaws. He even has Kola Kwariani spell it out in so many words: "You have not yet learned that in this life you have to be like everyone else. The perfect mediocrity. No better, no worse. Individuality is a monster, and it must be strangled in its cradle to make our friends feel comfortable. You know, I often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They're admired and hero-worshipped, but there is always present underlying wish to see them destroyed at the peak of their glory."
The individual in question is Hayden's crook planning the biggest heist of the century with the help of a corrupt cop, a bartender and a racetrack cashier, bankrolled by Jay C. Flippen's moneyman, who clearly has a crush on him and goes straight to the bottle when he realises it's not mutual. The film's big gimmick at the time was the film backtracking to follow each member of the gang as they carry out their part in a vicious but ingenious and perfectly planned-to-the-second racetrack heist. But perfect plans, like computers or Marine recruits, have a tendency to break down due to a human error in the programme, and in this case the human error is Elisha Cook Jr., or more precisely his wife Marie Windsor in a double-crossing downmarket femme fatale role that would have been played by Gloria Graham in a bigger budgeted picture and who delivers a performance that seems the template for Joan Collins' entire career. Desperate to keep her even though she's cheating on him with Vince Edwards' punk (who in turn is cheating on her), he gabs a little too much about the plan...
Hayden gets probably the best role of his career, his fast-talking no-nonsense totally in control delivery giving the film an urgency even when it's just men sitting in dark rooms talking, and when he delivers his forlorn last line it's as if the man really has had all the humanity drained out of him. Yet good as he is, the standout in the cast is Elisha Cook Jr in what may well be the his very best performance as the "joke without a punchline" clerk, a man who loses control the more he tries to display it. There's some fine black and white camerawork from Lucien Ballard boasting alternating stark, almost reportage-style rough-and-ready shots with some strikingly controlled long tracking shots that Kubrick later revised into a visual trademark, and there are a few other pointers to Kubrick's future work as well - seen with hindsight, Hayden's clown mask looks remarkably Droog-like, while two of the doomed soldiers in Paths of Glory, Timothy Carey (a man who could look sleepily menacing even when stroking a puppy) and, briefly, Joseph Turkel (best remembered as the ghostly bartender in The Shining) turn up in supporting roles. The Dragnet-style narration can be excessive at times, but does help immensely in the heist finale as the narrative constantly doubles-back on itself and the film's timeframe, and there's some terrific dialogue courtesy of the great Jim Thompson ("You like money. You have a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart."). It's still tied to the crime-must-not-pay morality of its day, but it executes it with startling immediacy and a great "What's the difference?" ending.
The only extra is the original trailer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2011
This is an excellent film about a very well planned hold up of the bets of an important hippodrome in one main day of races, 2 million dollars in total. The brain planning this robbery is played by Sterling Hayden, the chief of a gang of five collaborators mostly workers of the hippodrome, a corrupted policeman, a jealous stupid bookmaker, the bartender and a friend, plus two outside specialists, a shooter in order to killing in full race the favorite horse and create a chaos in the hippodrome and a strange professional wrestler and chess amateur to provoke a quarrel in the bar during the robbery. There are also two fatal women also. The style is I think by the time some unusual because the main events are explained by a voice in off, a technique by 1956 I think yet delayed, but Kubrick is Kubrick. The movie is by nothing usual, but... there are a big forced trick that I don't know to say if it's deceiving or laughable.
This is because if you plan so perfectly a robbery during many months -perhaps years- how It's possible you are so careless just in one banal but crucial point: the buying of a suitcase that is pure junk only about 5 minutes after the final escape? A trash stuff with broken locks to carry the money in the small banknotes. That's a detail so artificial, obvious and crude, surely imposed by the censorship, that nor Kubrick nor Hayden should have committed that in real life and one think if truly diminish the worth of this movie.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of Kubrick’s 1956 Black And White Noir “The Killing". And maddeningly a much-praised restored version (coupled with an earlier 1955 movie by Kubrick) is only available on BLU RAY in the States. But therein lies a problem for UK and EUROPEAN buyers…
Unfortunately the desirable American-Only 'Criterion' release is REGION-A LOCKED - although it doesn't say so on Amazon.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
(Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help. Some PS3 consoles are REGION-FREE for BLU RAY - check the specs).
So - until such time as someone sees fit to use the restored elements of the Criterion BLU RAY transfer – it looks like we’ll have to wait on this side of the pond for a UK BLU RAY of "The Killing" [coupled with Kubrick’s 1955’s “Killer’s Kiss”] we can actually watch without having to jump through technological hoops…
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2013
A gallery of slimy, amoral types and a compelling choppy narrative structure make for a tense and unpredictable dash through ninety minutes. Perhaps the only character we sympathise with is the supposedly 'not pretty' but very pretty girlfriend of Sterling Hayden who seems to have had a thing about him 'since childhood'. If so, he was somewhat older than her at the time. Elisha Cook playing to type has an awful painted tart of a wife; Timothy Carey is a hitman who seems to have his teeth wired together; there's a cauliflower-eared chess playing wrestler; and the man with the cash who just possibly has a homosexual attachment to the anti-hero. There are others too - small time hoodlums and bent cops and even an awful poodle-petting old woman! The worst of humanity is here. Another 'end of an era' noir.
I was very impressed with this 1956 "film noir". Adapted from the novel "Clean Break" by renowned crime writer Lionel White, this nowadays little known film was the real debut of then 28-years old director Stanley Kubrick. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is a veteran criminal planning, as usual in "film noir", one absolutely last heist before settling down and marrying Fay (Coleen Gray). He plans to rob two million dollars from the money-counting room of a racetrack during a very anticipated race. He plans very meticulously the whole thing and very carefully selects the six members of his team - but, as we all know, no battle plan ever survives intact the first minutes of the real fight and the whole chain is only as strong as its weakest link...
The preparation of the whole thing and the actual robbery are described with great detail and the tension builds up from the very first moments. We come to know quite well all the six team members, who are by no means all hardened criminals and who all have a story to tell. One of them is in fact quite despicably pathetic - for another one actually I felt some pity...
My favourite character amongst the team members was an aging Russian wrestler AND also an accomplished chess champion Maurice Obukhoff, played by a real life Georgian wrestler AND also an accomplished chess champion Kola Kwariani...)))
There is of course also a "femme fatale" in this film, but, unlike in most other movies of this kind, she is ultimately also a rather pitiful person - but just to be clear, actress Marie Windsor played her perfectly and this character is quite fascinating to watch and also extremely important to the whole plot.
The ending is absolutely impossible to anticipate during most of the film - the final solution of the whole story can be guessed only like two minutes before the final credits. There are surprises and twists here and there and there is tension. LOTS OF IT!
Even more than other "films noir", this one is particularly sad, tragic and heartbreaking. This is probably what Quentin Tarantino liked so much in it - he publicly admitted that "The killing" was amongst most important inspirations for his already legendary "Reservoir dogs" (even if the story in "The killing" is very, VERY different).
Bottom line this is an EXCELLENT film, which impressed me greatly. I will absolutely keep this film for another viewing in the future. Enjoy!