The Killing (1956), recommended by @Peng (BPS)
Stanley Kubrick has been one of my favorite directors for a while now. From 2001 to Eyes Wide Shut, almost all of the films of his I’ve seen would probably make it to a Top 50 or Top 100 list, if I ever made one. Despite that, I still have a couple of blind spots on his early works. Earlier this year, I saw Fear and Desire during my #JanuaryOfDebuts. Now, it was The Killing’s turn, so thanks to Peng for bringing it up (still have Killer’s Kiss, Lolita, and Paths of Glory to check)
The Killing follows Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), a veteran criminal and ex-convict determined to do “one last job” before marrying his girlfriend. The job? Robbing $2 million from the counting room of a racetrack. To achieve this, he assembles an assorted group of associates to create various diversions and perform different tasks. The crew includes a racetrack bartender, a “muscle” man, a corrupt cop, a sharpshooter, an old friend, and a racetrack cashier. But things might not go as planned when one of the group spills too much of the job to someone else.
Kubrick’s approach to The Killing is methodical and one can say, distant, as we see all the preparations for the heist. It’s like running through a checklist as we see how Clay recruits most of the members of the team, and how each of them prepares for the big hit. Aside of Johnny, the focus of the story is on George (Elisha Cook, Jr.) a racetrack cashier that is full of insecurities and frustrations, which make him speak too much to his wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor). And Sherry, by the way, might’ve very well won the 1956 Wife of the Year
Some minor complaints, the narration felt a bit awkward and maybe even unnecessary. Second, the distant approach doesn’t give a lot of space for audiences to connect with the characters, but I don’t think that was Kubrick’s intentions anyway. His intention is to get us all amped up with the preparations and make us wonder “will they make it? or will they fail?” and in that, he succeeds. The swift direction and the tense score keeps us in the edge of our seats all the time.
Perhaps with a more character-driven approach, the ending would’ve packed more of a punch, but I thought it was cool anyway. I like to think that Johnny’s final line is an example of Kubrick’s perennial motif of “dehumanization”, with him being dehumanized by all the time in jail and crime itself. All in all, The Killing is a pretty slick film, full of tension and nice camerawork. Grade: Torn between a high B+ or a low A-