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Blast from the Past Movie Review – “The Killing” (1956)

November 21, 2011

I’m sorry if I have failed any of my readers for this week’s edition of Blast from the Past Movie Review. I know I said that I was doing Thanksgiving themed movies for the first three weeks of November, this Sunday would’ve been the Jodie Foster directed holiday dramedy “Home for the Holidays”, but the movie has yet to arrive in the mail from Netflix. I’ll post a special Blast from the Past Movie Review on that film Thanksgiving Day.

So, instead I thought I’d review a Kubrick film, not just any Stanley Kubrick film, but a film that many have agreed that was his first real mature film, the 1956 heist thriller, “The Killing”. Recently, I bought the Bluray Criterion Edition of “The Killing”, at a 50% off Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble. I was excited to see how an old celluloid film from the 50’s would transpire to Bluray High-Def, and I must say the results were more than satisfying. The picture quality was outstanding; the Bluray transfer gives us a closer look at the characters, their surroundings, and you can even see the original film grain. The sound was as sharp as the picture given. Gotta love Bluray.

Based on the novel Clean Break, by Lionel White, the feature adaptation scripted by Kubrick tells the story about ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), who’s recently released from prison. The first thing he plans to do is to pull a highly elaborate racetrack heist, stealing nearly $4 million dollars in cash. With the help of some mob types, old criminal pals, employees friends of the track, and a few others at his side the plan seems full proof. That is until one of the boys involved with the heist, the cashier of the track named George (Elisha Cook, Jr.), tells his wife about the plan. From there things are intended to go from bad to worst, as George’s wife, Sherry (Marie Winsdor), tells her lover Val (Vince Edwards) about the plan. Sherry & Val plan to rip off Johnny’s gang, that is until everything ends in a bloody way, with one of the most infamous airport getaways in cinema history.

Kubrick is known for his intense camera work. His style was way ahead of the times. You look at movies today and how they’re shot and you’d think nothing of it. Yet, when you look at movies from the 40s or 50s you see that they have only very few limited ways to shoot the movie. Kubrick wasn’t afraid to explore the camera to newer heights. There’s one particular shot I remember in this movie that caught my attention from the first frame. After the scene where almost everyone involved with the heist is gunned down, the camera moves around the room giving us a POV of the last remaining/living victim of the massacre.

There are some very interesting shot compositions along with the camera movements. Another scene that really sticks out for me, and is a scene only Stanley Kubrick could get a way with was the scene where Johnny visits an old hit man friend of his. The scene is set at a gun range, the master shot shows the two men talking to one another, in front of them are these targets of little mafia men. Meanwhile the hit man friend is holding a puppy dog during the conversation he has with Johnny. Johnny tells him that he wants a horse gunned down from a distance with a rifle. It’s funny how that scene is put together, here you’ve got the indication that this hit man is an animal lover and suddenly he’s being told to shoot a horse for 5 grand.

It’s these kinds of scenes that really capture the eye of any film lover, especially fans of Kubrick’s work. Now, even though the movie is indeed a heist film, there are still signs of film-noir elements scattered throughout the movie. For instance, the use of low-key lighting, anti-heroes as our leads, shady back stabbing villains, and of courses the infamous femme fatale. Marie Winsdor’s Sherry is the perfect example of the femme fatale. As a fan of Kubrick’s work, I’m sad to say this was my first time seeing “The Killing”, as well as this being the only film of his I’ve never seen, so I’m quite happy to have the chance to see this movie in the beautiful glory it’s intended to be seen on Bluray. Watching this movie, you really get a better understanding of Kubrick’s early work as a director and how this film in a way foreshadows his later, better-known films.

GRADE: A+

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