Review: The Killing (1956)

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Maurice has to be either a young George “The Animal” Steele or the person George Steele based his persona on!

Screenplay By: Stanley Kubrick & Jim Thompson
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

The Killing teeters between being a moderately entertaining film and a greatly entertaining film. It is a noir, but it’s also not a noir. While I don’t think it is essential for any film to ever place itself in any genre or category, a film does need to find a clear path. The Killing does struggle with its path, at times wanting to be a clear cut heist movie, at other times a hard boiled noir. That wouldn’t be a problem, but the problems develop because Stanley Kubrick wasn’t willing to commit to the film one way or another. You can see his hesitancy in what is played out on screen. He wasn’t sure if the non-linear time line would work so he adds on a distant narration. He also wasn’t sure if the audience would find any of the characters sympathetic so he adds in a few scenes to make some of them more sympathetic. There is still a lot of greatness in The Killing, but because of Kubrick’s uneasiness with his own product it never quite comes together.

There is a definite slickness to The Killing, and there are more than a few shots that are evocative of the noir look. The entire film has a very to the point attitude about itself, and it isn’t afraid to have the characters cut corners to make that happen. In most movies Nikki would have found some elaborate ruse to get rid of the meddlesome parking attendant. Not in The Killing, he goes right for the jugular and the one thing he knows will turn the likable attendant away from him that instant. The relationship between George and Sherry is also right to the point in the way it is conveyed to the audience. They may dance around each other while being in denial and lying respectively but there is no doubt in our mind about their relationship.

Aside from the previously mentioned inability to come together that The Killing suffers from, there were a few other minor flaws. The buying of the too large suitcase and the presence of the dog were both far too obvious indicators of what was going to happen with the money. I can’t help but think maybe those two things were supposed to be that obvious, because they were among the most obvious plot giveaways I’ve ever witnessed in a film.

The Killing isn’t Stanley Kubrick’s best work, and it may be the Kubrick aficionado in me coming out when I rank this film as highly as I do, but there is a lot to like about this film and more than enough to justify it being rated highly by anyone. The Killing is worth a watch because it is a rarely straight forward effort from Kubrick and far different in tone and subject matter than any of his more memorable ventures.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: The Killing (1956)

  1. This is early Kubrick and I suspect that he was still finding and playing with his filmic capabilities and sensibilities. Both as a film noir and a caper movie, I think The Killing works just fine as solid entertainment. But, as movie goers would discover years later, the caper film, or any kind of neatly categorizable film genre, was not something Kubrick would spend time with. He went on to basically make his own kind of genre, whatever you want to call it. A vintage Kubrick film is just a Kubrick film above all else. The Killing is Kubrick trying to make a caper film, hence the reason why it finds itself often at the bottom of peoples Kubrick film lists, although it’s a fine film in of itself.

  2. The more I think about The Killing the more I like it. It’s certainly a film with flaws, but there is a cohesion and symmetry to Kubrick’s filmmaking here that I find appealing.

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