Sunday, September 02, 2012
Based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White, The Killing is the story of a racetrack robbery led by a criminal seeking one last job before he can start a new life with his girlfriend. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and screenplay by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, the film is a part-heist film set in a film noir style that explores the complexity of a heist and its aftermath. Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, and Timothy Carey. The Killing is a complex yet evocative heist film from Stanley Kubrick.
A plan to steal $2 million from a horse racetrack is underway as Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is hoping for the robbery to succeed so he can marry his longtime girlfriend Fay (Coleen Gray). Helping Johnny with the plans is his friend Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen), corrupt cop Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia), racetrack cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.), and racetrack bartender Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer). With everything set in place, Johnny hopes nothing can go wrong as he also hires a wrestler named Maurice (Kola Kwariani) to cause a ruckus as well as a sharpshooter named Nikki (Timothy Carey) to shoot a horse during the race.
While Johnny and the rest of the gang continue to make their plans and continue with their daily lives, George tells his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) about the robbery in hopes to impress her. Instead, she would devise a plan of her own by having her lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards) involved to steal the money. On the day of the robbery, everything goes as planned where everyone does their job and such. Yet, it would be followed by trouble that Johnny would unforeseen as he would do whatever he can to salvage all that he and his crew had worked hard for.
When planning a heist with a large payday, the one thing any group of people don’t want to do is screw things up as it’s just about five guys stealing $2 million from a horse racetrack and then split the money fairly. Led by this veteran criminal, it’s all about these five guys who want to use the money to start a better life and with no regrets. Johnny Clay is just a criminal that wants to lead a straight life for his girlfriend while a couple of guys in Marvin and Randy are just men that want the money for something better. Mike is a man that hopes to get the money to help his ailing wife (Dorothy Adams) while George just wants to impress his wife.
Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay explores the intricacies of planning a heist where a lot of the film’s narrative is told by an unseen narrator (Art Gilmore). The narration reveals a lot on who these characters and when these events take place as it would lead to the heist where the narration takes a backseat to the action that is happening. Kubrick’s script has a nice structure to how he creates momentum that leads to the heist where the first act explores the five main characters including Johnny Clay who is the organizer and makes sure things don’t go wrong. Yet, something would go wrong in George Peatty because he wants to get his wife’s attention as she would play a part in the heist on her own by hiring her lover.
The second act is about the planning and how Johnny Clay is so careful into making sure everything goes right. Even as he does things like stay at a motel, drop a key for Mike to pick up, and hope that things go well. The third act is about the heist where it’s all about these men positioning themselves into doing the job that is later followed by a troubling aftermath where the very professional Clay has to think fast. Through the stylish dialogue of Jim Thompson, the screenplay definitely plays to the rhythm of film noir as it helps drive the story as the dialogue also reveals information and motivation for the characters.
Kubrick’s direction is definitely entrancing in the way he plays out every scenario that happens throughout the film. Particularly in how he opens the film with this scene where it shows three of the five participants wandering around the cashier station and bar with a message that is being passed around them. With a lot of tracking shots to follow the actors and compositions that has a group of them in a frame. Kubrick’s direction is always interested in the planning of the heist as he always his camera positioned feet away from these meetings. Largely to establish the drama that is unfolding where something could go wrong or could go right.
The direction also has Kubrick create scenes to let the suspense play out slowly as it leads up to the heist where he carefully reveal how Clay plays his role. For the film’s climatic heist sequence, Kubrick has the fight scene be replayed to establish what one of the participants is doing in the background and what is the focus on. It is to see how the heist is played out as its participants play their role which adds to the suspense as well as to establish how flawless the plan is. Then there’s the aftermath where it does go into the schematics of film noir in terms of its drama and suspense that leads to an ending that is captivating for everything Jim Clay goes through. Overall, Kubrick creates a truly exhilarating yet haunting heist film.
Cinematographer Lucien Ballard does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylish and entrancing black-and-white photography that is filled with many lighting schemes for some of the film‘s nighttime interiors to the gorgeous exteriors of the daytime scenes. Editor Betty Steinberg does excellent work with the film‘s stylish cutting by using dissolves and fade-outs to play with the transitions as well as rhythmic cuts for the horse race scenes. Art director Ruth Sobotka does nice work with the set pieces in the apartments that the characters live in to the room where the race track keeps the money.
The sound work of Earl Snyder is fantastic for capturing the atmosphere of the horse racetrack as well as using the racetrack announcer‘s voice to repeat the action that occurs in the heist. The film’s music by Gerald Fried is superb for its thrilling orchestral score to play out the suspense and drama that occurs in the film.
The film’s amazing ensemble cast features some notable small performances from Dorothy Adams as Mike’s ailing wife, James Edwards as a parking lot attendant, Tito Vuolo as the motel manager, Kola Kwariani as the former pro wrestler Maurice, and Timothy Carey as the sharpshooter Nikki. Other roles such as Coleen Gray as the good-natured Fay and Marie Windsor as the conniving Sherry are wonderful to watch as is Vince Edwards as Sherry’s opportunistic lover Val. Jay C. Flippen and Ted de Corsia are excellent in their respective roles as Marvin and the corrupt policeman Randy. Joe Sawyer is terrific as the kind bartender Mike while Elisha Cook Jr. is superb as the weak cashier George. Finally, there’s Sterling Hayden in an incredible performance as the very professional Johnny Clay as he’s just a man hoping that the job goes right while hoping to do right for his girlfriend as there’s a real complexity to his character.
The Killing is a gripping yet hypnotic suspense film from Stanley Kubrick. Featuring a top-notch ensemble cast led by Sterling Hayden along with some amazing technical work that is highlighted by Lucien Ballard’s cinematography. The film is definitely one of the most intriguing heist films that explores the planning of a heist and how things can go wrong as Kubrick creates something that is truly engaging. In the end, The Killing is an outstanding film from Stanley Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick Films: Fear and Desire - Killer's Kiss - Paths of Glory - Spartacus - Lolita - Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 2001: A Space Odyssey - A Clockwork Orange - Barry Lyndon - The Shining - Full Metal Jacket - Eyes Wide Shut
Related: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures - The Auteurs #18: Stanley Kubrick
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