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Worth A Look: 42.86%
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2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Killing, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Even if just a set-up for one of film's greatest punchlines, still classic."
4 stars

The plan in "The Killing" isn't a great one, but it looks like one that a group of crooks looking for a big score might think has potential. The real prize is in the telling, which doesn't so much tweak its genre trappings as much as find the most entertaining version of them.

As laid out by professional crook Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), the plan is reasonably straightforward despite featuring a large number of moving parts: He's going to rob the racetrack during a big race, with the distraction of a couple of men drawing the guards away from the vault and a little help from inside man George Peatty (Eisha Cook Jr.). There's space for things to go wrong even if Peatty didn't tell his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) what he was in on, so there's a good chance that things will go wrong at some point.

Crime stories like The Killing, especially while the Hays Code was in effect, were sometimes clumsy affairs, reconciling the excitement of breaking the law with the mandatory admonition that the culprits will not get away with it. Screenwriter/director Stanley Kubrick plays with that somewhat here, peppering the story with narration that sounds like a police report whose author wants to be a pulp novelist, or the true-crime magazines popular at the time. The narration may have come as the result of the studio fearing the audience wouldn't keep up with Kubrick's jumping back and forth in time, and some say that he made them sarcastically obvious as a way to get the studio to reconsider, but that seems unlikely - not so much because Kubrick wouldn't antagonize the studio on his first major feature, but because it works, camouflaging the movie's wit on the first viewing and providing amusing contrast afterward.

He also makes a canny decision to bring in Jim Thompson to handle the dialogue; Thompson knows his pulp and this helps the movie crackle. Kubrick is already doing a good job of finding a way around the boring parts by how he jumps between characters quickly backtracks after the fact rather than putting in scenes that do nothing but set later things up; Thompson makes what's left snappy. For example, a scene where Johnny tries to sell one confederate on his part in the story is perhaps the most naturally funny banter in any Kubrick film. The movie needs this, as either Kubrick's screenplay or Lionel White's original novel Clean Break posits a crime that's either too simple or too complicated, committed by characters who are occasionally on the wrong side of the line between central casting or colorful.

Elisha Cook and Marie Windsor are mostly on the right side of the line; the Peattys are big personalities who yell and scream and snivel and vamp as the situation calls for, but they bounce off each other and their accomplices with energy but without trying to hog the screen. It's the smaller parts, like Tito Vuolo as motel proprietor and Italian stereotype Joe Piano that grate a bit. Sterling Hayden, meanwhile, gives the sort of performance where one almost suspects that he wasn't told that the movie would have funny parts until later - a perfect, stony-faced tough guy no matter how odd the situation eventually becomes, until things end on a bit that relies on him having played it straight through the entire movie.

That ending is perhaps the best reason to consider "The Killing" the first "true" Stanley Kubrick feature - it's abrupt, disorienting, and kind of subversive, and it helps a good movie get darn close to being a great one. At the very least, it's a lot less like the standard crime caper than one might expect.

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originally posted: 02/07/13 15:51:54
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User Comments

4/07/20 Suzanne generally not a Kubrick fan; surprised I enjoyed this so much 4 stars
5/17/16 Anne the film at times was predictable; what I found fascinating was motives of greed 4 stars
6/03/15 stanley welles a brilliant and brisk crime movie 5 stars
9/23/14 J72DOLPHINS Pure early Kubrick masterpiece!! 5 stars
9/30/11 Justin Great review! 5 stars
8/14/11 mr.mike SK should have done more film noir. 4 stars
12/22/10 action movie fan outstanding film noikr clever perfect crime race track robbery-one of kubricks better films 5 stars
8/25/10 Davey One of the best noirs ever. Way to be, Kubrick, way to be. 5 stars
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  DVD: 29-Jun-1999



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