Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Killing 1956

Slinking into the Mayfair Theatre in Times Sq. in May of 1956 where it just laid there collecting dust and indifference, this is Kubrick’s first masterwork. Unsettling, damp and dark this little bed bug of a movie was pretty much ignored by critics and audiences alike. Maybe because even in 1956 it seemed dated even by conservative Hollywood’s standards.  It looks like 1951 and in 1956 Hollywood was doing the big Cinemascope color thing with bloated brightly colored easy does it entertainment, and giving out its little Oscar man to some pretty but dreadful things like “Around The World in 80 Days,” “Giant”, “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I” none of which have stood my test of time. Sure some of these are fun and camp but where does a cheap black and white dime store pulp fiction Noir like “The Killing” fit in? It doesn’t of course; it’s a stay at home on a Saturday night when everyone else is having fun at the Prom kind of movie. That’s ok. Even as a 9 year old those old-fashioned musicals and biblical fables didn’t really do the trick for me. I was more interested in “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” and “Written on The Wind” and my 9-year-old idea of a musical was the brassy and bold “The Girl Can’t Help It”.  How “The Killing” got by me is a mystery, maybe my mother didn’t like her young child seeing a movie with killing in the title, but she thought nothing of taking me to see “The Bad Seed” which gave me nightmares for years. I finally saw “The Killing” for the first time some years back, and recently slipped the gorgeous Criterion transfer into my dvd player the other night and started to swoon the minute Marie Windsor as Sherry started to give it to her poor schnook of a husband the short sad Elisha Cook Jr. who asks her why did she marry him? Good question Elisha because this Sherry is no cherry on the top. She is bad, a cheat, a rancid parfait topped off by a bunch of blonde hair sitting on the top of her head. Sherry is cheating on Elisha big time and has her pointy mid 50’s tits wrapped so tightly around hubba hunk bad guy small time crook and lover on the side Vince Edwards that he can hardly breath. “You’d sell your mother for a piece of fudge” Sterling Hayden says to her after he finds out that she is dangerous when wet or dry and could screw up his ludicrous plan to rob a race track.  This is a heist movie gone bad from the word go, and we watch it fall apart in Kubrick’s back and forth story telling seen from the different characters point of view. There is some (thankfully not much) annoying over the action narrative spoken tough and serious by Art Gilmore who made a career doing voice-overs which were common in neo-realist crime and heist films of the period.  The screenplay was really co-written by Kubrick and Jim Thompson (who by the way got shafted on this and took his own fall over this pot boiler getting only “dialogue” credit) and with smooth tracking cinematography by Lucien Ballard that flows, moves and shoves itself into detailed cluttered depressed small rooms and bedrooms as well as the cracks and crevices of a real L.A. The supporting cast is brilliant and includes the good little actress (as Pauline Kael referred to her) Coleen Gray as Hayden’s bride in waiting who is probably still waiting, and who the great Jay C. Flippen in a very homo moment wants Hayden to dump and go away with him. We also have Ted de Corsia as a corrupt and dirty cop, Joe Sawyer as a bartender and crazy Timothy Carey who plays a racist assassin. All are good and all are in on the play to rob the racetrack. There are others and some of the action and script lags and some of the sets (especially the interior of the racetrack) look like something left over from a bad prison movie. But even with these minor flaws this is still one hell of a heist and one of the ten best films of 1956. Best Actor, supporting actor, supporting actress and screenplay.      


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