The Killing (1956 USA)

killingThis film is not only Stanley Kubrick’s first acclaimed picture, but it is also credited with inventing the concept of non-linear story telling for the film industry. More recent flicks that have used this technique are Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects. A lot of noirs from the 50’s can be extremely slow and, to be frank, boring. But this didn’t bore me for a second. In Kubrick’s later films he tends to pad out the narrative, but here he keeps it economical.

We begin at the beginning of the heist and then flip back to the group of men planning the robbery. Audio-wise we get a baritone narration from a man who sounds like a reporter looking back on the crime. This aids with the semi-documentary feel that Kubrick is clearly aiming for here. A crime-doesn’t-pay message usually had to be inserted back then to calm the censors. The tight story deals with a motley crew of assorted criminals, inside men, and average dudes just looking to get their hands on a large sum of money by stealing it from a racetrack. Sterling Hayden plays Johnny Clay, a hardened criminal who just finished serving a five-year prison sentence. He is the ringleader of the bunch who is determined to only go for the big heists from now on. He figures they can put you away for stealing ten dollars as easily as ten million, so what have you got to lose?

the-killing-nikkiThe rest of the crew are mostly average people with average problems, as Clay explains early on. Some of them work at the track. One is a crooked cop. Two are hardened criminals added at the last minute to cause diversions. Everything has been timed and planned out to the letter. Of course in a film like this, things never go as planned. It wouldn’t be entertaining if they did. The Killing was made on a budget of well below half a million dollars, and it shows. The film looks cheap at times, but the story is more than enough to make you forgive its financial shortcomings. Once we reach the heist we see it multiple times from everyone’s different point of view. It’s very engaging and clever to see how it all pans out and you’re almost rooting for them to complete it cleanly.

The acting is nothing too special. Hayden is strong and resourceful as Johnny Clay, but he’s pretty wooden. Elisha Cook Jr. is pretty good as a hen-pecked husband who is taking part in the scheme to impress his high-maintenance wife. Timothy Carey is always memorable, even with such a small part like the one he has here. Such a strange-looking guy! He gets the most interesting assignment of all the people in on the heist. You can really tell this was made sixty years ago. Even though these are hardened criminals and low-lifes in every sense of the word, nobody ever says fudge! Or something else with four letters that begins with f. There is, however, a fairly gory shootout in one scene which you normally didn’t find in films back then. The Killing was ahead of its time in more ways than one. Check this one out.

1956, THE KILLING

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