After absorbing myself in Kubrick’s oeuvre when I did my Honour thesis on him at UNSW, I’ve hardly seen anything by him since then (apart from Eyes Wide Shut when it finally came out, and A Clockwork Orange when it showed on TV and the DVD reissue). I’m rectifying that now by revisiting some of those early works, starting with the earliest easily available one (using the MGM disc art here but watched the Criterion version). I probably haven’t seen this since 1995, so it was interesting to see it again. I wasn’t exactly blown away by it back then, although when I finally saw Fear and Desire a couple of years later I had to admit his second film was an improvement nonetheless on that famously inauspicious debut. He’s still in apprentice mode here, and the film kind of behaves like he was looking for a more commercially viable product and had watched a bunch of noirs to get inspiration for his own B-movie thriller (this was, incidentally, the last time he wrote a script not adapted from an existing novel). The story is kind of lame—somewhat washed-up young boxer gets tangled up with villainous dancehall owner and the girl he’s pursuing—and none of the performances terribly inspiring; only Frank Silvera (who was also in Fear and Desire) had much of a career beyond this (an interesting one it appears to have been, too). What the film does have is imagery; as the video introduction notes, the story almost seems a backdrop to the visuals rather than the usual other way round, and Kubrick’s origins in photography are pretty visible in his cinematography (a career he could probably have profitably stuck to, cos this does look great). And the climactic showdown in the warehouse space full of mannequins does provide an engaging twist to the usual. Nice as an example of making a film like this with a minimal budget, great use of locations, but on the whole I think if Kubrick’s name weren’t in the credits, Killer’s Kiss would be more or less completely forgotten.
Killer’s Kiss (1955)