The Killing (1956)

What a leap forward from one film to the next in such a short time. If Killer’s Kiss was the talented amateur, this is the work of the professional, working with a still small but more substantial budget, proper actors, a proper crew, and an honest-to-god/dess published author (Jim Thompson, whose books I really need to reread) working on the script. In short, a “proper” lower-level Hollywood product. The book was found by Kubrick’s producer, James Harris, who says in the DVD interview that Frank Sinatra also wanted to make the film; Frankie’s loss was very much Kubrick’s gain, though. It’s a classic heist situation, recently released crook Johnny Clay planning a spectacular racetrack robbery to fund life on the outside,  but the telling of the story is what makes the thing interesting; I didn’t realise the film’s rather fascinating structure of overlapping scenes originated in the novel as well, which gives an amusing cast to the behind-the-scenes stories of the script (and indeed the finished film) being too complicated and Sterling Hayden’s agent claiming Kubrick had ruined his client’s career. Since then, of course, Quentin Tarantino’s made a career out of ripping that technique off. What’s notable about the film, especially when viewed immediately after its predecessor, is how much more generally confident it is… it’s as if, with superior resources available, Kubrick himself felt the need to lift his own game to match the people he now had around him, though he evidently had his own particular vision that he imparted to the film. But the pleasure of the film really is the structural unfolding of the plot, watching the plan get built up, then watching complications set in fairly quickly, and watching things finally turn to shit. In some respects this is always the joy of films like this, seeing the best laid plans fall apart, but there’s something especially delightful about how The Killing depicts it. It’s still B-movie pulp, but of a particularly good and entertaining kind.

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