Thursday, February 04, 2021

The Killing (1956, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I watched this one shortly after Killer's Kiss, so that earlier Kubrick film was fresh in my mind. I know I must have seen it before, but it's one of those movies that, watching it again, I found myself questioning whether I had in fact seen it before.

It strikes me that Kubrick's first couple of films -- and I may include The Killing in this too -- felt like movies he made for the sake of making a movie. The Killing struck me as a solid genre film (clearly a big influence on Tarantino), but still lacking the kind of cohesive vision that I think Kubrick demonstrated the following year with Paths of Glory

Without diminishing what Kubrick achieved on the tiny budgets of his previous two films, The Killing does clearly demonstrate the advantages of the relatively bigger budget he was working with thanks to his deal with UA, benefiting from a solid cast of pro actors and a much better script than he'd worked with before (though still bogged down in clunky narration that may have been imposed to clue audiences in on the time shifts in the action).

Having just seen Killer's Kiss, I was curious why Kubrick didn't suppress that film the way he did Fear and Desire. Part of it may have been purely practical -- because Killer's Kiss was picked up for distribution by UA, perhaps he just didn't have the power to keep it out of circulation (it's always been commercially available). Whereas, since Fear and Desire was out of circulation, it was easier for him to suppress it (although, it eventually fell into the public domain).

Whatever other criticisms one might have of Killer's Kiss, it does have Kubrick's cinematography going for it. I know Kubrick clashed with cinematographer Lucien Ballard on The Killing , but I think that by not trying to do it all, it allowed Kubrick to focus on the direction, which is certainly tighter than in his previous two films.

It also strikes me that James B. Harris is one of the great "unsung heroes" in Kubrick's career, taking a chance on the young director by producing this film, then producingPaths of Glory and Lolita, which as a trajectory made it possible for Kubrick to move from the earliest phase of his career to his status as a visionary, independent artist. It was in no small part due to Harris' belief in Kubrick that he was able to make that transition.

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