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March 02, 2011

The Killing - Classic Film Pick

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Killing Stanley Kubrick's experience working as a  photographer for Look magazine later informed his eye for filmic composition. His technical skills with a camera were naturally suited to fulfilling the detailed demands of the noir genre. Based on the Lionel White novel "Clean Break," Kubrick co-wrote "The Killing" with pulp writer Jim Thompson. It was Kubrick's first feature-length film. Interweaving a documentary editorial style, "The Killing" (1956) is a noir caper movie about a group of men who rob New York's Meadowlands racetrack as the ponies run. Sterling Hayden plays criminal mastermind Johnny Clay. Hayden's burly good looks and tenacious demeanor make him an ideal anti-hero. Fresh out of prison, Johnny depends on the involvement of shady racetrack teller George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.). George's troubled marriage to Sherry, a domineering money-hungry adulteress, causes him to spill the beans about the possible riches that await. Naturally, Sherry overreaches when she tries to involve her ambitious boyfriend in the action.
Kubrick infuses a voice-over narration to put a clinical stamp of observation over the carefully orchestrated heist. The filmmaker employs a groundbreaking time-flipping device to evaluate simultaneous action from different perspectives. A boxing lout starts a fight at the racetrack bar. The event is replayed to give context as to how the manufactured brawl masks the robbery in progress.
Loving attention is given to details such as the chess parlor where Johnny attracts the complicity of the Russian boxer. Kubrick was a lifelong chess player. Lenny Bruce's name adorns a burlesque parlor to silently place the social environment of the story. Little touches like the monstrous clown masks the robbers wear, later became cliché touchstones for heist movies. There's a dark urgency in "The Killing" that speaks to unseen economic pressures roiling through the country. The film's airport climax lends a contemporary air of realism to the action. Getting an oversized suitcase on a commercial flight is always a problem. Greed must take its toll.


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