The Killing (1956)

The Killing (1956)

The Killing is designed to be confusing. Stanley Kubrick’s third feature concerns a crew of two-bit crooks who plan and execute a heist on a racing track. Their scheme is convoluted enough – six people needing to be in the right place at the right time doing the wrong thing – and is further complicated by a non-linear narrative that jags between characters and times.

The film is defined by a sense of paranoiac disorientation laced with tension. This isn’t called The Heist after all, and events unfold much like Murphy would expect. Among the crooks’ number are Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), all dour confidence, and George Peatty (Elisha Cook), all nervous uncertainty. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be more George than Johnny watching the film.

These criminals are crude men, hard to sympathise with; this is both a strength and a weakness of the film. The strong moments in The Killing are when innocents wander into the sphere of these men: a desperate woman futilely pleading with a corrupt policeman for assistance, or an affable parking attendant attempting to befriend a sniper. You may not care about whether these men succeed, but Kubrick ensures that you care if they fail.

4 stars

8 thoughts on “The Killing (1956)

    • Yeah it’s not as refined as his later stuff, but the scrappiness suits the material. And I love how close and low the camera keeps to the players, helps to create and maintain a sense of tension. Thanks for the comment!

  1. I caught up with The Killing a few years ago, and it was interesting to note what Tarantino used for Reservoir Dogs. There are a lot of similarities. I also really like the silly ending and the scenes you mention, especially the friendly parking lot attendant. There’s so much tension in that moment. I think the key is not trying to connect it to Kubrick’s later work. It’s a strong heist film with good performances, and it shouldn’t have to face such huge expectations.

    • Yeah you can clearly see all the Reservoir Dogs influences, in terms of the non-linear structure and the way you get everyone’s perspective on the heist (and the way it all kinda goes to shit at the end). I considered talking about that link but couldn’t really fit it in with 200 words.

      The silliness of the ending surprised me a little, but I think it’s fitting; after all, this is basically Murphy’s Law: the movie. And yeah, I try not to compare it too closely to masterpieces like The Shining or A Clockwork Orange – it’s a great film in its own right.

  2. Haven’t seen this one, but it sounds, in some ways, similar to Kubrick’s other work – well made and interesting. I’ll probably check it out at some point.

    • I’ve given up on finding too many similarities between Kubrick’s films; they’re all so diverse! It’s not quite as well made as his later stuff – or as good – but it’s still an excellent film, particularly if you enjoy the noir vibe.

  3. I’m a Kubrick fan, and I remember when I did watch t6his, it was probably 2AM and I was too groggy to think about it. I was definitely confused. I should revisit it. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Yeah, I was paying pretty close attention and I still found it a bit confusing! It’s obviously a deliberate choice, because I’ve seen movies with more complicated schemes. I don’t think it’s on par with Kubrick’s later masterpieces but it’s definitely something worth revisiting! Thanks for the comment.

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