02 August 2009

Kubrick, Killer's Kiss, and The Killing

Before he became the famous über-auteur, Stanley Kubrick cut his movie-making chops on noir. The 67-minute Killer's Kiss (1955) was Mr. Kubrick's second feature, and it tells the story of a washed-up boxer, a girl, and a gangster. The Kubrickian touches are everywhere--the overhead shots, the geometric composition, the sharp shadow lines, tunnels, entrances and exits, more staircase scenes than ought to be allowed, and breasts, lots of breasts. Since it's a 50s flick, the breasts aren't real, just on mannequins. There's a crazy fight scene at the end in a dress-maker's shop, and there are several dozen unclothed female mannequins that get knocked about. You knew he had to get those mammaries in somehow! His third film, The Killing (1956), is also in the noir bin, and he seems to satisfy his breast-fetish by having Marie Windsor in tight blouses. Ms. Windsor is one of the queens of the b & w cheapies, and delivers a memorable performance as the shrewish, two-timing wife of one of the criminals. Coleen Gray, another of the dames populating the dark side of the street, co-stars. Killer's Kiss is a simple, straight-ahead tale, while The Killing is famous for its narration and its use of non-linear sequences (used so notably by Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs). The highlights for me include the brilliant chase sequence in Kiss, and the fine ensemble acting of Killing. Kubrick made some spectacularly great movies (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and some spectacularly bad ones (Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut), with the whole range in between. I enjoyed seeing his evolution as a film-maker with these early pulp pieces. The great noir writer Jim Thompson got the screenplay credit for Killing.

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