As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

The Killing

Posted by Hedwig on September 5, 2008

I might be giving my new boyfriend a cinematic education of sorts (you’ll hear about his test results soon), but I’m far from a professor. A T.A., at most, I would say. I’m a cinephile, and I know more about movies that probably about 95% of the population, but compared to most cinema lovers, my filmic resume is rather meagre. My own cinematic education is far from complete, and working on that is one of the goals for these few months “in-between” I’m in now. I don’t know how much I’ll actually get done (both of my employers have realized I’m available, and I seem to have less free time than before), but I thought Stanley Kubrick’s debut film wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

The Killing is a heist movie. That I knew. I didn’t expect, however (due to previous experience with Kubrick’s work) that it would be so briskly paced and – dare I say it – almost playful. Ok, so maybe most people wouldn’t consider the rigidly narrated overview of the events playful, but to me the jumping back and forth in time, illuminating all events from multiple angles, showed an almost playfyl fascination with the inner workings of a crime.

My one beef? It’s all too obvious from the beginning who the weak link is, and where the plan will fall apart. Worse: it should have been obvious to the participants as well. I guess the lure of money (a lot of money) can make people do unreasonable, risky things, but come on! Of course, though, there had to be a weak element, a hitch, not just because of the production code (which was weakening already around then), but because a perfectly planned heist going perfectly is, well, boring.

Still, I loved how the plan was unveiled bit by bit, without a grand, lengthy expository scene, but also without leaving us totally in the dark, giving us exactly the clues we need to figure out what’s what. I also loved the scene with the boxer I quoted from in my preview post. And the robber with the clown mask is such an iconic mask, it elicited a feeling of recognition, even if I’d never seen this movie before.

Incidentally, for a more elaborate discussion, see episode #217 of filmspotting: they discussed The Killing as part of their heist movie marathon (from the 40:55 mark), of which I hope to sample more movies soon (their discussions of Rififi and especially Le Cercle Rouge left me very curious.

Also, props to Kaj from guessing the film from the quote, and manifesting this by replying with another appropriate one.

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4 Responses to “The Killing”

  1. Yes, the one-man show that is Killer’s Kiss and then The Killing do display a playfulness and alacrity of technique that many unfamiliar with Kubrick’s “early works” would most likely find quite surprising.

    The Asphalt Jungle, The Lavender Hill Mob, Rififi and The Killing are, I suppose, the four quintessential 1950s heist pictures. They all have many similarities and differences and would make an interesting “double double-bill.”

    Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samourai by themselves illustrate just how influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville Tarantino has been, as he clearly sees great worth in playing with the motifs and atmospherics of classic films. Le Cercle Rouge definitely owes something to Rififi as Le Samourai owes something to This Gun for Hire.

    Interesting, too, that Sterling Hayden was in both The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, portraying desperation personfied in both with such aplomb and certitude.

  2. Sam Juliano said

    Yep I agree with Alexander–those are the four pre-eminent heist films with the two Melvilles right there. I am happy you liked THE KILLING.

  3. FilmDr said

    I like the way The Killing explores various forms of male corruption and dependency (on women especially), with Sterling Hayden standing out as a kind of noble criminal with the best jawline. Did you notice that tracking shot in the apartment that goes through several rooms? I believe the youthful Kubrick almost fired his cinematographer when he tried to change the camera position on that scene. There’s so much directorial talent on display, and yet it’s all kept in check with such a straightforward heist storyline. Due to that sense of promise, I almost prefer The Killing to Kubrick’s later masterpieces.

  4. I read a story that pointed to Kubrick being irate with his cinematographer, who was no less than Lucien Ballard, with regards to the tracking shot sequence in the apartment and several other scenes.

    There is something to be said for Kubrick’s earlier, more free-wheeling work, which nonetheless boasts the qualities of technically brilliant filmmaking.

    Heist films often do examine the linkage between money and sex (one being the route to the other), with women easily manipulating men to do their bidding. One of my favorite examples is another heist picture of the ’50s, Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), which also looked at criminals through the lens of racial conflict. In Hayden’s place is Robert Ryan, who is like so much putty in the hands of Gloria Grahame.

    It seems like it would be difficult to find too many actors so burly and imposing as those two fellows and others, so as to properly demonstrate the fecklessness of masculine strength when up against feminine wiles these days.

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