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The Killing
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Stanley Kubrick

Written By:
Stanley Kubrick

Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, James Edwards, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel, Jay Adler, Tito Vuolo, Dorothy Adams, James Griffith, Steve Mitchell, William 'Billy' Benedict, Charles Cane, Robert Williams, Art Gilmore, Sol Gorss, Richard Reeves, Frank Richards, Kenner G. Kemp, Herbert Ellis, Cecil Elliott, Mary Carroll, Harry Hines, Kenner G. Kemp, Hal J. Moore, Kola Kwariani

The Killing (1956)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
August 20th, 2010

‘The Killing' was Stanley Kubrick's third feature, and may stand as one of his best; it has all the ingredients of a classic noir thriller. It is also wonderfully suspenseful. This is the film that launched Kubrick's Hollywood career and won him much acclaim; it was preceded by Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, both of which Kubrick later dismissed as failures.

The title refers not to murder, but rather to an elaborately planned horse track heist, devised by ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), hoping for one last score before he permanently retires from the criminal life. He assembles a team of financially desperate men, and tells them that the estimated take is $2 million. Randy (Ted de Corsia) is a corrupt cop who needs to pay back a loan shark. Mike (Joe Sawyer) is a bartender with a sick, bed-ridden wife in need of medical care. George (Elisha Cook Jr.) is a lowly cashier who is threatened with abandonment by his flashy, conniving, greedy wife Sherry (Marie Windsor).

George debates whether he should participate or not, but Sherry makes it clear that she will leave him unless he goes through with the scheme, and gets rich. Secretly, she plots with her lover to steal George's share. Johnny has meticulously accounted for every little detail, and each man has an important job to do, with two additional men being hired to serve as distractions; one of them is Nikki, a sharpshooter, and the other is Maurice, a beefy chess enthusiast, who will start a bar fight to draw the attention of the security guards. Maurice is played by former wrestler Kola Kwariani, in his only cinematic role.

Kwariani could almost be mistaken for Tor Johnson, due to his physical stature, background, and heavy accent. Johnson, of course, appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space. There are similarities to John Huston's 1950 masterpiece The Asphalt Jungle, which also starred Hayden, but one major difference is that the characters here are not seasoned professionals, and their flaws and suspicions lead to their demise.

This is especially true of George, who is very sensitive and easily angered when it comes to Sherry. Hayden's performance is riveting as the calm, and seemingly undaunted Clay, whose own undoing comes from a combination of bad luck and hasty, improvised thinking. Cook, however, steals the show, along with Windsor, as the cold, ruthless, manipulative Sherry. Every line she speaks drips with biting sarcasm. The ironic twist ending evokes The Treasure of Sierra Madre, but, in a way, it is to be expected, as everything goes so smoothly up until that point.

The heist is pulled off exactly as Johnny intended, with no snares or delays, and then the whole thing begins to unravel, very quickly. Kubrick adapted the novel Clean Break by Lionel White, and with the help of his producer, James B Harris, convinced Hayden to take the lead role (he and Kubrick would work together again on Dr. Strangelove). Lean and tautly paced, this is a truly excellent flick, and began Kubrick's string of classics, with Paths of Glory, Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr Strangelove, and Clockwork Orange.

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