Let us continue our mini-festival from 1956 with Stanley Kubrick’s first great film, The Killing. This is also the first movie Kubrick both directed and wrote, albeit with Jim Thompson. Based on Lionel White’s book Clean Break, it’s one of the great crime films made in American film. Starring Sterling Hayden in one of his very best roles and Colleen Gray as his dame, it follows the ol’ one last heist formula, in this case so Hayden can settle down and marry Gray. Guess what? It doesn’t go well! Elisha Cook, always wonderful, is a key part of the gang. United Artists was somewhat disappointed–they saw this as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra and while they were OK with it not being Sinatra, Hayden was not a big enough star for them. And although it was highly reviewed, it did not do well at the box office, confirming the executives’ concerns.
But not only was the American public wrong about this compelling noir, it helped make Kubrick’s reputation as an outstanding, if not box office gold, director. He followed it with the incredible Paths of Glory the next year and then Spartacus after that. One thing that separates Kubrick from a lot of the all time great directors is his genre jumping. Really, no two Kubrick films are even close to the same, at least not from The Killing forward. Compare that to, say, Kurosawa, Ozu, Godard, Scorsese, Bergman, so many others. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not; it really doesn’t matter. The point is that his form of greatness was a bit more unusual than you’d think.
Anyway, let’s watch The Killing.