(1956) dir. Stanley Kubrick
After watching Michael Winterbottom’s latest adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel from pulp page to big screen, The Killer Inside Me (2010), I felt somewhat interested in venturing down Thompson’s other cinematic forays, such as they’ve been. Most of Thompson’s work that has been adapted, I have seen, but what was also compelling was that briefly, in the 1950’s he worked with notable auteur Stanley Kubrick on two films, the 1956 low-budget, highly stylized noir film The Killing and then again on 1957’s Paths of Glory.
Kubrick is such a popular auteur, a big cult hero with several films that people just love to watch over and over, that it struck me as odd that in the nine or so years that I have been writing and keeping my film diary that I’ve only actually watched one of his films. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of them varying numbers of times but the only one that I’d seen in the last decade or so was The Shining (1980). A lot of that is just circumstance. I almost went and saw Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) last month at the Castro. Anyways, I still only had seen one of the films recently enough to have written about it.
I’d seen The Killing before, but for some reason had some sort of mental block about it, getting it confused with whether it was Kubrick’s previous film, Killer’s Kiss (1955) (which I do not believe that I’ve seen) and also perhaps with the two versions of The Killers Richard Siodmak’s 1946 version and Don Siegel’s 1964 version. Now that may seem just silly to you, but believe me, I think I’ve found confusion there.
Perhaps no more, however.
The Killing is a terse heist film, a bit of an ensemble picture in which even star Sterling Hayden is as much of a character actor as much of the rest of the cast. It’s told in a not completely linear fashion, though with a loud, pedantic narrative voice over to give us “just the facts”, so to speak, reminding me quite significantly of Sgt. Joe Friday’s dull monotone from Dragnet. But like almost every heist story, things go wrong, as much as they go right, as much precision is brought to bear, the whole crew is due for dissolution and death.
Not being a Kubrick scholar or having even read up on him much, I can only speculate at the experimentation that was going on in this film, from its narrative hopscotching to its often very interesting camerawork to the rich character actor performances that give this film its particular flavor. It’s funny to me that it always failed to register more significantly in previous viewing or viewings in that there is so much specific here from the horse race (filmed at local Bay Meadows) to the unusual ethnic identities and racial slurs of some of the characters. And even especially a couple of key scenes, Hayden in the clown’s mask, robbing the crew at gunpoint to the penultimate image of the wads of stolen money blowing wildly about on the tarmac at the airport, swirling away into nothing.
It’s an excellent film. Hard to say about the Thompson dialogue, since I know little of the production of the film (he’s credited for dialogue, not the screenplay), though there are lots of colorful barbs and backs-and-forths. I suppose that this is a film that can be seen in a number of contexts, and perhaps the Jim Thompson angle is one of the smaller ones. Still, it’s well worth the re-visit for any number of reasons. And it might finally do me some good to make sure that I can finally lay claim to having seen all four of the films that I conflated with one another so as to never have that problem again.