Career criminal Johnny Clay recruits a sharpshooter, a crooked police officer, a bartender and a betting teller named George, among others, for one last job before he goes straight and gets married. But when George tells his restless wife about the scheme to steal millions from the racetrack where he works, she hatches a plot of her own.
This is a bad joke without a punch line. The Killing is directed by Stanley Kubrick who co-adapts to screenplay with Jim Thompson from the novel Clean Break written by Lionel White. It stars Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen and Coleen Gray. Music is by Gerald Fried and cinematography by Lucien Ballard. Ex-con Johnny Clay (Hayden) has a plan to make a killing at the racetrack, with some special inside help he plots to nab $2 million in an intricate robbery. It looks a good thing, the right people are in place, but there's a potential spanner in the works in the shapely form of Sherry Peatty (Windsor), the unfaithful and devious wife of one of the robbers. Cheaply made by Kubrick and his producer partner James B. Harris, The Killing is a lean and mean mid 50's film noir. Poorly received at the box office and met with indifference by critics upon release, it's a film that has come to be noted as hugely influential - more so as Kubrick's reputation has grown over the passing years. Clocking in at under 85 minutes, film is told in a fractured narrative structure that at the time was viewed as an oddity. Story is constructed around crosscut flashbacks as the robbery is planned and then executed, with Kubrick's direction as meticulous as the actual robbery itself. It's not hard to understand why confusion was an issue back upon its release, but this is something that now comes off as something of a masterstroke, and this even if Kubrick was forced to tinker with the final product where it was decided to add in a voice-over to aid those troubled by the nonlinear narrative (which the director despised). In spite of some problems, such as the cheapo sets and some stiff performances from secondary characters, The Killing is quintessential film noir. Kubrick thrives on filming his characters in cramped surroundings, the use of angles very effective, and Ballard photographs superbly for the low-key interiors, thus the mood is perfectly set. Story is filled out with hapless characters, where destinies are defined by greed, betrayal and the devils trump card - that of bad luck. As is normally the case with the best film noir, it's a dame who holds the key to the misery here. Sherry Peatty (Windsor excellent) is cold and utterly bitch like. She has a hold over her cuckolded husband George (Cook Junior never better) that would be easy to detest, that is were it not for the fact George is so pitifully weak! From that coupling bursts a doom and bleakness that underpins the story, rendering the film with a fatalistic sheen. The Killing does have a dated feel to it, but only slightly (and not remotely irritatingly) so. While there's no denying that the budgetary restrictions - the voice-over and some less than good performances - stop this being the masterpiece of the crime genre some of us want it to be. However, it's a damn fine film, that's tense, exciting and very compelling, and it does deserve to warrant a place on a favourite list of any self respecting film noir fan. 8/10