Monday, November 6, 2017

The Killing (1956) Masterpiece

"The biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts."

The Killing was Stanley Kubrick's second Noir and right out of the starting gate is a bonafide instant classic. The cinematographer,  Lucien Ballard whose work Laura, The Berlin ExpressThe House on Telegraph HillDon't Bother To Knock, and color Noirs Inferno and A Kiss Before Dying should be quite familiar to most Aficio-Noirdos provides a crisp, masterful, black and white pallet. Gerald Fried grooves us with a nice idiosyncratic jazzy score juxtaposed to the drama unfolding on the screen.

The story of how the film came about is quite interesting. Kubrick had just finished making the grimey, gritty, impressive, Killer's Kiss for peanuts. Working from his own screenplay (based on a story by Howard Sackler), he co- produced, directed, photographed and also did the editing. Taking a break one day from the confines of his small apartment on 16th Street near 6th Avenue. He was playing chess in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, a few blocks South down in The Village. There he met James B. Harris a former film distributor who was searching for a talent to produce for. Harris thought Kubrick was the proverbial cinematic genius.

The two of them formed Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation in 1955. Looking for a project Harris bought the film rights to Lionel White's novel Clean Break for ten grand. Kubrick suggested they hire hardboiled fiction novelist Jim Thompson to write the script. Though Kubrick took most of the writing credit, Thompson was given credit for the hardboiled dialog. The nonlinear structure of the film is actually used in the novel and was perhaps the catalyst that drove them to acquire the rights in the first place out from under United Artists which was interested in investing in the film for Frank Sinatra.

Doing time, obviously for quite a few of our Film Noir cons, is just the opportunity to cook up another job, a bigger score, a killing. As Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) puts it to his gal pal Fay (Coleen Grey) "You know Fay, the biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts. Five years have taught me one thing, if nothing else: Anytime you take a chance, you better be sure the rewards are worth the risk. Because they could put you away just as fast for a $10 heist as they can for a million dollar job."

So Johnny has put together the perfect crime. Using some insiders, George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) a milquetoast racetrack betting window teller, who wants money to impress his wandering eye, man shark of a wife, Sherry, a bleach blonde Marie Windsor. Mike O'Reilly (George Sawyer) a track bartender needing doe to pay for his wife's medical expenses, a crooked cop  Randy Kennan (Ted De Corsia) up to his neck in gambling debts. The outsiders are a wrestler, Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani) to make a diversion by starting a fight. The fight signals the kickoff of the execution of the heist. Johnny also has, Marvin Unger (J.C. Flippen) a lonely, and out of the loop washed up ex con hood who front's the operating money, and Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey) a sort of freelance illegal gun dealer and part time hit man. Everyone of them actors in past Film Noir. Of the rest of the players Jay Adler, James Edwards, Tito Volvo, Colleen Gray, Vince Edwards, etc., and quite a few others were also involved with Noirs. Kubrick had an abbondanza of cinematic memory stuffed into one hour and twenty-five minutes. 

Johnny (Hayden) Fay (Gray)
George (Cook Jr.) and Sherry (Windsor)
Marvin (Flippen)

Randy (De Corsia)

Val (Edwards)

Mike (Sawyer)

Maurice (Kwariani)

Nikki (Carey)

The plan is simple, during the feature race when the favorite comes around the bend Arcane shoots. The favorite drops, and a collision with the rest of the pack will divert the crowds in the stands. At the same time Maurice, will start a fight with Mike at the bar and draw all the track security to the scene.

When this happens, George will open the security door to allow entrance for Johnny up to the main money counting office. Johnny then slips in goes up to the employee's locker room. In the locker room, Johnny out of Mike's locker, grabs a previously stashed box with a bouquet of flowers, under the flowers is a pump action, sawed off shotgun.

Johnny out of the briefcase that he was carrying produces a duffle sack and a mask. He puts on the mask and bursts into the money counting room.

He has a track employee stuff all the money into the sack. when it's stuffed full, he instructs all the employees to shuffle out into the employee's locker room, and close the door. Johnny then takes off the mask, jacket, fedora, and shoves all plus the shotgun into the sack. He slips on a pair of sunglasses and pulls the drawstring tight and throws the sack out the third story window. It falls near where Randy has strategically parked his police cruiser. Randy grabs the sack and throws it into the police car and drives off. Johnny slips out of the security door and out into the crowd. Randy drops the sack off at a tourist cabin type motel run by Tito. Everyone is supposed to rendezvous at a pre arranged address to divvy the loot.

Of course round heels Femme Fatale Sherry queers the whole gig when, earlier, she, after wheedling the plan out of George, tells her slimy, greedy, lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards) about it. Val decides to grab the whole enchilada for himself, and it all goes wonderfully Noirsville.


Sherry Peatty: It isn't fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punchline.

A masterpiece, a classic, if you haven't seen it do so. Watch for Timothy Carey's small bit part, he's a hoot. Carey was one of the actors that came out of the beatnik generation. Screencaps are from the MGM DVD 10/10

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