The Killing was director Stanley Kubrick’s first major film effort — though, like Kubrick’s earlier films, it was economically produced with an inexpensive cast.
In a variation of his Asphalt Jungle role, Sterling Hayden plays veteran criminal Johnny Clay, planning one last big heist before settling down to a respectable marriage with Fay (Colleen Gray). Teaming with several cohorts, Johnny masterminds a racetrack robbery. All the crooks involved are losers and small-timers who find themselves in way over their heads despite their supposed cleverness. None of the participants is more pathetic than George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.), who is goaded into the robbery by his covetous and far-from-faithful wife (Marie Windsor).
Prominently featured in the cast of The Killing are offbeat character actors Tim Carey and Joe Turkel, who’d show up with equally showy roles in future Kubrick productions. The Killing is based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White.
All Movie Guide
Stanley Kubrick’s third feature showed that he was no ordinary director, as he dispensed with traditional time structure to detail the planning and execution of a racetrack heist gone wrong. Combining a non-linear story with a unifying, matter-of-fact voice-over narration, Kubrick constructed an intricate yet lucid cinematic puzzle that shifted back and forth both in time and among the central characters, revealing the personal stakes for each participant by following their individual actions leading up to the fateful seventh race. Johnny the leader thinks he has it all under control, but, in true Kubrick fashion, his plan is not immune to human failure. While the fractured time frame and use of long takes and tracking shots signaled Kubrick’s stylistic break from classical form, the sharp black-and-white photography, Marie Windsor’s insidious femme fatale, and Sterling Hayden’s doomed Johnny place The Killing in the mode of 1940s/1950s film noir. His first film made on a reasonable budget and with an established cast of pros, The Killing caught critics’ attention and established Kubrick as a director to watch, especially for such future cinematic time-tricksters as Quentin Tarantino.
Time Out Film Guide
Characteristically Kubrick in both its mechanistic coldness and its vision of human endeavour undone by greed and deceit, this noir-ish heist movie is nevertheless far more satisfying than most of his later work, due both to a lack of bombastic pretensions and to the style fitting the subject matter. Hayden is his usual admirable self as the ex-con who gathers together a gallery of small-timers to rob a race-track; for once it’s not the robbery itself that goes wrong, but the aftermath. What is remarkable about the movie, besides the excellent performances of an archetypal noir cast and Lucien Ballard’s steely photography, is the time structure, employing a complex series of flashbacks both to introduce and explain characters and to create a synchronous view of simultaneous events. Kubrick’s essentially heartless, beady-eyed observation of human foibles lacks the dimension of the genre’s classics, but the likes of Windsor, Carey and Cook more than compensate. (From the novel Clean Break by Lional White.