FILM (1956)


The Killing, directed by Stanley Kubrick - revisiting a great heist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm

The Killing
Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook Jnr, Marie Windsor
Director: Stanley Kubrick


This heist flick, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White, follows a group of men as they hatch an audacious plot to rob a racetrack.

Sterling Hayden plays heist mastermind Johnny Clay. Fresh out of prison, Johnny wants to do one last job so he can run off with his girlfriend, Fay (Coleen Gray), who has waited for him for five years.

Johnny thinks he has a solid crew: "They've all got a little larceny in them." There's Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen), underwriter of the costs of the operation; Mike O'Reilly (Joe Sawyer), a racetrack bartender; Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia), a corrupt cop; sniper Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey); and Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani, a wrestler) as the muscle.

Unfortunately, conspirator George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jnr), a racetrack cashier, has a major weakness: his wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor, who is delightfully wicked in the role). Sherry and her lover, Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), decide to rob the crew after the job is done. After all, what's a heist film if things don't go terribly, fatally wrong?

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "Filmed largely in San Mateo and Venice, California, and at the Bay Meadows Racetrack, the movie has the look and feel of glorious 1950s black and white film noir. On a budget of US$230,000, Kubrick uses a lot of actual locations."

Every scene escalates the tension. We visit a chess club, dingy apartments and the racetrack. Radio announcer Art Gilmore narrates every move in The Killing, yet the viewer has no clue about how they are going to rob the racetrack. All we know is that the plan involves a bar fight and a dead horse, and that everything has to take place before the money is transported to an armoured car.

Kubrick was 28 on the film's release in 1956. Over the next 15 years, he enjoyed a fertile period that produced the classics Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962), Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). According to Ebert, the director considered The Killing his first mature feature.

The film displays Kubrick's signature ability to quickly make a strange world familiar. If you are a fan of the heist genre, or of Kubrick, this is essential viewing.