Long before Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, or A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick was featuring super-creepy masks in his films. In The Killing, an ugly clown mask hides the face of Sterling Hayden, who plays an incredibly likable rogue who plans and executes a daring heist with a group of aging criminals at a crowded horse track. The movie, which inches me closer to completing Kubrick’s entire filmography, is, unsurprisingly, above-average for the noir genre.
The Killing delves a bit deeper than most of its contemporaries into the motives and desires driving its central characters — as well as the hubris that eventually leads to their downfalls. One of the more interesting characters involved in the heist is a Russian chess master played by Kola Kwariani, who mumbles philosophical dialogue with a strong accent that is difficult to understand (but rewarding if you’re able to). Plus, Marie Windsor plays a scheming and conniving gold-digger with such unchecked greed and ambition that it makes the viewer’s skin crawl at times. There’s not much gunplay in the film but when the shooting starts, it’s both unexpected and unnerving — as it often is in real life. Plus, there are a couple of references to Pagliacci that effectively underpin some of the characters’ tragic story arcs.
Unfortunately, the moral edicts of the time period largely dictate how the movie ends — and an overly-zealous narrator makes the whole thing seem like an inverted, criminal-minded Dragnet episode. But with its tight 85-minute running time, The Killing is an effectively simple — and surprisingly relatable — story that’s told with an extremely sure hand. (Even the final shot, with the words “The End” emblazoned across it, is gorgeously symmetrical.)
I could ramble on about Kubrick’s outstanding use of lighting and space — his amazing dolly sequences, etc. But, suffice it to say, four pot leafs out of five: