The Best Laid Plans: The Killing
Feb 20, 2005 (Updated Feb 20, 2005)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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The Killing (1956)
"You like money. You've got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart." Johnny Clay
What would you do if you could take a chance on a big score, make a killing, and never have to worry about money again? That's the question a handful of men answer in the affirmative in The Killing a classic film noir directed by a young Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory, Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden - The Asphalt Jungle, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather) has a big plan; he and his gang are going to rob the Santa Anita race track during the $100,000 race and get away with a cool $2,000,000. The plan is flawless and every man knows his part. The gang includes a couple of inside men, track cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Shane), bartender Mike O'Reilly (Joe Sawyer), a crooked cop Randy Kennan (Ted DeCorsia - The Gunfight at OK Corral), and an accountant Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen - Winchester '73, Cat Ballou) who is going to embezzle $7,500 from his firm as front money so they can hire a sniper (Timothy Carey - Paths of Glory) and a a greek wrestler (Kola Kwarian) to create diversions. Each of the men's characters and private life is established in the terse opening scenes. Each man has problems of different types, but mainly involving lack of money. The biggest trouble comes from Peatty's wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor - Narrow Margin) a treacherous blonde with plans of her own and a boyfriend on the side played by Vince Edwards (The Devil's Brigade).
Adapted from Lionel White's "Clean Break" by Kubrick and scripted by Jim Thompson (Paths of Glory, The Getaway, The Grifters) the dialog sparkles and moves the action urgently along. Kubrick put his film together in out of sequence clips, showing the simultaneous actions of the various characters. As devices to timestamp the sequences he used a stock shot of the horses pulling the starting gate for the seventh race into place and a voice over narration reminiscent of Walter Winchell's work in The Untouchables. The editing effect is one that has been used to advantage by many modern directors like Quentin Tarrantino (Reservoir Dogs).
The plan has to go off like clockwork and every man knows his job. But Kubrick's characters are not square jawed men of steel but feckless fallible schmoes, the worst of which is Elisha Cook, Jr. whose wife (Marie Windsor) worms the details out of him and passes it on to her strong armed boyfriend (Vince Edwards) who plans to rip off the gang after their score. Timothy Carey is dynamic as a snarling psychopath who is to shoot the lead horse in the race. Jay C. Flippen is an elderly drunk with homosexual designs on Sterling Hayden. Perhaps the only totally "good" character is Fay (Colleen Gray - Red River) who plays Hayden's girl friend in two brief scenes.
In film noir, the key is the destruction of the characters rather than their redemption, so of course the plan has to go wrong and there is no happy ending - for anybody. I will let you see just how everything plays out for yourself as it is well worth your time. The dark cinematography paints the picture according to Kubrick's vision and is by Lucien Ballard who also lensed the classics Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, and the underrated Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, another gritty crime classic. Dynamic scoring is by Gerald Fried who wrote many TV themes such as Star Trek and Mission Impossible.
The MGM DVD is presented in 1.33:1 theatrical format, in black and white, and runs an hour and 29 minutes. The package contains the theatrical trailer, subtitles, and a four-page booklet on Kubrick's directorial vision. See the film that Pauline Kael called "the start of Kubrick's career" - the dynamic and terse film noir thriller The Killing.
I also recommend the following film noir classics
The Asphalt Jungle
The Maltese Falcon
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
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