The Movies-to-Watch List: The Killing (1956)

I had never heard of this early Stanley Kubrick film when it was a suggested addition to the Movies to Watch List. In fact, I almost had to bring in a sub for it, as Netflix doesn’t seem to have a copy of it. Thanks to the Springfield Library, though, I got hold of it.

I didn’t know from Sterling Hayden until I watched The Asphalt Jungle. He’s also in The Killing and now I want to see so much more Sterling Hayden. He’s just great, and I can’t really think of a current star like him. He’s a big heavy lug, but there’s an air of dejected resignation about him. Even when he’s looking to make that big score he seems like he already knows he missed his chance long ago, but he needs to keep going.

Speaking of big scores, that’s what The Killing is. A heist movie about robbing a racetrack. The plan isn’t too complicated and seems fairly solid, so you are wondering just when and how it’s all going to go wrong. A lot of ingredients are added to the mix — a bitter wife with an ambitious lover, a bit of racial conflict, and a narrator giving you the timetable — so that you’re never sure just where the hammer will fall.

The whole thing is done really well, and though I can’t tell you many really knowledgeable things about Kubrick’s direction here, I did notice some nice touches, like the camera moving through the walls of the apartment where the planning happens. The nature of the story means you often see the same action again but from a different vantage point, or with an extra detail added. I think it would be easy for the repetition to get stale, but it works well here.

Netflix needs to get its act together and get hold of this so people can double-feature it with The Asphalt Jungle already. And I need to go looking for more Sterling Hayden movies to watch.

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