The Killing

Before releasing such masterpieces as 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove in his adopted British homeland, New Yorker Stanley Kubrick made a few smaller films for Hollywood. His favorite genre seemed to be crime and at the age of just twenty-six and humbly taking no salary as a director, he shot The Killing in only twenty-four days. By this time, Kubrick had also co-founded his own production company, enabling him to raise more money to make the film as the studio had only divvied up a “paltry budget for a feature even by 1950’s Hollywood standards,” (IMDB). It proved to be the wisest move that Kubrick had made thus far in his career as The Killing became the first work he was proud to put his name on, according to Walker, Taylor and Ruchti’s book "Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis." The title of the film, based on the novel "Clean Break," “refers not to a death, but rather to a big payday; in this case two million dollars,” (501 Must See Movies, 394). Sterling Hayden leads a group of men in planning and executing the perfect crime and Kubrick’s challenging, sparse, and influential film turned the heist genre upside down in its approach to storytelling with a daring execution of nonlinear editing as we see the crime unfold from many viewpoints. According to IMDB, United Artists dumped the film after poor test screenings found that audiences were exasperated by the nonlinear style. The studio forced Kubrick to edit the story in a linear fashion but after it proved even more confusing, it was released in the original form but narration was added at the studio’s insistence. Annoyed, Kubrick dreamed up a narrative for the film that offered false, misleading or mistaken information, which commented on the events ironically. The result is a noir classic and one of the most inventive works in the heist genre. Not content to simply be fixated on the crime itself, Kubrick’s choice of a docudrama style and grainy camera showed an “impulse to seek order and balance… as a visual equivalent of the mechanistic way that human behavior interlocks and settles people’s fates,” (Walker, Taylor and Ruchti, 50). Driven by human nature, Kubrick’s film gets audiences so involved in the plights of the characters that we almost feel implicit in the crime and devastated when things go awry even though it is foreshadowed. The editors of "501 Must See Movies" summed it up best in saying that “by having such an insight into each character, Kubrick exposes both the gang’s blind greed and their foibles; it is these weaknesses that will eventually lead to their downfall,” (394). The downfall comes in “an unexpected and ironic windup,” (Variety) that one will remember long after the film ends. The plot was basically lifted but used without the irony in the self-congratulatory Ocean’s Eleven films and the influences of Kubrick’s work have continued to show up in each consecutive decade.