The Killing is noted for being the real start to Kubrick's career, at the tender age of 27, the first picture where the auteur came to the fore and his fastidious but protective nature are blueprinted and interwoven into the very fabric of the film. Written by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, adapted from Lionel White's 'Clean Break', The Killing centres around a race track heist that though planned and executed with pinpoint precision, human frailty and greed rears it's ugly head and the results are disastrous for all involved. Told through a innovative non-linear narrative device, a highly influential one at that for modern filmmakers, along with a complex editing structure that darts back and forth in time, Kubrick's paws are all over this hard boiled egg from the off.
With a eclectic and astutely assembled cast, more on the wonders of Sterling Hayden in a later post, we follow each character's role in the planned heist, chopping and changing between the time-lines. As a gruff voiced narrator keeps a firm eye on the clock, informing the audience of where and when these events occur, motives are made clear and desires unravel, treachery and greed raise their little head and the viewer is left with sweaty palms and shortness of breathe as characters converge and ultimately cancel each other out.
Kubrick summed up the allure of such a devise when he conceived an audience's preconvictions of watching a crime film:
'In a crime film, it is almost like a bullfight; it has ritual and a pattern which lays down that the criminal is not going to make it, so that, while you can suspend your knowledge of this for a while, sitting way back in your mind this little awareness knows and prepares you for the fact that he is not going to succeed. That type of ending is easier to accept.' Stanley Kubrick, 1960Indeed The Killing works like an orchestration, a bullfight but more appropriately a game of chess with the pieces in place the narrative structure plays out like set moves; pawn takes knight, knight takes queen and so on, until the inevitable deadlock and the final move, check mate. In my next few posts I will be spelling out my love for The Killing, from it's cast: yes I will be getting to Sterling Hayden, to key scenes, from the man at the helm to it's unique storytelling structure, all of which I hope will convey and help to understand why I find this one of the most exciting films of the 50's.