Thursday, May 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Killing (1956) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

THE KILLING was the very first screening I attended on the first day of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Prior to the film Dennis Bartok interviewed one of the film's stars, Coleen Gray, who some readers may remember I was able to interview on the phone last December. At 90 she remains a sharp-witted and articulate speaker, a very bright and interesting woman. In addition to THE KILLING, Gray also appeared in the noir classics KISS OF DEATH (1947) and NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947).

Speaking on how she came to be involved with the project, Gray said that she had heard the producers of THE KILLING wanted to cast "a Coleen Gray type," and then someone said, "Well, why not Coleen Gray?"

When the possibility of working on THE KILLING arose, Gray went to a theater to see new director Stanley Kubrick's first film, KILLER'S KISS (1955), and found it very interesting and well directed. She then readily agreed to appear in the "bookend" role of Fay in the film's opening and closing sequences, laughingly adding that it's not as though she was turning down lots of other job offers at the time anyway.

Gray said that it was not her habit to be chatty on movie sets, respecting the preparation time of the other actors, but noted that while they did not develop a friendship outside of work, she found Sterling Hayden a congenial colleague who was always well prepared. She had previously appeared with Hayden in the Western ARROW IN THE DUST (1954).

Gray enjoyed working on THE KILLING and thought Kubrick did a wonderful job with the film. She particularly lauded the work of actress Marie Windsor, who plays the greedy wife of Elisha Cook Jr. After her brief chat with Bartok, Gray stayed to enjoy the film with the rest of the audience.

The film was a digital print which looked terrific; I saw four digital prints at the festival and three of them looked wonderful, while one -- ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) -- was a bit disappointing. More on that later. I should perhaps add that a couple of the 35mm prints I saw had issues as well, but the vast majority of films I saw at the festival looked and sounded great. TCM works hard to provide the best-quality prints for its audiences and it shows.

Stanley Kubrick not only directed the film, he also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel CLEAN BREAK by Lionel White.

THE KILLING might be thought of as "docu-crime" heist film, with Art Gilmore narrating and helping keep the timelines straight. A very interesting aspect is that while "non-linear" storytelling is somewhat popular today (i.e., 500 DAYS OF SUMMER), Kubrick was utilizing that style back in the mid-'50s, randomly rewinding time to explain the roles played by various characters in the film's elaborate robbery.

Johnny Clay (Hayden) is a newly released ex-con who has concocted a plan to rob a racetrack which will put him on easy street for the rest of his life. He plans to pull off the job with a cop (Ted de Corsia), a pair of racetrack employees (Joe Sawyer, Elisha Cook Jr.), and a couple others (including Jay C. Flippen and Timothy Carey). It's interesting to note that Hayden, de Corsia, and Carey were all in the terrific noir CRIME WAVE (1954) the previous year.

Johnny's plan initially goes off without a hitch, but then... Let's just say this film has one of the most poetically perfect endings in all of noir. Hayden's last line of dialogue was fantastic.

As noted by Coleen Gray, Marie Windsor was quite remarkable as the mercenary Sherry, and Elisha Cook Jr. was also excellent as her pathetic husband; the only mystery is trying to figure out how they ever ended up together in the first place! More touching was the relationship of bartender Mike (Sawyer) with his invalid wife (Dorothy Adams).

This was a very enjoyable, fast-paced film; the 85 minutes speed by. The movie was beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard. The cast also includes Vince Edwards, Jay Adler, Kola Kwariani, and Tito Vuolo.

THE KILLING is available in an older DVD release or as a Criterion Collection release.

The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix or Netflix. The film can also be seen on Amazon Instant Video at no extra charge for Amazon Prime members.

Coming soon: A look at Day Two of the festival!


Blogger LĂȘ said...

I watched it recently in a double feature: Killer's Kiss and The Killing. Both are very enjoyable. It's great how relatively short films can have such powerful, well-developed stories.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

A truly memorable film. It must have been a kick seeing it on the big screen.

1:02 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

A movie that was definitely ahead of its time with its non-linear narrative.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent coverage, Laura. THE KILLING was one of my favorites at TCMFF. I'll look forward to hearing about your issues with the DCP of ON THE WATERFRONT (which I did not see).

11:53 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you all for the comments! I'm a bit behind due to my time out of town recently. I really enjoyed it! Will, I'm glad to know this was one of your favorite screenings as well.

Best wishes,

1:14 PM  

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