Elisha Cook Jr
Kubrick’s second feature film, The Killing (1956), is a top-notch low-budget heist, set around a band of could-bes and have-to-bes out for a big score at a racetrack.
Leading the $2 million score is Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), out for one last big haul. On Saturday, his team--a corrupt policeman (Ted de Corsia), a racetrack cashier (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a track bartender (Joe Sawyer), a sniper (Timothy Carey), and a chess-playing professional wrestler (Kola Kwariani)--will head to the racetrack for the Lansdowne Stakes. Each is assigned a certain task: to give access, to cause mayhem, to shoot the horse…That night, Johnny will be on a plane out of the country with his lady.
These men--like most men in movies like this--owe money, need money or have to make due on a failed promise. They are doomed. They have to be. And as much fun as it is to observe a gang of criminals pull off a grand heist, it’s almost always the greater high to see each thread come undone and, in the punch line, watch the whole thing blow off with the wind.
Told in a non-linear fashion and clocking in at 84 minutes, The Killing is the most fast-paced film in Kubrick’s oeuvre. Much of that has to do with Kubrick’s command over the story, intricate and detailed yet tight and rhythmic. But a lot of the sharpness can be chalked up to the dialogue by Jim Thompson, who teamed with the director on this screenplay (and his next, Paths of Glory), based on “Clean Break” by Lionel White, himself a future inspiration for Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino.
Late in the film, a radio newscaster announces, “one of the most daring and methodically executed holdups in criminal history” has just taken place. The Killing may not steer too far from the traditions of its genre, but it is a brilliant and organized piece of work, brimming with a certain brute, thrill and irony that secures its place above most other heist classics.
James B. Harris (21:07): In this interview, recorded in 2010, the producer sits down to discuss the making of The Killing and his relationship with its director, whose Paths of Glory and Lolita would also be produced by Harris.
Sterling Hayden (23:40): In these excerpts from 1984 episodes of the French television series Cinéma cinémas, star Hayden (with rather distinct facial hair) discusses his life, career and working with Kubrick, who directed the actor both in The Killing and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Polito on Thompson (18:42): Here, poet and author Robert Polito (“Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson”) shares his thoughts on novelist Thompson, whose “Clean Break” was the inspiration for The Killing. Topics include Thompson’s novels, his Hollywood days and Kubrick’s admiration.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 20-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Kubrick’s Clockwork” by film historian Haden Guest and a reprinted interview with actress Marie Windsor.