Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Killer's Kiss (1955)
Studio Line: MGM

Stanley Kubrick's second film, Killer's Kiss, made the world take notice. The young moviemaker won acclaim for this dazzling film noir about a struggling New York boxer (Jamie Smith) whose life is imperiled when he protects a nightclub dancer (Irene Kane) from her gangster boss (Frank Silvera).

Killer's Kiss not only lends considerable insight into future Kubrick classics - such as The Killing and Full Metal Jacket - but is also a remarkable film in its own right: the boxing match may be the most vicious this side of Raging Bull, and the famed final battle remains an action tour-de-force.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Jerry Jarret, Mike Dana, Felice Orlandi
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; Not Rated; 67 min.; $24.98; street date 6/29/99.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer; Booklet.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C-/D/D-

Finally! After winding my way through Stanley Kubrick's films on DVD for months, I have actually viewed the last one currently available: Killer's Kiss from 1955. Now I can take a nap until Eyes Wide Shut appears in March!

KK was Kubrick's second feature-length film, following 1953's Fear and Desire. Apparently, the latter movie not only cannot be found on home video, but Kubrick also blocked attempts at theatrical screenings because of his intense dislike of the work. Whether this will change now that he's gone is anyone's guess, but I think that it should appear, warts and all.

Anyway, since FAD remains unavailable, KK stands as the earliest piece of Kubrick's work we can view. While you can detect some signs of his later style, the piece itself seems rather bland and self-consciously stylized. Kubrick attempted a film noir but the movie so lacks plot that the program just kind of idles for most of its brief running time; to call the story sketchy would be a compliment. Kubrick makes the movie look pretty good - it seems like a fairly visually sophisticated effort for such a young filmmaker - but it falls flat because it often appears empty - style for style's sake.

The focus sticks closely to the characters, but they also seem ill-drawn and unformed. The acting is decent but unexceptional and we never get much of a sense for them other than that they appear sad and semi-desparate. Kubrick seems to want to say something but never quite spits it out and the movie just diddles along until its conclusion.

That ending actually is the one exceptional thing about KK. It's not special or extraordinary in any way except for the fact that this is a Kubrick film; in that regard, the finale stands out like a sore thumb in comparison with his other pictures. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say that no other Kubrick movie concludes in a similar manner.

I didn't dislike Killer's Kiss but I thought it seemed bland and unremarkable, terms the rarely describe the work of Stanley Kubrick. Although it only lasts 67 minutes, it actually felt longer, and that ain't a good thing.

The DVD:

Killer's Kiss appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because the dimensions of the presentation do not require it, the movie has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the image possesses definite flaws, it looks pretty decent for a 45-year-old film made on a shoestring budget. (Actually, Kubrick foretold the future experience of filmmakers like Kevin Smith and others who self-financed their initial offerings and then sold them to studios at a later time.)

KK seems fairly sharp and crisp for the most part; softness rarely becomes any kind of an issue, and I noticed virtually no jagged edges or shimmering. Print quality is a major problem, though. Speckles, scratches, hairs and marks appear frequently, and the picture displayed an awful lot of grain. Black levels seemed decent though occasionally tended toward slight grayness, and shadow detail looked fairly transparent without much over-darkness that would block important facets of the image. While the picture probably could look a lot better, all considered the film seems visually acceptable.

Less satisfactory is the rather poor monaural audio of Killer's Kiss. The best I can say about it is that it lacks distortion; other than that, it's pretty bad. Dialogue seemed exceptionally poorly dubbed and did not integrate well with the image. It also simply sounded bad for the most part; speech appeared very muffled and flat, although I usually didn't have much trouble understanding it. Effects and music, on the other hand, came across as shrill and harsh. Yes, they avoided distortion, but I still found it unpleasant to listen to them. Killer's Kiss doesn't offer the worst soundtrack I've heard, but it's pretty bad.

Also unsatisfactory is the complement of supplements on this DVD. We get a trailer which is in terrible shape; it actually lacks video for its beginning and ending! The DVD also comes with a booklet that contains some brief production notes.

Killer's Kiss isn't Kubrick's worst film, but it's much closer to "bad" than it is "good," and the DVD presents the movie in a rather weak way, with fairly acceptable image but very poor sound and extras. For those curious to witness early Kubrick, it's worth a rental, but that's about the extent of its value.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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