Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Killing (1956)
Studio Line: MGM

When ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) says he has a plan to make a killing, everybody want to be in on the action. Especially when the plan is to steal $2 million in a racetrack robbery scheme in which "no one will get hurt." But despite all their careful plotting, Clay and his men have overlooked on thing: Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), a money-hungry, double-crossing dame who's planning to make a financial killing of her own...even if she has to wipe out Clay's entire gang to do it!

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 32 chapters; Not Rated; 89 min.; $24.98; street date 6/29/99.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer; Booklet.
Purchase: DVD

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

While in many ways The Killing seems to be one of Stanley Kubrick's more conventional pictures, Big K did offer one unusual technique: a lack of linear chronology that features many scenes repeated from the points of view of different characters. While this method didn't catch on with many filmmakers, I'd guess Quentin Tarantino saw The Killing, because he uses exactly the same gimmick in pretty much all of his movies; think of the mall scene in Jackie Brown, for example.

I suppose it's a measure of Kubrick's artistry that this technique - which is still unusual almost 50 years later - remains in use and seems clever and daring to this day. So many movies feature only one perspective, so to depict the same event from a number of points of view is quite invigorating, and while Kubrick's early use of this method doesn't work as flawlessly as it does in Tarantino's films, it nonetheless makes for a very interesting change of pace.

Overall, The Killing offers a fairly compelling but not terribly original story. It's the same old saw: a bunch of losers try for the big score and fail. The film seems more melodramatic than those we'd later see from Kubrick. He was one of the most objective filmmakers ever and rarely imposed his point of view on the audience; in this instances when he did - Full Metal Jacket, for example - the movie suffered as a result.

In this instance, it's not so much an example of Kubrick imposing his own perspective and interpretation on the audience as it is simply a fairly conventional, uninspired case of storytelling. The movie's interesting, to be sure, and definitely held my attention. There just wasn't much to make it stand out from the crowd other than the alteration of linear progression. While competently acted, the characters rarely rise above the level of fairly stereotypical, and the frequent use of a heavy-handed narrator bogs down the film to a great degree; much of this seemed unnecessary and also made the movie appear more ponderous than it should.

The Killing provides a pretty provocative experience, ultimately, but not one without flaws. It's a movie that I enjoyed and found interesting but definitely not one of Kubrick's best, if just because it seems so ordinary compared to his later works.

The DVD:

The Killing 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. Despite the advanced age of the material, the film looks rather good.

Sharpness generally seems strong, with only a few instances of vague softness. Some edge enhancement appears, though it doesn't have a terrible effect on the image; I noticed occasional slightly jagged edges but that was about it. For such an old film, the print seems to be in very good shape. Flaws popped up from time to time, but not with great frequency. These manifested themselves as speckles and spots mostly, with a few scratches as well. Most of these problems occurred during the shots of the race track, which looks to be stock footage; that source might be the cause of the flaws.

Slight grain can be seen at times during the film, but as with the other issues, it's a fairly minor distraction. Black levels looked quite deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed appropriately dense without mucking up the image. All in all, I found the picture of The Killing to be a very pleasant surprise.

Also quite good is the film's monaural soundtrack, especially since I watched The Killing right after Kubrick's Paths of Glory, which boasted a miserably distorted track. That's not a problem here. Occasionally dialogue seemed slightly edgy, but no appreciable distortion occurs; the audio sounds quite clean. Dialogue is always intelligible and reasonably natural, and music and effects are reproduced accurately given the technological limitations of the era. Occasional tape noise and popping can be heard, but this is fairly soft and very rare. I won't kid you - it's still a fairly flat mono mix from the Fifties. But given the number of problems such soundtracks often display, this one is very pleasing.

The only true failure of this DVD comes from its nearly nonexistent supplements. We get a terrible theatrical trailer - it gives away far too many plot twists - and a four-page booklet with production notes. Is anyone ever going to release a decent special edition DVD of a Kubrick film?

I can't give The Killing a strong recommendation just because it's a fairly ordinary film on a fairly ordinary DVD. I liked the film and thought it was well-executed, but it lacked the spark we'd later see from Kubrick's work. Picture and sound are good for such an old movie, but the lack of supplements is a disappointment. Ultimately, The Killing would make for a good rental title.

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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