Friday, November 7, 2014

The Films of Stanley Kubrick: Killer's Kiss (1955)

Killer’s Kiss (1955)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick.
Written by: Howard Sackler & Stanley Kubrick.
Starring: Frank Silvera (Vincent Rapallo), Jamie Smith (Davey Gordon), Irene Kane (Gloria Price), Jerry Jarrett (Albert), Ruth Sobotka (Ballerina / Iris).

In an audio interview with Kubrick from the 1960s, he mentioned that after Fear & Desire came out in 1953, he knew it was a bad movie – it got a small release, a decent review or two, but he knew it wouldn’t make any money – so he wanted to get started on another movie right away to capitalize on whatever bump the release of Fear & Desire would give him – and he wanted to make it the exact opposite of Fear & Desire. The result was Killer’s Kiss – and it is very different than Fear and Desire. That movie was almost all dialogue – most of it pretentious as it strains for importance. The best moments in Fear and Desire are the ones where the characters aren’t talking –the murder of the soldiers eating stew for example. Killer’s Kiss doesn’t strain for importance – doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is – a cheap B-movie film noir. It’s nowhere near the best movies Kubrick made in his career – but it is a decent movie for what it is – and has some great moments.

The plot is typical noir stuff – Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a boxer who is about to have a big fight, which may give him a title shot. It doesn’t go well. Returning from the fight, he calls asleep and is awoken by a scream coming from the building opposite his – the woman he sometimes spies on – is being attacked by someone. He yells out, scaring off the man, and then heads over to help. He gets the story from the woman – Gloria (Irene Kane) – about how after the death of her ballerina sister, she became a dance hall girl – but now she wants out, but her boss, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera) will not let her go.

So the plot is really standard issue – and the dialogue isn’t all that much better either. Kubrick co-wrote the movie with Howard Sackler, who also wrote Fear & Desire, and it has all the hallmarks of a screenplay written quickly to cover all its bases. The performances aren’t particularly good either – although Silvera is pretty good as the slimy Rapallo.

But more than Fear & Desire, Killer`s Kiss shows signs that Kubrick would become a great director. Like that film, the best moments in the film are when the characters are not talking, but when the movie is in action mode – and since Killer`s Kiss has far more action, it works much better. In particular, the climatic fight sequence, set in a mannequin factory, is exciting, and also kind of creepy – especially, if like me, you find mannequins creepy in the first place. The boxing scene at the beginning is also well done, and there is a great chase sequence across the rooftops in New York.

Killer`s Kiss is not a great movie in anyway. If we`re being honest, if the film wasn’t directed by Kubrick, it would likely have been completely forgotten by now – and there really is little reason to see the film unless you are a Kubrick fan and want to see where he started, Having said that, I`ve seen the film twice now, and both times the film worked. It`s barely 70 minutes long, and Kubrick knows well enough to keep the action coming fast and furious. The film represented a step forward for Kubrick after Fear & Desire – and he was about to take another huge step with his next film.

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