Wednesday, December 14, 2022

#2,879. Killer's Kiss (1955) - The Films of Stanley Kubrick


A famous filmmaker at the start of their career can be… shall we say… interesting?

Sitting down to watch Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, his second feature (his first, Fear and Desire, was withdrawn by Kubrick himself, who wasn’t happy with the final result), had me wondering if I might see early shades of the master director’s noted style peeking around the corners of this 1955 film noir. Would there be traces of the “Kubrick Touch” that, in later years, would transform Paths of Glory, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and others into bona-fide cinematic classics?

Well, one thing about Killer’s Kiss was certainly true to form for the great director; the answers to these questions aren’t nearly as cut-and-dry as I was hoping!

Washed-up boxer Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) lives in a rundown apartment in New York City. Across the alley from him resides Gloria Price (Irene Kane), a taxi dancer whose boss, Mr. Rapullo (Frank Silvera), won’t leave her alone (he claims to have fallen madly in love with Gloria). One night, after hearing Gloria scream for help, Davey runs to the rescue, kicking off a whirlwind romance between the two.

But when Davey and Gloria decide to leave town together, they find out pretty quickly that crossing the jealous Rapullo can be hazardous to their health!

By the time he made Killer’s Kiss, Stanley Kubrick had already established himself as one of New York’s most prominent photographers, with his pictures appearing in Look Magazine as early as 1945. By the late ‘40s, Kubrick had become enamored with motion pictures, which would be his profession - as well as his obsession - for the remainder of his life. Yet in Killer’s Kiss, his photographic sensibilities seem to be at the forefront; there are entire scenes set on the streets of New York, where Kubrick - known in later years as a very controlling, meticulous director - simply shot whatever caught his eye, from a pair of performers marching down 42nd Street to the display windows of nearby shops and the trash-lined streets.

To see the man who set a world record by making Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall redo a single scene in The Shining 148 times simply “winging it” in Killer’s Kiss was something of a culture shock. But with his keen eye, what Kubrick did capture on film - in stark, stunning black and white - was something quite extraordinary (especially memorable is a late chase scene, in which Davey is running through desolate back alleys to avoid Rapullo and his cronies).

That’s not to say there aren’t hints of Kubrick the filmmaker to be found throughout Killer’s Kiss; an early scene, where Davey walks through his apartment, impatiently waiting for a phone call (eventually revealing Gloria’s apartment in the background), felt controlled and carefully staged, and the fight sequence, in which Davey faces off against the champion, was shot with a hand-held camera, making the bout as tense as it is exciting.

The performances are decent though not extraordinary (save Silvera, who makes for a fine villain), and plot-wise, Killer’s Kiss is nothing special; aside from a few intriguing flashbacks in which Gloria discusses her father and Ballerina sister (played by Kubrick’s wife Ruth Sobotka) and a thrilling climax set in a mannequin factory, the story that makes up Killer’s Kiss is film noir at its most routine.

But for fans of its director, the chance to see him sharpening his skills while at the same time allowing his photogenic eye to wander make this a movie you won’t want to miss!
Rating: 8 out of 10

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