Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Killing 9/10

The Killing (NR) 1956
Reviewer’s Tilt (10)
Special DVD Features worth a look-None

The remake of Ocean’s 11 grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. Why? Partly due to the cavalcade of stars, but partly, actually mostly, due to the taunt underlying plot. Far from novel, this plot has entertained movie audiences for nearly half a century; since it was originally unveiled in Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 “The Killing.” In the early 50’s Frank Sinatra was mulling over purchasing the rights to Clean Break, a gang robbery novel by Lionel White. Sinatra balked, and Kubrick stepped up to buy the rights out from under him. Although Kubrick wrote the screenplay, the movie is heavily based on the book, and owes its realistic gangspeak to crime writer Jim Thompson.

If you think Quentin Tarintino created the “breakneck” genre, with chronologically shuffled scenes, gritty characters and tense action, you would be sadly mistaken. The killing stands as the first, and probably most sterling example of the genre, holding up impeccably nearly over four decades later. The story focuses on seasoned criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), who hatches a plan for an incredible heist. The take is two million dollars and nobody gets hurt. The gang must execute like clockwork though and everyone has to keep his mouth shut. Clay is careful to pick only seasoned professionals for the job. Realizing there is more than enough dough for everyone, he seals the deal with an even split of the money.

This skewed “morality” also surfaces in Johnny’s doting and protective relationship with his mousy fiancée (Coleen Gray). The plan is flawless, except for its inclusion of a spineless racetrack cashier (Elisha Cook). Short and balding, the pathetic sod finds the more he does to impress his vixen of a wife Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), the more evil she becomes. When he finally spills the plan to his wife in an attempt to impress her, she teams up with boyfriend Val (Vince Edwards) to reap the rewards of the heist for herself. As with any breakneck, things do not go according to plan and someone always gets hurt. The artful cinematography nicely complements the riveting plot; skillful direction and fine acting make getting from point A to point B an edgy and entertaining ride. The film holds up as impressively today as they did in 1956. Pay particular attention to the great performances by Tim Carey, as the sociopathic gunman, Ted DeCorsia, as the crooked cop and Joe Sawyer, as the bartender trying to raise money to save his dying wife.

Format: B&W, Fullscreen, Closed captioned.
Sound: (Dolby Digital Mono)
Extras: Trailer


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