Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Vince Edwards
Director:  Stanley Kubrick
Audio:  PCM Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  89 Minutes
Release Date:  August 16, 2011 

"You've got to run, Johnny!"

"Aw...what's the difference?"

Film ****

The Killing is a cinematic classic for many reasons.  First, it firmly established the reputation of the young director Stanley Kubrick.  Secondly, it remains perhaps the finest example of film noir ever committed to celluloid.  And finally, for me, it’s one of those movies that makes me smile when I watch it, and think to myself that this is what I love about the art of filmmaking.

It was a low budget film without much distribution, and when it came out, had trouble finding an audience.  Many were put off by the non-linear format of Kubrick’s style, but that was what made the movie such a towering work of genius, and insured that eventually, it would find it’s way into a proper place in film history.

The story is about a group of men who unite to pull of a daring and meticulously planned heist of a race track.  Each of the men has his own reason for needed to be a part of it, and only one, the leader Johnny (Hayden) is actually a ‘criminal’.

What’s utterly absorbing and fascinating is the way the heist unfolds.  One by one, Kubrick shows us parts of the plan, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle…for example, how each man has his own specific assignment to perform at specific times.  Then, we finally see the brilliant scheme unfold, and are able to witness how it all comes together.  Kubrick boldly traces and retraces certain time segments, but using different points of view, so that we the audience can fully understand the detail of this crime.

If the film were only that, it would be brilliant enough, but there is a great point and message on top of it all:  there is no such thing as a perfect crime.  As we witness it unfold, we see so many things that can go wrong, and some that do, despite the tightness of the master plan.

Kubrick’s style of filmmaking takes an already terrific story and presents it on screen as an absolute visual treat as well.  His camera stalks the characters as they go from room to room, and even follows the race horses side by side at blinding speed…it must have been a rush for the audiences of the 1950’s.  He has a brilliant sense of black and white photography as well, and uses his play of lights and shadows to perfection.  His direction was so impressive, it caught the attention of veteran actor Kirk Douglas, who hired Kubrick and worked with him on his next two projects, Paths of Glory and Spartacus.

Overall, The Killing succeeds as a suspenseful, thrilling, and utterly absorbing crime drama, and remains perhaps the crowning achievement in the genre of film noir.

Video ****

This might be the single most joyous experience I've had with a classic black and white film on Blu-ray.  Criterion's high definition transfer is masterful...beautifully rich in detail, crisp, clean, and striking contrast throughout.  Though low-budgeted, the camera rate from young Mr. Kubrick already showed him as a visionary, and that vision is superbly preserved here.

Audio ***

I enjoyed the uncompressed mono...it's a clean track, and fairly dynamic, thanks to a couple of action sequences and a terrific music score that seems to pulse with bass during the suspenseful moments that belies the single channel.  Dialogue is clear and well-balanced throughout.

Features ****

Many enjoyable extras are at play here, including...are you ready for this?...another complete Stanley Kubrick feature.  Killer's Kiss came before this one, had an even lower budget, but despite some weak acting and story, showcased some memorable visual imagery, especially in the boxing ring, with scenes that would no doubt later influence the likes of Rocky and Raging Bull.  Stanley did everything...wrote, directed, edited, and even was his own cameraman.  It's not vintage Kubrick, but definitely a striking curiosity that no fan should pass up.

There is also a new interview with one-time collaborator and producer James B. Harris, plus a classic interview from about 1980 with Sterling Hayden (what a collection of psychological tics he became), plus an interview with author Robert Polito about novelist Jim Thompson, whose book inspired the film.  There is also a trailer and a wonderful Criterion booklet to accompany the disc.


The Killing is simply as entertaining as it is brilliant, and a film no movie lover could possibly dislike.  It has drama, suspense, style, a terrific story, and a masterful sense of direction by Kubrick that could be considered the forefather of other films by directors like Brian de Palma or Quentin Tarantino.  It was really exciting to me to see this classic brought to hi-def light by Criterion...this is a must-see.

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