The Killing (Blu-ray)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 84 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Review Date: August 11, 2011
After years in the joint, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) seems to have come up with a foolproof way to rob a racetrack of $2 million. Seven other men have specific jobs to do on the day of the robbery, but none of them knows how his piece fits into the jigsaw puzzle of Johnny’s plan. Complicating the heist is weasely George Peatty (Elisha Cook) who, against firm orders, spills parts of the plan to his unfaithful wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) who then alerts her studly boy friend Val (Vince Edwards) so the two of them can steal all of the money for themselves after the robbery and head for parts unknown.
Kubrick and dialogue writer Jim Thompson have retained the helter-skelter arrangement of Lionel White’s original book Clean Break in fashioning the Rashomon-like screenplay that so very effectively shows us parts of the plan in operation but keeps us as much in the dark as the perpetrators about how their pieces fit together, often going back in time to show how one person’s agenda fits snugly into what’s already happened and what’s about to happen later. For 1956, it’s very sophisticated storytelling for an American film and one that never takes the audience for granted or insults its intelligence. Besides the femme fatale and the subversive aspects of the crime dealing with dark themes and even darker people, the film has a terrific hard boiled narration that cues in the audience on time frames and motivations though Thompson’s dialogue in all of the scenes with George and Sherry is stagily arch and affected (too much repetition of each other’s names back and forth), though it’s certainly infused through and through with the bitter cynicism and calculated malice so right for the milieu of the movie. And Kubrick’s direction continually stuns with his cameraman’s eye for interesting compositions (one example: the swirling climactic images at the airport a never-ending source of delight in their ironic lyricism).
Sterling Hayden reaches one of his real career high points with his performance in this movie. Always underplaying with just the right touch of realism, Hayden’s Johnny is a true tragic figure. For once given a sizable part with real impact, Marie Windsor also reaches a career high playing the duplicitous Sherry. Ever the sad sack patsy, Elisha Cook likewise has a role to savor and does all the right things with it, even making his potentially ludicrous final moments affecting ones. How great to see such character stalwarts as Jay C. Flippen, Ted DeCorsia, and Joe Sawyer doing their usual fine work. And the edgy, creepy Timothy Carey notches another memorable weirdo in his belt as the crack shot/hit man. Vince Edwards in an early appearance makes a very believable lover for Windsor’s desperately unhappy wife.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Black and white rarely has looked so good in such a low budget film with only the black levels not always reaching their ultimate depths of inkiness. Sharpness is excellent apart from the second unit and vault footage of the racetrack which has the typical softer look of scenes shot on the cheap. Contrast is excellently dialed in for a very film-like picture. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is very typical for a low budget film of its era. Dialogue, music (by Gerald Fried), and sound effects are blended together in the single track with sound that lacks great resonance but is certainly adequate for the story being told. Dialogue is clear (except with the very thick accent of actor Kola Kwariani who is sometimes difficult to discern through no fault of the recording). There is some slightly scratchy hiss that makes itself known from time to time, but it’s not a major problem.
Producer James B. Harris is interviewed in a 21 ¼-minute video piece taped in 2010. He talks about his years of working with Stanley Kubrick and specifically mentions the small budget, the problems with production, casting, and the tight 24-day shooting schedule in this featurette presented in 1080p.
A 1984 television interview with Sterling Hayden for a French television program runs for 23 ¾ minutes. Hayden talks about his early life, his debut film Virginia, his return from World War II to his work in such films as The Asphalt Jungle, Johnny Guitar, The Killing, and Dr. Strangelove. He also talks about his shameful participation in the HUAC investigations in which he named names, a part of his career for which he makes no excuses and takes full blame. This 1080i interview is one of the disc’s most compelling extras.
Author Jon Polito discusses writer Jim Thompson’s career, not just his work on The Killing but his four-year collaboration with Kubrick on two films that made it to the screen and two others that didn’t. This 18 ¾-minute piece is in 1080p.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 1 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, his second film, is presented on the disc and has its own menu of extras and its own chapter listing. The film is presented in 1080p and Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. Telling the 67 ¼-minute story of an over-the-hill boxer’s involvement with a dance hall girl also being sought after by her much older, sleazy boss, Kubrick’s cinematic infancy nevertheless presents several thrilling set pieces: a boxing match that had the budget been bigger could have equaled the terrific fight scenes in such contemporary boxing films as Champion and The Set-Up, a wonderfully evocative chase across the rooftops of New York, and an equally funny and exciting showdown in a mannequin storeroom as the two men fight for survival. The film has never looked quite as sharp and detailed as it does in this bonus feature.
- Critic Geoffrey O’Brien offers an effusive video critique of Kubrick’s film in this 9 ¼-minute piece in 1080p.
- The film’s theatrical trailer (which appears to have had its opening and closing credits removed) runs for 1 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
The early brilliance of director Stanley Kubrick is on full display in his monumental film noir The Killing. Boasting a trove of quality bonus features and a superb video encode, The Killing is a don’t-miss release from Criterion. Highest Recommendation!