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The Killing (1956)

The Killing (1956)

Movie Review

Is it film noir or not? Some critics claim that it is while others argue that Stanley Kubrick was trying to make it too many things at once for the movie to be truly considered film noir. Who cares? The Killing is a GREAT heist movie! Quentin Tarantino has admitted to the influence this film had on his own Reservoir Dogs. I loved The Killing the first time I saw it and couldn’t believe that Kubrick was only 27 years old at the time he directed it and that this was only his second film.

Told in a non-linear fashion with great dialogue written by Jim Thompson. Yes THAT Jim Thompson! The film’s narrator has a speaking style similar to the one you would hear on Dragnet.



Loosely adapted from Lionel White’s novel Clean Break, the film tells the story of a 2 million dollar heist at San Francisco’s Bay Meadows horse track. The main character and heist mastermind is Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) who’s just been released from Alcatraz after serving a five year stint for robbery. The other members in the scheme are the old bookkeeper Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen) who seems to me to have a more than just platonic affection for Johnny, racetrack bartender Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer), racetrack cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) and patrolman Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia).

With the exception of Clay, these other guys are not career criminals. They’re willing to risk everything in this heist in order to escape their mundane existential despair. But each one has a driving motive, even Clay who wants to finally be able to settle down with his longtime girlfriend Fay (Colleen Gray). For O’Reilly, it’s the desire to provide better doctors for his invalid wife (perhaps the only true noble motivator of any of them). For corrupt Officer Kennan it’s the need to pay back a loan shark for an outstanding debt. And for the pathetic George, it’s to buy his wife’s “love” although he’s clearly in denial. The relationship between George and his ultimate femme fatale wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) plays a big part in the outcome of the scheme. The conniving and heartless Sherry also has a lover Val in whom she confides her husband’s scheme.

There’s two ex-cons Clay recruits to assist in the robbery and they prove to be a heck of a lot more reliable than the straight inside men. There’s professional wrestler Maurice (Kola Kwariani) hired to start a drunken brawl at the bar during the 7th race and the truly frightening psychopath Nikki (Timothy Carey) hired to shoot the racehorse Red Lightning during the 7th race to add to the pandemonium while the robbery takes place.

Great plot, dialogue, acting and film style (for its time) The Killing belongs in every film aficionado’s collection.


To rent The Killing with Amazon Instant Video just clicking on the following link.

To order your own copy of The Killing on DVD from either Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Amazon Canada click on one of the corresponding links below.



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