Killer's Kiss (1955):

The Killing may be the calling-card film that caught people's radars, but Stanley Kubrick's earlier, shoestring effort is of considerably greater interest -- the director, who always disavowed his Fear and Desire debut, at least acknowledged this sophomore work, even if only as a child's drawing hanging on a fridge. The plot, which Kubrick also edited and photographed, traces the seedy triangle between a prizefighter (Jamie Smith), the "dance partner" (Irene Kane) he falls in love with, and her greasy gangster boss (Frank Silvera). The haphazard structure, with flashbacks within flashbacks that manage to shoehorn in a ballet sequence, is typical of neophyte fucking around, and the film's lack of control contrasts arrestingly with the director's later, famed dictatorialism over every eyelash -- there's the sense of Kubrick discovering his effects as he goes along. Accordingly, the film swings from cleverness to clumsiness, from limpid composing to vérité jazzing of authentic, New York seaminess -- the surveying of the hero's apartment, complete with depth-of-field peeking into Kane's neighboring bedroom, is alternated with a sloppy close-up of the palooka staring into his fishbowl. Elsewhere, the stock turns negative for a series of quick forward tracks passing as a nightmare, and a glass hurled at a mirror shatters the camera's eye. For all the film's lurid incoherence, moments such as the "doubling" crosscutting between Smith getting ready to jump into a noisy yet oddly underpopulated ring and Kane dollying herself up for the cheerless dance hall (both "prostituting" their bodies) indicate an unformed, hungry artistic personality cutting its modernist teeth in a genre framework. Even more notably, a rooftop chase culminates in a brawl in a warehouse full of nude, dismembered female mannequins as eerily blank as Kane's slum ragdoll, an early sample of Kubrick's taste for the bizarrely outsized, and his mocking of the human form. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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