Killer's Kiss Reviews
"Her Soft Mouth Was the Road to Sin-Smeared Violence!"
I found Stanley Kubrick's second directorial effort, Killer's Kiss, to be a pretty solid film. I enjoyed watching this early work from Kubrick. It was good and you can see some of his techniques when it comes to camera work, but that's about the only thing that makes it seem like a Kubrick film. Obviously it was made on a small budget with a no name cast, who I thought was actually decent, and all in all it turned out to be a entertaining film. It's just crazy and cool to think about how Kubrick went from this little, low-budget, hour long romance thriller to films like 2001 and The Shining. To the world of Kubrick fans, this is kind of considered his first true film, despite the fact that he made Fear and Desire. Kubrick, himself, hated that film and didn't even want people to see it.
There's cool little sequences in this movie, such as the final fight scene that basically mirrors the boxing match. There's a little hint of what is to come from Kubrick. His great foreshadowing was on display here in an early work. The music seems like it belongs anywhere else as long as that place isn't a Kubrick film. This is the only film from him where I didn't particularly care for the score.
This movie is cool in that it shows the start of an immense talent. It shows a starting point for what would become one of the, if not the, greatest directors of all-time. It's cool to see that he always had an eye for cool shots and how to make a scene awesome visually even without a big budget, cool effects and huge set pieces. If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick, you need to see this movie.
Like all great directors, Stanley Kubrick had to start somewhere. After being a photographer for Look Magazine, the young Kubrick began to quench his thirst for filmmaking with two short films. One of them is the very rare to find Fear and Desire (1953), the other is the slightly less rare to find Killer's Kiss made in 1955 by a 26-year -old Kubrick. Though he wouldn't gain any widespread commercial acclaim until 1956's heist feature, The Killing, Killer's Kiss is certainly even more early evidence of Stanley Kubrick's incomparable future genius.
The plot of Killer's Kiss is relatively simple and takes in the tradition of the classic American film noir. The opening credits show the lead, a veteran boxer named Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) pacing around a train station, eventually kicking the film off with a voiceover hinting that a story's about to unfold. Davey then goes on, on flashback mode, to recount the tale of how he fell in love with a night club dancer (Irene Kane), and faced the wrath of her corrupt boss (Frank Silvera) whose wrath derives from being smitten and insane.
While the screenplay of Killer's Kiss is clean cut noir, the pace can be a bit meandering for a film so short (67 minutes). There are scenes of the mundane that seem to go on much too long, sort of like in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with just about everything, but this time these mundane activities aren't transpiring in space. Despite these lingering moments, Kubrick still oozes with apparent technique and some innovative shots, especially when he uses mirrors.
The better part of Stanley Kubrick's filmography is incredibly surrealistic but Killer's Kiss, on its shoestring budget, doesn't capture the same surrealism Kubrick's fans value so highly. This, again, does not mean Killer's Kiss is not a fascinating watch, the sole distinction that is in fact a Kubrick envisioned film is a cinematic treasure in and of itself, but it certainly isn't the quintessential Kubrick picture. There is one standout scene in the movie that is haunting and iconic in a way only a great director could muster. The climactic battle between Rapallo and Gordon would be a run of the mill fight scene; if it wasn't in a choicely gothic mannequin warehouse. It also wouldn't be the last time Kubrick would shoot a madman swinging an axe.
Kubrick, always the perfectionist, never wanted the film's ending to be happy and he was completely right in this fact, but artistically raped by the big studio. While a non-Hollywood ending would have made the Killer's Kiss a tad more memorable, cinematic history is much better off with a successful Kubrick rather than an unfulfilled one. Fans of Kubrick's work will adore Killer's Kiss as a film equivalent of a B-side curio by a favorite band and bask in the foreshadowing of the director's future glory.
Reviewed by Ben Pieper on August 18th 2011
Okay, I know that the conclusion to the sentence above seems as though it is to transition out of a discussion regarding the briefness of this film's length, but I should immediately further address this film's being, at only 67 minutes, way too blasted short, taking very little time to flesh out a minimalist story, whose limitations go emphasized by a considerable lack of development. I won't go so far as to say that this film is as underdeveloped as the still admittedly superior "Fear and Desire", but it is, in fact, undercooked, taking little time to expand upon expository depth, yet still taking more time than it should incorporating aspects that serve no real purpose outside of running out the clock. Sure, considering the briefness of this affair, there can't really be too much fat around the edges, but when this film bloats, it really drags its feet as repetitious and somewhat excessive, or at least appears to do so, because if nothing else is bloated in this film, it is, of all things, the relatively quiet moments that have no place in these parts. It's strange enough to say that this film suffers from unevenness in dialogue prominence, and even stranger to say that such an issue is one of the most major ones, but make no mistake, this film's randomly breaking lengthy periods of talk with extended segments of no dialogue at all jar momentum, which, upon shifting, continues to spiral down once we begin to meditate upon quietness that would be duller if Gerald Fried's score wasn't so recurring, but nevertheless distances you from substance's core and blands things into disengaging meanderings. There's certainly enough conversation for you to have some investment in the action (Sorry, Elvis, but sometimes we need more bark than bite), but all of the lulls in dialogue mark lulls in narrative that retard momentum, often to a crawl, and either leave you to drift away or stick with the final product just enough to meditate upon just how thin it really is. There's not really a whole lot to this story, and that makes its issues in pacing and dialogue evenness all the more severe, until you end up with a final product that could have easily slipped into mediocrity, and ends up slipping into forgettable underwhelmingness. Still, before the reel ends, leaving you to walk away barely remembering the picture, there is enough flavor to the final product for it to, pretty much by a hair, pass as decent, or at least stylistically impressive for 1955.
While this film's style is more even than the style of "Fear and Desire", I would consider Stanley Kubrick's first effort more of a rich reflection of his now-legendary talent, no matter what he said about his forgotten debut, though that's not to say that this film wasn't yet another example of what Kubrick was to become: an innovative filmmaking artist with distinct stylistic tastes that could be detected even in this film, whose cinematography, handled by Kubrick himself, plays with lighting in a clever fashion that, like uniquely tight framing, gives you an intimacy with this film, as well as visuals that are about as striking as they could be at the technically limited time. If nothing else, Kubrick delivers on stylish camerawork that comes into particularly fine play during the action sequences, which aren't necessarily spectacular, or even, say, "Spartacus" grade, but impress more often than not, featuring tight choreography and dynamic staging that tenses up the air and is bound to keep plenty on the edge of their seat. Kubrick was too much of a visionary for this time, so his worthy stylistic and action concepts were held back at this time, yet are still worth commenting on, having enough attractiveness to help in selling this story that is, of course, further sold by the performances. Kubrick's then-developing talent for working with performers isn't exactly on glowing display in this film, but most every major performance, whether it be in a subtle way or relatively heavier way, engages adequately with anything from charisma to range that isn't all that dramatically reinforced, but effectiveness to breathe some life into this film's, on paper, drained human factor. The film is so underdeveloped and its dialogue segments are so uneven in prominence, and that distances the human depth that should be driving this drama, yet the performances, underwritten though they may be, do a fair bit in restoring much of the depth to this piece, while Kubrick, as director, really carries this film that he, as irony would have it, holds back so much. Kubrick, as a writer, puts together a fiercely minimalist story, further thinned out by expository shortcomings and even the occasional piece of melodrama, and as director, he can do only so much to compensate for the flaws in his script, yet where a lesser storyteller would have succumb to writing flaws and let his or her effort collapse into mediocrity, Kubrick draws enough intrigue to sustain the final product's decency, making the 67-minute runtime, in a good way, feel longer by keeping up a thoughtful pacing that meditates on what dramatic intensity and liveliness there is to keep entertainment value going just fine, until broken by genuinely effective engagement value. The film is certainly not richly engaging, or else it wouldn't be as forgettable as it kind of is, but when it's all said and done, Kubrick breathes enough life into this both ambitious and messy effort for it to stand as stylish and reasonably intriguing, no matter how underwhelming it may be.
To "kiss" this affair goodbye, underdevelopment and dragging - especially in aimless spells of no dialogue - allow you to meditate upon natural shortcomings, of which there are so many that the final product runs a real risk of collapsing into the mediocrity that it miraculously manages to fend off with the attractive style, decent performances and thoughtfully paced, reasonably engaging directorial storytelling that make "Killer's Kiss" yet another entertaining early accomplishment for Stanley Kubrick, seriously flawed though it may be.
2.5/5 - Fair
Feels more like an exercise for Kubrick's to perfect his technique rather than anything else but it works and is a welcome addition to his upcoming masterpieces.