Old School Review: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” (1956)

Written by Jim Thompson and Stanley Kubrick and directed by Kubrick, “The Killing” is a noir heist movie that follows a gang of criminals poised to rob a racetrack during a high-stakes horse race with a large sum of cash in play. Last week the Criterion Collection had a sale on their stock of films so I took the opportunity and found a few new curiosities. Stanley Kubrick has always been a fascinating film director, but I haven’t always loved his films. Thus, I take every chance I can get when it comes to finding more of his work so I can form a more complete picture of the man’s filmography. I had never heard of “The Killing” and a Kubrick, Noir, Heist film was too tantalizing to avoid. I likely hadn’t heard of the film because it was only Kubrick’s third full length film release, but he considered this one to be his first mature feature.

The main force propelling the plot along is Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), the architect of the heist and the only one that knows all of the moving parts of the plan. Johnny gathered this gang of desperate and foolish rogues through well researched intel and earned trust. George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) and Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer) work at the track as a teller and bartender respectively. Both are in need of funds for their women at home, though each for vastly different reasons. Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani) and Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey), a chess playing strongman and a farmer who’s a crack shot with a rifle, are the two major diversions designed to create chaos and panic during the heist as Johnny palms the bills in the back during all of the confusion. There’s also Leo the loan shark (Jay Adler) and the poor schmuck of a cop Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia) that got in deep debt due to Leo’s high interest rates. Together, these criminals attempted to forge a fool-proof heist in the hopes of netting a cool two million dollars for their troubles.

The film has a methodical nature to its layout, the audience simply isn’t involved in all of the details until the heist is in play. The writing, editing, and narration (which was a fountain of nostalgia laced with a fond notion of the simpler times in film) all work in tandem of executing the most tension within each scene as the film glides through its runtime. We meet the cast of characters well before knowing their exact roles in the heist, figuring out how all of the pieces fall into place was half of the fun of the film anyways. Johnny’s entire plan is based on the exact schedule of events and the knowledge that each member is executing their role at the planned time, without flaw. Thus once we get near the event we backtrack to various members and their roles as they execute them. The film was far more suspenseful than expected with this technique, it keeps you guessing as to where or when the gang will foul up their plan, because once we meet enough of the players and get a peek into a select few’s personal lives- it becomes clear that the plan will fail at some point.

I won’t spoil the fun for you by ruining the film’s third act, but I will give it a hearty recommendation. If you’re hankerin’ for a fun old school heist flick, give this one a shot! It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes, and an excellent way to kill the moody blues of a rainy afternoon.

Final Score: 2 Million dreams of the crooked and the desperate


Old School Review: “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” (1964)

Occasionally in history what was once old can become new again. I’ve been revisiting older films as of late and I’ve found several to be incredibly relevant in their stories when compared to the headlines of today. One such story is “Dr. Strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)” by legendary film director Stanley Kubrick in 1964. “Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy that satirizes the rampant paranoia of the cold war conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On a lone military base United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper issues orders to his subordinate Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British Royal Air Force officer, to put the base on alert. He then issues an order for an unauthorized first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and locks down the base. “Wing Attack Plan R” is received by the airmen in their bombers and they go about their orders utilizing their CRM 114 discriminator, a device that is programmed to only accept communications from general Jack D. Ripper in the form of a secret three letter code, also known only to the general. From there the film follows the President of the United States, his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they try to recall the bombers and prevent a nuclear apocalypse.

I honestly went into this not expecting to find a new favorite, but it became one nonetheless. It’s a brilliant ploy on the insane paranoia that the fear of the cold war instilled in people. In fact, I find it increasingly relevant in today’s world. The inherent insanity of our own headlines reflect what was once fantasy or farce into reality, I mean, we did elect a reality TV show host as the President. But anyhow, I do love the performances here, especially of George C. Scott (famously known for his role as infamous WW2 general George S. Patton) as general Buck Turgidson who tries to explain the practices of the military in such situations to the president. As he fumbles through, making jokes and getting caught up in his own bravado I couldn’t help but be tickled by the absurdity of it all. Nuclear holocaust being a possibility in real life is terrifying enough, but put the lens of satire on it and it becomes a brilliant sort of laugh factory. Peter Sellers also does a lot to play into the humor here as he plays three characters throughout the film; Lionel Mandrake, the RAF officer that tries to talk down the out-of-his-mind general Ripper, President Merkin Muffley, who has my favorite line in the movie “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”, and Dr. Strangelove himself, the wheelchair bound nuclear war expert and ex-nazi scientist who has a case of diagnostic apraxia aka alien hand syndrome in which his lame limb lapses into the Nazi salute. Brilliant.

So if you’re looking to fill out your Stanley Kubrick flicks, or just hankering for a comedy satire that plays with real world issues, give this one a watch, it’s worth your time.

Final Score: 31 seats at the war room table (give or take)

*Check out this video on the history of the making of “Dr. Strangelove” on youtube: