Compared to the ten grand his first film cost, Kubrick spent a fortune on this one: $40,000, again borrowed from his uncle. I get the feeling almost no one saw Fear and Desire when it was new (and very few people since), but this one got him enough notice to get some decent money for the next one.
I ask myself, looking at this, would I peg it as a Kubrick film if I didn’t know that going in? The answer is no … but the information would come as no surprise. It is way more sophisticated, visually, than your typical low-budget noir from the mid-fifties. There’s just a look about it, in almost every scene, especially outdoors and at night. He probably knew more about cameras than all the directors in Hollywood, and most of the cinematographers. He films in Times Square, and I can’t imagine he had a permit and all the trimmings that go with a big studio shoot, so I wonder how he got the people walking by not to look at the camera. I can’t believe they were paid extras. It is gritty and grainy, and wonderful. He also films in Penn Station, and I wish we could have seen more of that, as the idiots tore the damn thing down not many years after this.
There are two great sequences. The first is the one and only round of the prize fight where our hero gets the shit kicked out of him. I’m no fan of boxing, but this is amazing. Kubrick gets right in with the fighters, using a hand-held camera, from all possible angles. Compare it with boxing scenes in earlier films and you won’t find anything like it, not even close. It was probably the best scene of its kind until Raging Bull. Then there is an epic fight in a warehouse full of mannequins that feels very real. There is even one short shot, in a dream sequence, reversing the film negative and reminding me a lot of the “trip” at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Flaws: Okay, it’s not a distinguished story by any means. It is accompanied by a narration that really isn’t needed at all. And there is a ridiculous happy ending that was forced on Kubrick by the distributor. The title … what was that about? Means absolutely nothing. Killer? Kiss? Nothing to do with the movie. Other than that, it’s pretty damn good.
Have to add these tidbits from the IMDb. The girl, “Irene Kane,” is really the distinguished journalist Chris Chase. Apparently she enjoyed the odd acting bit as a change of pace. Aside from a three-year stint on Love of Life, her credits are very short. The boxer, Jamie Smith, worked in small parts in television up to 1963, when he apparently gave up on the glory of the actor’s life … until 30 years later, when he had a part in a long-running Dutch TV series called Goede tijden, slechte tijden (Good times, bad times). The part was so tiny I had to scroll through several hundred names to find him, under “unknown episode.” Wouldn’t you like to know the story behind his return to show biz?