Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Killing


Stanley Kubrick’s third film (though for all practical purposes it’s his second, as he did everything he could to bury his first). This is where he really began to find his voice. It’s a crackerjack caper movie starring Sterling Hayden, who with a crew of five plans to rob a racetrack of two million dollars. The mastermind reminds me a little of the Parker character in Richard Stark’s (Donald E. Westlake’s, really) books. It’s a good plan, and almost succeeds … but unsurprisingly it all goes wrong at the last minute, in ways you wouldn’t expect. It is flawed somewhat by a corny Dragnet-style narration, but the timetable is so complicated and the flashbacks so numerous that I can see Kubrick deciding that it was the only way to play it straight with the viewer. These days we are all more familiar with fractured time lines, but back then it probably would have been very confusing. The centerpiece of the film is the masterful handling of the race and robbery, where we go back to the beginning of the race multiple times, each time established with the bugle call and the same scene of horses entering the track. This is the film that really put Kubrick on the map. It got great reviews, and brought him to the attention of the major studios in Hollywood. His experiences there were not good, but it did teach him the lesson that he had to fight for total control, final cut, the whole nine yards, and once over the awful experience of Spartacus, he never surrendered control again.