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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/18/99

Killer's Kiss
1955 (1999) - MGM/United Artists (MGM)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

Killer's Kiss Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/B

Specs and Features

67 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4 page production booklet, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

Stanley Kubrick put his early career as a photographer to good use with his second film, the film noir classic Killer's Kiss. Kubrick started his prolific career as a Look magazine staff photographer, at the ripe old age of 17. Always a fan of movies, he quit in 1950 to focus on a motion picture career. After a few short documentaries, and a self-financed independent film, Kubrick made Killer's Kiss as a one-man show. A 26-year-old, Kubrick secured the financing through family members, and on the shoot he did everything, from operating the camera, to editing, foley, directing, and writing. Basically, Kubrick did everything but act in the damn thing. I think every bit of Kubrick ended up on celluloid here, because the passion he had for this film is very clearly defined.

Killer's Kiss is a pretty short film, but no matter the length, it wallops you over the head like a punch-drunk boxer. The story involves a long-out-of his-prime fighter, Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), who is pretty much done in the world of boxing. He's got a weak chin, and can't even go a full round before being knocked down 3 or 4 times. Knowing his time is up, Davey takes an offer from his uncle to come to Seattle and work on a horse ranch. It sounds like a slow but fulfilling life, except for the fact that Davey gets sucked into the world of the dance hall racket, when he decides to "save" a young girl from her gangster boyfriend Travis Bickle-style. Nothing goes right, people die, and characters turn on one another. The whole thing ends inside a mannequin shop with two people fighting amid detached and disassembled human forms.

Killer's Kiss is a well-drawn film-noir. It's a compelling thriller, and it does offer some pretty wild characters. But that's not what's going to draw you into this world. The thing that sets Killer's Kiss apart from every other early career film, is the way it was shot. New York comes alive on film in the way Kubrick photographs it. A chase across New York rooftops looks so good, you wish it went on longer so you could enjoy the detail more. It's simply stunning. Kubrick's use of light and shadow makes you think back to those early boxing photos, where there was no gray - just black and just white. The boxing match and the climatic fight in the mannequin shop are simply beautiful. I can't get the images out of my mind.

The film is badly in need of restoration, and I wish that MGM had done some repair work to the film before they put it on DVD. There are dirt specks, tears and simple wear evident everywhere on the source print. On the DVD, it all becomes more apparent due to the nice transfer. The black and white, and light and shadow, all look wonderful on this disc. The soundtrack is fine in its original mono, but it was flawed from the beginning with bad foley (sound effects done by Kubrick), synch problems, and muffled dialogue. All of this was due to its low production cost, and lack of professional equipment (though it's not bad for a kid in a room with a microphone and some props). With regards to the sound, there's not much MGM could have done. But when it comes to the video, I would have really liked a restored print. Extras on board include a production history booklet, and a trailer that seems to be missing the open and closing titles. I was a bit confused with the trailer's condition.

Killer's Kiss is a wonderful film, that showed audiences the true promise of a young genius named Stanley Kubrick. Today, it stands to remind future filmmakers that they have a long way to go. Even with a low budget, less-than-stellar actors, and no crew, Kubrick turned in a film most filmmakers only wish they could make. That says much about the power of Kubrick's work. In a word, Killer's Kiss rocks.

Todd Doogan

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

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