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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/18/99

The Killing
1956 (1999) - MGM/United Artists (MGM)

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

The Killing Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-//B+/B

Specs and Features

89 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4 page production booklet, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

If you're a Kubrick fan, and you haven't seen The Killing -- well, shame on you. Double shame. In my humble opinion, The Killing is one of Kubrick's three best films. Of course, Kubrick's oeuvre was so diverse, that it's easy to argue with me. So, to avoid the e-mails, I will state right now for the record - The Killing is MY personal favorite Kubrick film. We all have our own, but this one is mine. It's also, without much question, the number two best heist film ever made, next to Rififi. NOW you can argue with me.

The Killing has to be one of the most tense, well structured, and superbly clever films ever made. Tarantino recognized this, and took/homaged much of his style for Pulp Fiction from this well-crafted film. Unfolding like a documentary, with a jigsaw like timeline and shot-on-location footage, The Killing follows the heist of 2 million bucks from a horse track, by a gang of small time crooks. Masterminded by Johnny (played by one of the greatest B-movie actors ever, Sterling Hayden - a sad participant of the Hollywood Red Scare), the whole thing goes down with nary a hitch. That is until the end. Ya know... since the film is about the execution of the heist, I will leave the plot at that. The Devil's in the details, as they say.

The Killing is Kubrick's first truly "professional" film (made with backers other than his family), and was his third feature (Kubrick made two short documentaries with RKO-Pathe: Day of the Fight in 1950, and Flying Padre in 1951). Pulling together his first actual professional cast, The Killing was the first of two films he would make with the down-on-his-professional-luck Hayden (Hayden also played the crazed U.S. Air Force Commander, Jack D. Ripper, in Dr. Strangelove).

Made on a shoestring budget of $330,000 (a very small amount even in 1956), the film wasn't very successful when first released. That wasn't exactly a good thing, considering part of the budget included Kubrick's salary (which he sacrificed for back end participation in the profits). Oh, well... I'm sure it only hurt for a while. The Killing still stands as a milestone in American filmmaking, and a film that, to this day, is riffed on by contemporary filmmakers. Kevin Smith acknowledges the film in Chasing Amy, when Ben Affleck refers to others as "patzer" -- taken from the chess playing Maurice character, as he discusses a chess game with two other players in the Checker/Chess hall. "Patzer" was also riffed on by Ben Kingsley's character in Searching For Bobby Fisher.

The Killing stands as a welcome entry onto DVD. It's the second of MGM's supplemental titles to the Warner Kubrick Collection box set, and it looks pretty good. Released in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the transfer is nice. The black and white film is very gritty, again the original look, with muddled shadow and light. I have seen this film on video, on TV, on laserdisc, at the theater and on CD-ROM... and of all the different formats, this DVD is by far my favorite. The detail captured on this disc is fantastic. For years I wondered what was written on the door of Johnny's rented bungalow. Now I know -- 78x29 (whatever that's supposed to mean). The sound is DD mono, and it sounds unnaturally tinny at times, which is from the source I'm afraid. It's there on my LD, and video versions as well. It doesn't distract from the experience, but you'll hear it a few times, especially at the track. Extras include the usual MGM booklet (with fun facts about the film and Kubrick) and a trailer that looks okay (but really sucks by giving away half of the wrap-up of the story - bahh!).

When you go out and pick up that Kubrick Collection box set, don't you dare forget to grab this on the way to the register (or shopping cart, you Netizens). The Killing will not let you down, and deserves to stand proudly next to his other films. Kubrick may be gone, but these wonderful films will forever shine in all of our home theaters on DVD.

Todd Doogan

The Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD

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