An Attempted Killing At The Track
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, "The Killing" (1956) is a tense story of the planning and execution of an elaborate heist at a racetrack and a portrayal of the many, varied characters involved. With its large cast and convincing acting, this movie has deservedly become a film noir classic. Sterling Hayden plays the mastermind of the robbery, Johnny, who has just been released from five years in prison and plans this ambitiously large job to marry his loyal sweetheart Fay (Colleen Gray). Other participants in the heist include a window teller at the track, George, (Elisha Cook) together with a bartender at the track, a cop, and a financier who seems to have a veiled sexual interest in Johnny. Sherry (Marie Windsor) is the femme fatale wife of the timid George and ultimately plays a large role in the fate of what appears to be a carefully conceived plan. A wrestler and a sharpshooter, eccentric characters both, also have roles in the heist and add a great deal of color to the film.
"The Killing" offers a sleazy portrayal of a large racetrack even without the criminal element. I was reminded of the writings of Charles Bukowski, the inveterate patron of the track who probably was pursuing his love for the horses at about the time the film was made. Scenes set in the quiet, more cerebral context of a chess club offer a contrast to the track. The film builds dramatically and tensely. An unusual aspect of the movie is its narrative style. "The Killing" is told in a non-linear way with the same scene sometimes repeated several times to show the different activities of the characters and their relationship to the ongoing action. The studio feared that this technique would confuse the viewers and added a voiceover narration to explain the action. Many conflicting, quarreling hands made this film, but somehow it hangs together.
Although it flopped financially upon release, "The Killing" has over the years become a must for lovers of film noir. I have been watching noir film for several years at the annual film noir festival which unfortunately had to be cancelled this year. I have used the opportunity accorded by stay at home time to watch noir movies I hadn't seen before. "The Killing' is among the best. I learned a great deal about the movie, as always, from the commentary of the "Czar of Noir", Eddie Muller, in his "Noir Alley" series.