Mon 30 Jul 2012
KILLER’S KISS. United Artists, 1955. Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Jerry Jarrett, Mike Dana, Felice Orlandi, Shaun O’Brien, Barbara Brand. Director and co-screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick.
Recently saw Killer’s Kiss which immediately became my favorite Stanley Kubrick movie, which ain’t saying much, but is intended as a compliment nonetheless. A lot of folks consider Kubrick a genius, and a lot think he’s a pretentious bore; I’ve always thought he had some talent but tended toward self-indulgence, with his failure to capture Nabokov’s Lolita on film particularly disappointing, coming from one as intelligent as Kubrick says he is.
Anyway, there are a few — a very few — really cheap really good movies to come out of Hollywood, and Killer’s Kiss is one of the tackiest and best. It’s not as good (or as threadbare) as Ulmer’s Detour or Bluebeard, but then nobody could do as much with as little as Ulmer, whose films sometimes amaze one by the very fact of their existence.
But though not on the same level as Ulmer’s poetic cheapies, Killer’s Kiss is nonetheless right up there with Murder by Contract (1958) and Blast of Silence (’61) as a gritty, stylish thriller done for peanuts.
The cast is non-professional but talented, with Frank Silvera particularly good as a lecherous dance-hall owner who murders for love, and Irene Kane inadequate but haunting as the neurotic object of his attentions.
There is some very effective use of seldom-lensed New York City locations — which seems innovative but was probably merely necessary — particularly the roof of a warehouse, which stretches out like some improbable desert before the hero fleeing across it.
There are also a couple of very visceral fight scenes, the most memorable of which involves the hood and the hero smashing each other with clubs, spears, and plaster mannequins. It makes one realize, with a twinge of regret, how skillful a filmmaker Kubrick could be when he wanted to Show Feelings instead of Explaining Ideas.
Surprisingly, in fact, Kubrick resists the temptation here to wallow in his own concepts. There is, for example, a part early on where he cuts between the prizefighter hero and the taxi-dancer heroine getting outfitted in their dressing rooms. Almost any other director would have cut back and forth several times, to make sure no one missed the point about professional athletes and prostitutes both being paid to ruin their bodies for the pleasure of strangers, but Kubrick cuts only once, realizes the point is made and gets on with things.
Also, this is the only prize-fight movie I’ve ever seen that has only one shot of a spectator grinning while the hero gets his face punctuated. In every other fight movie, the Director’s not truly happy until he’s looked down his nose at fight fans by showing lots of low-angle shots of them porking out and screaming for blood, just to make sure the moviegoers can feel morally superior to them.
Killer’s Kiss has just the one shot of Silvera getting turned on while he watches the fight on television, a restraint amazing coming from Kubrick.