Following Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer's Kiss (1955), two low-budget features which received limited distribution and were later dismissed by Kubrick as insignificant, the director wrote a screenplay of Lionel White's novel, Clean Break. With his partner, producer James B. Harris, they convinced Sterling Hayden to accept the lead role and once his involvement was secured, United Artists agreed to put up $200,000 which was later supplemented by an additional $120,000, raised privately by Harris. Although it was a low budget production by Hollywood standards, The Killing marked the first time Kubrick was able to work with a professional crew and established actors. Notice the way Kubrick takes full advantage of his budgetary limitations by tracking his camera through the cheap cardboard sets, creating a palpable sense of doom and paranoia. It was a technique he mastered after watching the films of Max Ophuls.
Marie Windsor, who gives a riveting performance opposite Elisha Cook, Jr. as his conniving, ruthless wife, discussed the making of The Killing with Mark A. Miller for a Filmfax article on her career: "Kubrick was a very quiet fellow in those days, very introverted. He always asked the actors to step off the set for direction and discussion of character. He even worked with his crew that way, always with a quiet, calm voice. He had every shot planned ahead of time, even to the point of having his then wife, who was both an artist and dancer, draw charcoal drawings of every scene. He had charts of all the camera angles he would use. But he was wonderful to work with and I instinctively knew I should trust his judgment."
While The Killing shares many similarities with The Asphalt Jungle, a 1950 heist thriller that also starred Sterling Hayden, the main difference between the two is that the bank break in John Huston's crime drama was planned by seasoned professionals while Kubrick's racetrack robbery was the work of desperate men whose flawed characters led to their demise. The climax of The Killing also evokes memories of the ironic twist ending of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) but any viewer who is well versed in the film noir genre won't be surprised. As Kubrick himself once said, "In a crime film, it is almost like a bullfight; it has a ritual and a pattern which lays down that the criminal is not going to make it, so that, while you can suspend your knowledge of this for a while, sitting way back in your mind this little awareness knows and prepares you for the fact that he is not going to succeed. That type of ending is easier to accept."
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: James B. Harris
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson (dialogue)
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Music: Gerald Fried
Art Direction: Ruth Subotka
Principle Cast: Sterling Hayden (Johnny Clay), Coleen Gray (Fay), Vince Edwards (Val Cannon), Jay C. Flippen (Marvin Unger), Ted de Corsia (Randy Kennan), Elisha Cook Jr. (George Peatty), Marie Windsor (Sherry Peatty), Joe Sawyer (Mike O'Reilly), Timothy Carey (Nikki) James Edwards (Parking Attendant), Joe Turkel (Tiny).
by Jeff Stafford