IMDB #183 The Killing

Today we tackle the "sport of kings," with the heist-caper The Killing. And no, the sport of kings is not stealing things, but horse racing (though according to the classic late 90s show "Sports Night" it may be either poker or yacht-racing. But let's not split hairs, here).

The Key Players:

Remember Stanley Kubrick? We cross paths once again in his early, pre visionary-epic career. Seriously, this movie's only 83 minutes! A Kubrick film? I thought I would need the entire afternoon.

Noir veteran Sterling Hayden leads an ensemble cast- he would go on to play the nutty general in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, and the Irish cop in The Godfather.

Also there are like nine other roles of import, but I'm not paid by the word here.

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The Story:

Hayden plays Johnny Clay, a heist man just out of the joint looking for one last big score before settling down and getting married. He orchestrates a $2-million scheme to hold up the money-room at a racetrack.

In on the scheme- a nervous betting window teller named George (to let him in), a corrupt cop (to grab the duffel full of money when he throws it out the window), the track bartender (to leave a rifle where he can find it), and his friend Marvin to bakroll the entire affair. Said bankroll is used to pay two men to create dual diversions: a wrestler to start a brawl at the bar, and a sharpshooter to take out the favorite horse in the hundred-grand race at the same moment.

With the cops so distracted, Johnny Clay dons a clown mask and takes the bookies for all they're worth. The cop drops the bag off at his motel room, and he grabs it and heads to the rendevue point.

But nervous, weak-willed George blabbed the whole game to his two-timing wife, and Johnny Clay might be headed for a bloodbath.

The Artistry:

It's really a brief, workmanlike film. After some opening voice-over about pieces coming together in the overall fabric, or somesuch nonsense, Kubrick edits together the big caper with skill, backtracking to each individual role before the big finish.

The acting is straightforward enough- the biggest job is the role of George, the patsy, ably embodied by Elisha Cook- he sells the conflicted feebleness of the fall guy very well.

The bartender's wife is sick, but otherwise we're short on character and heavy on plotting, leaning out of the light to be framed in shadow, double talking with a femme fatale, and so on.


George's wife tipped her lover to the address of the rendevue, and he and a buddy arrive before Johnny Clay to steal the loot. George gets wise (and a backbone), and begins a shootout that leaves him the only one standing (but gutshot).

Hayden sees him stumble out to his car, and takes off on the spot, leaving the rest of the team for dead (which they are, anyway- plus our narrator informs us that this course was agreed upon earlier: any sign of trouble, whoever's got the money has the right to book).

George makes it home in time to shoot his wife before collapsing. Johnny meanwhile, hastily buys a large suitcase from a pawnshop and stuffs the wads of cash in it, and meets his bride-to-be at the airport.

The bag falls off the luggage cart, however, and his fortune is strewn about the runway. Instead of making a break for it he just figures "Eh, what's teh difference?" and waits for the cops. THE END.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Lower. It's diverting enough, but maybe I'm oversaturated by heist flicks and noir films- nobody stuck out other than Cook, and other than his final moments of resignation even Hayden didn't bowl me over.

The Legacy:

It was up for the BAFTA. That count?

The non-linear storytelling surely influenced the current wave of Tarantinoism.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Not too many, but someone thinks the brawl is the best fight scene EVER. Or at least the goofiest.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Maybe I'd be into it more if I was a horse-racing guy.

-Do they still have Checker and Chess parlors anymore? I love chess.

-The sharpshooter totally gets shot to death, forgot to mention that. But nobody seems to regret it, plus he killed a horse.

Coming Up...

182. Judgment at Nuremberg

181. The Incredibles

180. The Princess Bride

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