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Your June Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: These 5 Men Had a $2,000,000 Secret Until One of Them Told This Woman!

Pizza: Pizza Italia

Preshow Entertainment: BEST LEGS IN THE 8TH GRADE


THE KILLING (1956), no relation to the TWIN PEAKSian show on AMC or the CD by Danish metal band HATESPHERE, is the first studio-funded film made by Stanley Kubrick. Make no mistake, though THE KILLING went south when it was (barely) released, it garnered enough attention from the right people to send young Stanley on his way to making his movies - PATHS OF GLORY, SPARTACUS (which Kubrick himself disowned: "The only film I don't like is SPARTACUS"), LOLITA, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON, THE SHINING, FULL METAL JACKET and EYES WIDE SHUT. Not only are all of those movies (except that last one, says me) spectacular (not sure about the spectacular-ity of BARRY LYNDON, as I've yet to see it...but my friends Lou and Max love it, if that means anything to you!), but, aside from his two pre-KILLING non-studio movies, that list is his entire body of work. Yes, you had to wait for his movies, but they were almost always worth it. Not that I knew this. Although I saw my first Kubrick film in high school, I never really appreciated him until later on. "About five years ago," he sheepishly confessed.

This noir entry opens at a racetrack, which, thanks in part to Gerald Fried's appropriate score, is turned into a suspenseful menace. This is a place that should be exciting, thrilling. Instead, we can feel the impending dread. Something's up. Something big. Something...not too nice. It's 3:45pm.

And now...it's 2:45pm. And now it's 7pm. And now it's 6:30pm. That's the kind of movie THE KILLING is. It moves time around like checkers on a board, jumping to where it sees a good opportunity. And though I can't recall a film that did this (to this extent) before THE KILLING, I can sure think of plenty of pulpy, fictional movies that have done so after. More on this later, because now we jump back in time to the story...

Table Meet
Throughout these time-skips we meet our most unusual suspects; Randy the cop (Ted DeCorsia), who owes 3k to a shady figure. Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen), who bet on every horse in the same race. Why? George (Elisha Cook Jr.), the meek cage cashier at the track who's married to Sherry (Marie Windsor), a dame furlongs out of his league. Bartender Mike, who serves Canada Dry in a vintage bottle (oh, yeah, right...), with his sickly and bedridden wife. And finally, ringleader Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden). And it's all intro-ed by narrator Art Gilmore's newsreel/DRAGNET-y patter (Gilmore was a pro announcer who actually wound up acting on DRAGNET).

When we first see Johnny, he is with his girl Fay (Coleen Gray), who has waited for him during his five year stay at the state farm. Johnny explains to her (and us) - make sure the risk is worth the reward, because they can "put you away just as fast for a ten dollar heist as they can for a million dollar job." That's Johnny Clay for ya. He must have something up his sleeve. Maybe, just maybe it's a...

George and Sherry (Elisha Cook Jr. and Marie Windsor)
Caper! Johnny has assembled these noirriors for a caper! And with Johnny Clay spearheading, nothing can go wrong, right? Wrong!! This is a movie, so something has to go wrong. Someone has to gum up the works. Maybe some femme fatale (not a spoiler, it's in the damn logline) with an assist from mild-mannered milquetoast George. He doesn't do it on purpose, you see. He's just trying to impress Sherry (and perhaps himself) who knows a thing or three about how to pull his strings. Strings that will soon become tangled. Strings that will soon unravel. Strings that begin with her affair with Val Cannon (Vince Edwards, not yet in med school to become TV's Ben Casey). It's a fascinating parallel; George loves Sherry, who doesn't even look at him when he talks to her, and Sherry loves Val, who doesn't want to be tied down and keeps no secret that he's seeing other women. George tries to ensnare Sherry with the promise of heist money, as does Sherry with Val.

If you've guessed that the caper involves the racetrack, then you are right. But you won't guess the who, what, where, when and how. Nothing's telegraphed. It unfolds like an actual caper - with precision and a 100% chance of unpredictability.

Elisha Cook
What's interesting about the gang is they're not all hoods. One's a cop, another a cashier, another a bartender. But in Noir World, anyone can turn bad. I love all the characters in this movie to death, but if you put a gat to my head, I'd tell you that Elisha Cook's George steals the movie with his Frightened Mouse demeanor and dinner plate eyes of concern and fear. And the guy sure knew how to take a slap in the face. There are also great ancillary characters, heist-sistants, if you will; sharpshooter/hit man/aptly-named Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey), chess-player/bruiser Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani), and Joe (Tito Vuolo), the lovable Italian bungalow proprietor.
Vince Edwards as Val
Even frequent ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN villain Richard Reeves, who plays a racetrack worker and only has a few lines, is great. THE KILLING is one of those films made up (entirely?) of character actors. ODD NOTE: IMDB credits Rodney Dangerfield as an onlooker. But this was 15 years before he started making movies. If it's true, my guess would be that Rodney just happened to be at the racetrack that day.

And now a few words about Sterling Hayden's sterling performance as Johnny Clay. Hayden (you know, Captain McCloskey, the guy Michael shoots in the neck in THE GODFATHER) commands the players (and the movie) with cool, cocky defiance. I can see why people like Johnny so much ("There's nothing I wouldn't do for Johnny." - Marvin). Hayden's performances in movies fly in the face of the man himself, who as it turned out, was a nut. This was a man who got into acting accidentally, considering it a less than virtuous profession (okay, maybe he's not a nut). "You don't need talent to star in a motion picture. All you need is some intelligence and the ability to work freely in front of the lens." He was a man who named a name or two to the FBI and HUAC and regretted it until the day he died. He was a gruff guy who made movies only so he could make money to buy...wait for it...sea vessels. You read that right. Sterling Hayden's true love was being a skipper. But if you ask me, even in his movies he was always a little piratical.

Sterling Hayden as Johnny Clay

In a way, Kubrick rehearsed for THE KILLING a year earlier with KILLER'S KISS, a short (67 minutes) movie that started off slow and, like THE KILLING, got better as it went along. He shot it himself (he was a photographer for LOOK magazine before he was a filmmaker). In THE KILLING, his knowledge of photography coupled with his creative boho style and sense (much of it unseen and misunderstood at the time, making it an honest-to-goodness trailblazer) would create friction with cinematographer Lucien Ballard.
Water Cooler
Ballard had shot over 50 films by this time (and would go on to shoot THE WILD BUNCH and the original TRUE GRIT), so I can only imagine what went down. But I have a decent imagination, so I'd say that Kubrick wanted things a certain way (read: unorthodox) and Ballard vetoed what he saw as ridiculous requests. I must be close, no? In spite of this, THE KILLING is beautifully lit and photographed. It's got all the noir elements of light and shadow, like in the shot where Sherry and Val read a note while standing over a table lamp whose light and shade point upward, onto their faces...the cinematic equivalent to holding a flashlight under your chin. And his tracking shots (the one of Johnny walking through the rooms of the apartment while talking to an unseen Fay comes to mind) are creative and beautiful. His eye for composition soars; the dolly shots at the track, and the placement of the extras. Even the use of an unseen ticking clock during a George/Sherry breakfast scene on the morning of the heist. And again, the Gerald Fried score. Fried also worked on Kubrick's two earlier films (FEAR AND DESIRE, KILLER'S KISS), and then PATHS OF GLORY, launching his career (along with Kubrick's). In the 60s, he went on to do a ton of movies and TV shows, including the original STAR TREK, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and even GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

Though THE KILLING was based on the novel CLEAN BREAK by crime reporter/author Lionel White, it sure looks like we'll never know how much was written by Kubrick, and how much by pulp writer Jim Thompson, who Kubrick had commissioned. When it was released, Kubrick got the writing credit while Thompson got "additional dialogue by". So I can't really say which one of them wrote the one line of dialogue that made us all gasp.

Nikki Arcane (Timothy Carey)

There's one bit of disappointment for me regarding THE KILLING. For years I've been trumpeting Kubrick's anti-structure in the film, but I've come to learn that this was the device used in White's novel. Wa-a-a! Oh well. But I suppose it could be argued that Kubrick and producer James B. Harris (who initially found the book) were so attracted to this broken timeline (that's true) that that's why they bought the book in the first place. Ironically, after a screening, they were pretty much told that the movie didn't work because of these time jumps, so they went back and edited it chronologically. Then, they decided they were wrong for doing that and went back to the original cut. That said, audiences were confused by this discontinuity editing back in '56, and United Artists buried it under bigger features.

The End
THE KILLING isn't the first movie on people's lips when they hear the name Kubrick. It often gets lost in the cavernous interiors of the Overlook Hotel and in the shadows of the monolith. But I'm here to tell you THE KILLING stands on its own two feet, and it is better than most movies in the theater today. Not too shabby for a low budget movie made in 24 days by an unknown. Oh, and one more thing; the last 30 minutes are terrific. And the ending, which producer Harris takes credit for, is one of the best in all of Movieland.

Preshow Entertainment: BEST LEGS IN THE 8TH GRADE


An odd and sucky 48 minute (seemed like 1hr 48m to me) one-act play shot on video, THE BEST LEGS IN THE EIGHTH GRADE fails beyond compare. The acting is awful, and the writing by Bruce Feirstein, who wrote on some Bond films and the book REAL MEN DON'T EAT QUICHE, is worse. I don't know whose idea it was to put this on video, or for that matter, on stage in the first place.

It's Valentine's Day, 1981, and an asshole named Mark (Tim Matheson) has done something romantically rotten to Rachel (Annette O'Toole), and it's going to take another asshole, St. Valentine, to help him. St. Valentine (James Belushi playing James Belushi) appears in Mark's living room, and after a few parlor tricks proffered as proof, Mark realizes it's really St. Valentine. Me, I'd get out of Dodge if St. Valentine magically appeared in my living room. Hell, I'd run like hell if James Belushi magically appeared in my living room.

Rachel (Annette O'Toole)
Scene Two finds us in 1984, in a gym. Mark and Rachel, now a couple with some years behind them, are working out together. When Rachel leaves for a run, Mark meets Leslie (Kathryn Harrold), a bimbo that only exists on TV shows like HAPPY DAYS or in writers' heads. It turns out Leslie used to sit in front of Mark in high school, and although Mark knows Leslie up and down, it takes Leslie a long time to remember ex-nerd (now asshole) Mark. Leslie symbolizes the unattainable past for Mark. And hey, I'm all for that. Except when it's done poorly.
Leslie (Kathryn Harrold)
I suppose the moral of LEGS is that sooner or later we have to become responsible adults, witnessed by Mark's apartment; neon beer light, barber pole, Simon (remember that toy?). Anyway, Mark not only hits on Leslie, but makes a dinner date with her. Well, that doesn't sit well with Rachel. Did he think it would? I was right - asshole. It gets worse. Somehow, he turns it into Rachel's fault. "You don't know what this girl (Leslie) means to me!"

Shot on stage with no audience, this play falls, no...drops dead. Maybe I was a bit harsh when I said how bad the acting is. These thespians are trapped in a god-awful script. Yet, shouldn't they be held accountable for saying 'yes' to the project in the first place? When push comes to shove, I didn't hate these characters because they were assholes. I hated them because they were idiots.

I dare you: http://tinyurl.com/3k8mzyn

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