The Killing (1956)

“You like money.”

Film noir fans should make a point of watching The Killing–an early film from director, Stanley Kubrick. A loosely bound band of thieves decide to knock off a racetrack with a plan that is timed with skill and precision. Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is the mastermind behind the gang. He’s just out from prison and wants the one big score that will allow him to lead a decent life with long-suffering sweetheart, Fay (Coleen Gray). Clay’s plan involves the placement of gang members at key locations at the racetrack. Each of the thieves is equally desperate, and the plot allows a small glimpse into the pathetic lives of the thieves prior to the robbery. This is all so cleverly done, that the film creates wistfulness and a sense of well-wishing for the thieves. The plan is well thought out and sounds perfect. What can go wrong?

Gang member, George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jnr) is married to nasty, sullen femme fatale, Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor). When the camera follows George home into his modest apartment, and we see Sherry for the first time, the match between the Peattys is all too obviously quite incongruous. What does Sherry see in George? She makes it clear that he’s a big disappointment to her–she’s been waiting for the big score he’s promised, but so far, she’s holed up in a shoebox of an apartment, lounging around in a negligee, oozing with discontent. How can a man like George keep a woman like Sherry?

The Killing is filmed in black and white and the plot moves forward without ever loosing a beat. Suspense mounts rapidly and the background of horse racing assists the film’s pacing. Just as the horses dash towards the finishing line, the thieves pull off the heist of a lifetime. One of the most intriguing things about the film is the layering of thievery here. There’s a policeman on the take, there’s the thieves headed by Clay, and then there’s Sherry and her own little scheme. And what of the racetrack–isn’t that a sort of legal robbery of the masses who lay down their hard earned cash hoping for a big score of their own?

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