Without a shadow of a doubt, Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film maker of all time. In fact, the very first thing I wrote about on this blog was a rundown of all of the movies I’ve seen of his at the time. Now, finally getting around to watching one of his movies I’ve never seen before is really, really exciting. This film is Killer’s Kiss from 1955. After a disappointing start with his first feature, Fear and Desire, Kubrick was determined to really make a name for himself and show what kind of artistic flourishes he had to offer to the film world. For being a very short and totally independently produced film, Killer’s Kiss affectively foreshadowed masterworks that were to come.
Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a down on his luck welterweight boxer who’s goal is to finally achieve some sort of recognition or success, but his prime has long since passed. He also has eyes for his neighbor, a taxi dancer named Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who is employed by the sexually frustrated and alcoholic gangster, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera). After rescuing her from one of his drunken fits, the two quickly fall in love and decide to leave town together. What Davey and Irene don’t plan on is Vincent soon catching on to their plan, and how he’ll go so far as murder in order to guarantee his favorite dancer will stay in town and make all of his fantasies come true.
Kubrick’s early works sort of form a mixed bag of films. While it’s mainly established that The Killing is a film noir classic, many people aren’t very fond of Fear and Desire. Right in between those two is Killer’s Kiss, a film that I don’t hear discussed or reviewed as much as the other two. In my opinion, Killer’s Kiss is visually ahead of its time and beautiful and a seedy sort of way, but the story and the characters are poorly developed. I’d like to take a step away from the plot development and the characters and marvel at this movie for its visuals, but that wouldn’t be a very accurate review, would it? Still even with its faults, it’s Kubrick’s first real punch to the film industry.
From the picture above, it’s pretty obvious that Kubrick takes the cinematic styles of film noir and utilizes them to their fullest. Even though the characters are pretty uninteresting and underdeveloped, they still are archetypical of the noir genre and fit in perfectly with the seedy New York underbelly that is fully explored throughout the film. Not only does Kubrick use style that was already seen in films of this kind, but also adds some stuff of his own that wasn’t quite the common place. There’s more tracking shots than there normally were in 1955, a boxing scenes shows some real brutal violence, and there’s an excellent long take of Davey running along a rooftop. Not to mention some of the compositions, like when Davey’s face is stretched out as the camera looks at him through a fish tank.
Killer’s Kiss, as lost in the background it may be, was truly a passion project for the 26 year old Stanley Kubrick. The only way he got funding for this film was by borrowing $40,000 from his uncle and shooting without any permits. That may not seem like a problem, but it certainly is when you’re filming on Broadway during the busiest time of the evening. In order to get some shots, Kubrick had to be filming from the inside of a car so he wouldn’t be noticed and if he had to make a quick getaway. He also had to negotiate with a group of homeless people at one point so he could use their alley for a scene.
Killer’s Kiss may not be the best written film noir or entry into Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but it does mark the real beginning of his film career. Visually, this movie is excellent foreshadowed what was to come. The archetypes and genre tropes are all present, but Kubrick really injects the film with his surreal style that left me with many memorable scenes. Fans of Kubrick, film history, and the film noir genre should definitely make this one a priority.