My Review of ‘The Killing’ (1956)

This movie is notable in great part for its unusual narrative structure. Film noir icon Sterling Hayden plays ring leader Johnny Clay, who plans to pull that One Last Heist before going straight.

Clay assembles a team of characters (of varying degrees of competency) who each have a part to play in Clay’s plan to steal $2 million from a horse racing track.

Via the Criterion Collection

All the parties to this scheme should (theoretically) work together like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, the Rube Goldberg-like concatenation of events doesn’t go off smooth as silk.

The movie boasts an excellent cast, including: Hayden, whose laconic manner is both tough and sympathetic; Coleen Gray, as the girl of Clay’s dreams; Elisha Cook, Jr., in the role of in-over-his-head bank teller; Marie Windsor, as his total bitch nagging wife; Kola Kwariani, as a wrestler tasked with creating a diversion; Ted de Corsia, as a corrupt cop; and Timothy Carey, as a sharp shooter.

Via Cinegrid

The story is disjointed and told out of sequence with scenes repeated from different points of view. This was a reflection of the source material, as well as director Stanley Kubrick’s desire to adhere to that style in the film. That approach also lends the film a realistic air, as the out-of-order scenes appear almost random.

The producers were reportedly livid when they saw Kubrick’s work on this film. Worried that viewers wouldn’t be able to follow the story, they actually wanted Kubrick to re-shoot the whole movie. However, Kubrick insisted on keeping the story structure as it was in the book. The movie’s artistry is only slightly hampered by the rather ham-handed voice over the producers insisted on afflicting the movie with. After all, this was before Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan began playing fast and loose with narrative structure.

In fact, directors like Kubrick are part of the reason we have Tarantino and Nolan. QT has acknowledged that The Killing was a significant influence on his film, Reservoir Dogs.

Critics generally applauded Kubrick’s development as a filmmaker with the making of The Killing. Roger Ebert noted that Kubrick considered this his first “mature film”. It is emblematic of the director’s career, in the sense that Kubrick made it clear that he worked with a definite vision in mind. And Kubrick intended to make each film a unique work. He was a director less defined by genre than by his determination to make each project uniquely compelling.

Another great entry in the film noir canon. The end (without revealing spoilers-much) is just heart-breaking.

Five well-deserved stars for this one! 🙂

And here’s the trailer!

This entry was posted in Film Noir, Movie Reviews and tagged Film Noir, Movie Review. Bookmark the permalink.

Originally published at on August 1, 2019.

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website:

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