Kubrick makes filmgoers and critics eager for more.
Even legends have to start somewhere. Killer's Kiss isn't Stanley Kubrick's first movie, but it's an early effort made with novice actors, not much gear, and a simple script. The story follows a declining boxer played by Jamie Smith whose existence is given new purpose when he becomes the protector of his neighbor, Irene Kane, a taxi dancer who's being tormented by her sleazy boss. The two live on the same floor of a tenement on opposite sides of a lightwell, and can see into each other's apartments. But they don't interact until Smith tries to save Kane from an attack. The emergency breaks the wall of studious anonymity they had maintained, and they quickly decide they want to leave town together and start new lives on a farm. But in film noir planning and execution are always light years apart.
Because Killer's Kiss was made on a shoestring budget it has an indie feel to it, which extends into the areas of acting and sound. Reviews were mixed, and we agree, but nearly all cheapie indies get mixed reviews. Kubrick probably did better than he had any right to, and he ingeniously manages to juxtapose two sides of New York City—the dark, deserted, cobblestone warehouse districts, and the blindingly dazzling Times Square. Killer's Kiss is worth it for those scenes alone. It's also worthwhile to be reminded that the best way to make a movie, in the end, is to gather up some cash from wherever you can get it and simply shoot. If there's talent involved, it will shine through, and people may notice. With this feature, flaws and all, Kubrick made people want more.
Why the hell didn't I think to have the bank teller double bag this?
We keep sharing posters for Stanley Kubrick's thriller The Killing because each one we see is unique and interesting. Above is an Italian poster we missed when we shared three other promos from Italy last year. This one, with its broken sack of cash symbolizing the futility of the central robbery, was painted by Giuliano Nistri. It's impressive that the Italian distributors commissioned three completely different masterful promos for the film, but that was the golden era of cinematic art. These days in Italy, as everywhere, movie posters are merely photographs with text emblazoned across them, but once upon a time they produced amazing things like what you see above, and here. Rapina a mano armata, aka The Killing premiered in Italy today in 1957.
Theft becomes death in the blink of an eye.
Last week we shared a brilliant Italian poster for Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, and today you see the French and Belgian posters. The title is a double entendre that refers not only to murder but also to killing in the sense of a big score, which is why in France the movie was called L'ultime razzia, or “the last raid,” and in Belgium it was Coup manqué, which translates as “mis-hit,” as in badly striking a ball—i.e. missing a target. The Belgian poster also has a banner at the bottom with the title in Dutch—Mislukte opzet, or “failed set up.” Those titles, taken together, reveal exactly what happens in the film—a robbery goes terribly wrong. Both of these are very nice posters, fitting ror Kubrick's early masterpiece. The Killing opened in France today in 1956, and in Belgium shortly thereafter.
If you think armed robbery is tough try surviving as a poster artist.
Rapina a mano armata is a title that would translate as “armored rampage,” but the movie being promoted by these spectacular Italian posters is actually none other than Stanley Kubrick's famed thriller The Killing. After debuting in the U.S. and Britain in early 1956, it opened in Italy today that same year. We discussed the film in detail a while ago. If you take a look at that post you'll immediately notice that once again the foreign promo art destroys the U.S. version. This is consistently true for most movies made after the mid-1960s because the studios began to jettison top notch promo artists in favor of simpler—and we assume cheaper—visual approaches. The foreign companies would follow suit, but not until later. European posters began to lose their pizzazz by the 1970s, and Japanese promos went the same direction by the early 1980s. Which leaves us where we are today—besieged by Photoshop jobs, all of which seem to feature a couple of large heads against some uninspiring background.
But we're here at least partly to celebrate the glories of vintage art, which means what you really want to know is who painted these particular masterpieces, right? It was Renato Casaro, whose work is consistently amazing. In fact he was so good that he survived as an illustrator well into the 1980s, painting iconic promos for the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicles Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, and somewhat less iconic but no less brilliant posters for Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger and Over the Top. The Rapina a mano armata poster you see below is unsigned but we can be reasonably sure it was also a product of Casaro's hand, as it was common practice in Italy's movie industry for the commissioned artist to produce more than one version. If the above pieces aren't the best we've seen from Casaro they're sure close. You can see several more of his efforts by clicking his keywords below.
Making a killing at the track is harder than they think.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival is also screening Stanley Kubrick's 1956 crime procedural The Killing. The title refers not to murder but to making a killing—i.e. a highly profitable score. Sterling Hayden leads a cast that includes Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Marie Windsor. Hayden and crew hope to rob a race track, and to do this they lay out a precise plan that includes causing a brawl at the track bar as one distraction, and shooting a horse mid-race as another. What could go wrong, right? But the crazy plan makes sense, and if you have trouble following it a stentorian narration breaks down the action for you. We didn't mind that so much—the entire premise of the movie is that it's a faux-documentary, so the voiceover is something you have to accept. But the trumpets and tympani on the soundtrack—wow—are way overcooked. Still, this is a nice piece of noir, occasionally running on parallel timelines, with plenty of directorial style from a twenty-eight-year-old Kubrick. Some might take issue with the film's heavyhanded irony, but it's all somewhat redeemed by the perfection with which Hayden delivers his final line. The Killing didn't do well at the box office, however as often happens with films from directors who later become icons, opinions have shifted over the decades. But even if modern day critics are in agreement that The Killing is a top effort, it still won't be everyone's cup of tea. You'll just have to judge for yourself.
Look who's all grown up.
Above, a promotional photo of Iowa born actress Sue Lyon, who played Dolores Haze in the film version of Lolita. In Vladimir Nabokov's shocking but excellent book Haze was a pre-teen, but for Stanley Kubrick's 1962 adaptation the character was made into a teen. Lyon was fourteen at the time of shooting, but this nice shot was made when she was twenty-one in 1967. She went on to good parts in Night of the Iguana and Tony Rome, but managed only about a dozen cinematic roles before leaving movies behind for good in 1980.
Author Jack Torrance redefines writer’s block by turning into one.
Remember Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining, in which we see Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance spending weeks writing his great American novel, only to learn near the climax that the entire manuscript consists of a single repeated sentence? Well, now you can buy Jack Torrance’s masterpiece. It’s called, of course, All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy, and consists of that sentence over, and over, and over. Quick to read but slow to comprehend, this confounding but ultimately visionary work will likely secure an honored place for Torrance alongside other fictional fiction writers, such as Paul Sheldon and Joan Wilder. All Work is available online here. Get ’em while they’re hot.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
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