Stanley Kubrick’s second effort, Killer’s Kiss, is notable for two reasons and two reasons only. The first is that it shows just how much Kubrick learned after his first feature, the dreadful Fear and Desire, and the second is that it’s probably the only film noir style picture with a happy ending (it might even be the only Kubrick film with a happy ending). It’s not a great film or even a particularly good one, but despite the weak story it shows Kubrick starting to get a handle on the visuals.
Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a semi-successful boxer who turns into a failure of a boxer after he looses his last big fight. He agrees to come out and visit his aunt and uncle in Seattle, but before he can leave, he notices some commotion in the apartment across the way. He goes to break it up and chases Vinny Rapello (Frank Silvera), the owner of a dance hall, out of Gloria’s (Irene Kane) apartment. Gloria works for Vinny and he confuses it for love. Gloria puts the moves on Davey, who is quickly caught between Gloria’s charms and Vinny’s wrath.
In many ways, Killer’s Kiss feels like a warm up for Kubrick’s next picture The Killing, also a film noir. Killer’s Kiss takes a very common noir plot, hapless fellow ensnared by a femme fatale, and waters it down considerably. There’s really nothing else going on in the film besides this. It’s all told in flashback, common for noirs. As I said previously, it does have a happy ending, which is very strange. It feels sort of tacked on at the end, but by the time that comes around I wasn’t too interested in what was happening anymore. There’s an extended chase scene right before the happy ending that goes on way too long, but nevertheless I was very surprised when the ending came around.
While The Killing is a fully fledged Kubrick film through and through, Killer’s Kiss feels like something that he was still experimenting with. There are several interesting set pieces, including a fight in a mannequin storage house near the end, but the overall film is not very compelling. Kubrick also shows a good use of high contrast lighting throughout, something that would only further improve in The Killing.
The scene where Gordon looses his fight is actually very interesting. Though clearly not as stylized or memorable, it’s hard to watch this scene and not be reminded of Raging Bull. Besides the similarities in the content of the scene, which is obvious enough, Kubrick manages to get really close to the fighters. It also starts out with an interesting bit of foreshadowing with Gordon frames off in his corner by the other fighter’s bent leg.
Killer’s Kiss is not a good film, but it’s far from terrible. I had a much easier time paying attention to it than Fear and Desire, that’s for sure. Kubrick’s first three films are very interesting because they proceed just like you’d think they would: Fear and Desire is terrible, Killer’s Kiss is getting there, and The Killing is amazing. In the space of three years, Kubrick learned an incredible amount of film making technique and storytelling; it’s quite inspiring to watch.
“Like the man said, ‘Can happiness buy money?'”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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