Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining by Stephen King
Music by: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Tony Burton

The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 146 Minutes (premiere), 144 Minutes (US cut), 119 Minutes (European cut)

Review:

“Here’s Johnny!” – Jack Torrance

My big Halloween treat this year was getting to see The Shining on the big screen!

People often ask me what the greatest horror movie of all-time is. The Shining is always the first motion picture to pop into my mind and frankly, it has always been my favorite. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very close second.

The reason I love this film so much is because it is a masterpiece. It is perfect in every regard. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the music, the sound, the lighting, the whole overall ambiance: everything.

Some people, Stephen King included, were critical over the fact that Stanley Kubrick didn’t include some of the elements of King’s novel. King was even instrumental in the film being remade as a miniseries for television in the 1990s but that version falls short in every way. While this is based off of King’s writings, the film is very much a Kubrick picture and to be honest, Kubrick is the stronger artist of the two, especially behind the camera, because do you really want to try and compare King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive to The Shining?

Books and film are two different mediums and even then, The Shining film is better than The Shining book. Besides, walking shrub animals just wouldn’t fit into this film in a believable way.

As great as Jack Nicholson has always been, it is hard to think of a film where he shined more than he did here, pun intended. As Jack Torrance, Nicholson became the top movie monster, as far as a singular performance goes. Sure, he might not look as cool as Dracula or Freddy Krueger but he is much more terrifying and has a presence that no other actor has matched in a horror picture.

Shelley Duvall also nailed her role and honestly, she has never been better than she was in The Shining. A lot of her performance was enhanced, behind the scenes, by Kubrick terrorizing her on set. He did this in an effort to generate an authentic performance and it worked. His technique was harsh but it wasn’t any different than what many auteur directors have done in the past. I can’t think of a better actress for the role and Duval really is the character of Wendy. She’s terrified, frail but sweet in a way that your heart goes out to her and you wish you could go into the film and pull her and Danny away from mortal danger.

The film also has a few character actors sprinkled in. There is Scatman Crothers, who plays Mr. Holloran, an older cook that has the power to “shine” like the child Danny. His death still bothers me every time I watch the film because all he wanted to do was help Wendy and Danny escape the hell they were trapped in. Joe Turkel, most known as Tyrell from Blade Runner, plays the hotel bartender. Tony Burton, Apollo Creed’s trainer from the Rocky films, also has a small role as the owner of a garage.

While this is considered a ghost story and a haunted house movie on the grandest scale, it is more about madness and isolation. While the Overlook Hotel is incredibly haunted and ghosts appear to steer Jack into his state of madness, you feel as if none of this wouldn’t happen if the family wasn’t trapped in this massive snowed in lodge, by themselves for five months. You also get the feeling that Jack was already going to lose his mind and just needed a little push. It is also a film about abusive relationships taken to the extreme.

The film is full of violence, a good bit of gore and grotesque things but it is so artistic in the application of its imagery that everything seems to have some sort of deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. People have been debating the “hidden messages” in this movie for years. There is even a whole documentary that analyzes that stuff. It’s called Room 237 and I already reviewed it here. It’s not great but for fans of this film, it is still a fun experience.

The Shining is a perfect motion picture. Some people take issue with the way Kubrick handled certain parts of it. Some people also think that it is lacking in substance. It really isn’t something that should be compared to King’s style or other haunted house stories. It is as unique as Stanley Kubrick was. It is the most terrifying tale that the auteur director has ever crafted and horror films like this just don’t exist anywhere else.

Film Review: Blade Runner (1982)

Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Vangelis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong

The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Blade Runner Partnership, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes (original workprint), 116 Minutes (original US theatrical), 117 Minutes (international theatrical), 114 Minutes (US television broadcast), 116 Minutes (The Director’s Cut), 117 Minutes (The Final Cut)  

Review:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty

Blade Runner is a classic but I think my appreciation of it is different than that of most. While I see a lot of weaknesses and flaws with it, which I’ll explain, the pros most certainly outweigh the cons by a tremendous amount.

For me, Blade Runner is an incredibly slow paced film. Not a lot really happens in it. You quickly understand the setup and the hunt that is taking place, as well as the fact that the main character, Deckard, is falling in love with the very thing he is hunting. There are a lot of layers here that could be explored in more depth but everything is just sort of presented on the surface and not explored beyond a sort of subtle emotional response to the proceedings. You never really know what Deckard is thinking but the film also works in that regard, even if I feel that it makes it hard to align your emotions with the characters’.

Blade Runner is a very topical film. What I mean by that is that there are all these beautiful and mysterious things in the forefront but the substance of what is really behind it all isn’t greatly explored or understood. You have some clues with the conversations Deckard has with Rachael and Batty but most of the characters feel as soulless as the Replicants were intended to be. I don’t blame the acting, which is superb, I blame the ambiguous way that the film was written, as it leaves you perplexed and with more questions than answers, really. And frankly, it is hard to care about those questions without the emotional investment in the characters living in this world.

Speaking of which, Ridley Scott created such a cool and stunning world that I wanted to know more about it. I truly wanted to experience and live in it, alongside these characters, but it is hard to do that when everything feels so cold, emotionless and distant. But this also begs the question, which people have been asking for decades, is Deckard also a Replicant and if so, is that what the tone of the film is very blatantly implying? I would have to say yes but I guess that question won’t truly be answered until this film’s sequel finally comes out later this year, a 35 year wait since this picture came out.

As I already pointed out, the film takes place in an incredible looking world. While it is the Los Angeles of the future, two years from now to be exact, it is a cold, dark and dreary place highlighted by flaming industrial smokestacks and neon signs. Scott made his future Los Angeles look otherworldly and menacing, tapping into the fears of where we could find ourselves in a world that further urbanizes itself, where we are all living in dark metropolises blanketed by dark smoky skies.

The music of the film, created by Vangelis, is absolutely perfect. It is one of the best scores ever produced for a film and its magnificence will be hard to top in the upcoming sequel. The end titles song of the film is one of my favorite pieces of music ever created.

The film is very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In reality, it just shares a few concepts and ideas and Blade Runner is really its own thing, where Dick’s novel was more or less the kernel of an idea that Hampton Fancher and David Peoples turned into this tech-noir tale. Honestly, someone could do a true adaptation of the novel and no one would probably pick up on it being the same material. But Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors of all-time and anything inspired by his work will get my attention. But I probably wouldn’t have found his work as early as I did in life, had it not been for this movie and really, this film is what gave his work notoriety, after his death.

Blade Runner is not a film for everyone. In fact, when I have shown it to people over the years, I’ve gotten more negative or baffled responses than I have positive ones. I think it is a film that works for those who already know it or who grew up in a time when it was well-known. There was nothing like it at the time but there was a lot like it after it made its impact on pop culture. I don’t think that The Terminator would have been quite the same film had Blade Runner not come out two years before it.

It will be interesting to see where a sequel can go and what it answers and how. But we’ve got a month or so to wait for that. But it’s already been over 35 years, so what’s a month?