Considered to be “his first mature feature”, The Killing (1956) came to define Kubrick’s distinctive cinematic voice. The 27 year-old Kubrick was drawn to the crime novel Clean Break, written by Pulp novelist Lionel White. The novel tells a story about an ingenious scheme to rob a race track, which would become the backbone of Kubrick’s The Killing.
The Killing infuses the moral ambiguities of noir with the thrill-seeking atmosphere of the race track, keeping the viewer clinging to the edge of their seat. The narrative of the film is punctuated with a detached and documentary-style narration, which consistently transports the audience back and forth through the plot. The film has a delineated narrative, which disrupts the typical step by step scheming found in heist films. This distortion of time provides us with glimpses of each of the character’s individual arcs. Though the shifting timeline and disruption of the flow of events may have a jarring effect, the film retains its audience’s attention and interest through its rich atmosphere and wry dialogue.
The story follows an unlikely group of individuals brought together by veteran criminal, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hay) in attempts to rob the Los Angeles race track. Each of the men venture on this risky job with the belief that the stolen riches will open up opportunities that were previously unattainable. Johnny needs the money so that he can run away with his innocent lover, Fay (Coleen Gray), corrupted police officer Randy (Ted DeCorsia) wants to pay off a malicious loan shark, book keeper Mike (Joe Sawyer) wishes to take care of his sick wife and bartender Marvin (Jay C. Flippen) hopes to maintain an odd paternal relationship with Johnny. The final addition to this ensemble is the weak-minded clerk, George Peatty (Elisha Cook). He naively partakes in the heist with the belief that the money will salvage his withering marriage and satisfy his harpy wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor). The interactions between George and Sherry Peatty were the most entertaining within Kubrick’s puzzling heist. They are the only two characters which transcend the main narrative of the robbery.