Sunday, February 20, 2011

Underrated Movie #107: Killer's Kiss

Title: Killer’s Kiss
Year: 1955
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writer: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Jerry Jerret

The Story: In a nightmarishly corrupt version of Manhattan, a down-on-his-luck boxer and a dime-a-dance girl decide that it’s finally time to flee the big bad city, but her boss doesn’t intend to let her go.

How it Came to be Underrated: Independent auteurs were strictly verboten in America’s movies theaters in 1955. Even after Kubrick became famous, his fans rarely delved this deeply into his back catalogue to discover this self-financed one-man-band gem. But considering that this was the last movie of his that wasn’t an adaptation, it’s one of the purest distillations of his themes, and since he shot it himself, it’s shockingly beautiful and grotesque.

Why It’s Great:

  1. I love the leads of this movie. Silvera really moves like a beefy boxer, Kane really looks like a skinny dancer, and they have a genuine awkwardness that makes their performances feel very unrehearsed and vulnerable. This is what you want from independent movies: a feeling that the veil of “Hollywood” glamour has been lifted.
  2. Film buffs always gasp with delight the first time they see this because they get to finally identify the source of many of the shots of the opening montage that Turner Classic Movies airs before its daytime movies. Kubrick got his start as a street photographer, and then briefly a documentarian, so he got a great eye for picturesque New York grittiness.
  3. Kubrick’s favorite theme was dehumanization, and we get that in spades here. Both characters try to find a way to sell their bodies without selling their souls, and the whole thing ends up in a life-or-death fight in a mannequin factory, just to drive the point home.
  4. I remember being a single young man in the city and imagining that I was going to date some single young women who might live in the next apartment over. Has that ever worked for anyone? Between this and Monsieur Hire, it seems like a pretty dangerous way to meet a girl.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: If I had to guess, I’d say that Kubrick’s two biggest noir influences, both in terms of minimalist style and existential subject matter, were Robert Wise’s The Set-Up and Jules Dassin’s Night and the City. (I would also have suspected Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Big Combo, but it came out the same year.)

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and there’s a particularly beautiful print on Watch Instantly.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Hoax!


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There's an interesting movie from 1983 called Strangers Kiss which is about actors making a film based on Killer's Kiss, and their off-screen story mirrors the plot of the film they are making.

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