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The Killing (1956) – Great But Not Noir?

The Killing (1956)
Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a great movie but it is not a film noir. Essentially it is a classic heist gone wrong story filmed in noir style. The view expressed in Steven H.Scheuer’s Movies on TV (1993-94) though brutal is fair: “Crooks plan a daring race-track robbery. Direction by Stanley Kubrick, a newcomer at the time, is unnecessarily arty but interesting.”

For me the most interesting scene is in the Chess parlor where the caper’s mastermind played by Sterling Hayden, recruits a heavy to start a distracting bar-room brawl at the track. The heavy is played by Nicholas (‘Kola’) Kwariani, a professional wrestler and wrestling promoter, and dedicated chess player who frequented “The Flea House” in New York City, which is also where this recruitment scene was filmed. As far as I know this was his only screen appearance ever!

The Killing (1956)

Kwariani has the best lines in the movie, and delivers them with a thick Eastern European accent and a perfect world-weary understanding of exactly what he is saying :

Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)
Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani)

Johnny: Good game, Maurice?

Maurice: Johnny, my old friend. How are you?
Good to see you. Been a long time, eh?
How long have you been out?

Johnny: Not long.

Maurice: It was difficult, no?

Johnny: Yeah.

Maurice: Very difficult.
You have my sympathies, Johnny.
You have not yet learned that you have to be like everyone else.
The perfect mediocrity.
No better, no worse.

Individuality is a monster, and it must be strangled in its cradle to make our friends feel comfortable.

You know, I often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They’re admired and hero-worshipped, but there is always present an underlying wish to see them destroyed at the peak of their glory.

Johnny: Yeah…

Download the full dialog transcript of the screenplay from Drew’s Script-O-Rama.

6 Comments

  1. “The Killing” offers one of a hand full of appropriately dismal–but most memorable–endings in noir/crime film history. The nonlinear, fragmented narrative definitely seems to have inspired more recent filmmakers including the likes of Tarantino with “Pulp Fiction.” Though perhaps belonging more to the crime-caper category, “The Killing’s” noirish elements and downbeat ending have always made me add it to the list of my top ten films noir.

  2. I guess noir is in the eye of the beholder. I would
    call “The Killing” noir for it’s relentless spiral
    into doom, it’s classically bad dame Sherry Peatty
    (Marie Windsor) and it’s final line “What’s the
    difference”.
    According to the Internet Movie Database:
    “The location where Sterling Hayden proposes the deal to Kola Kwariani is a mock-up of the 42nd Street Chess and Checker Parlor in New York City. Director Stanley Kubrick was a regular chess player there as was Kola.”(under trivia) The movie was filmed in San Mateo near San Francisco (note Bay Meadows racetrack), except for the airport scenes
    which were filmed at International Terminal in
    Los Angeles. This information is also from the
    IMDB.
    Other interesting trivia from the IMDB:
    Rodney Dangerfield in an extra in the racetrack
    fight scene. You can see him at about 56 minutes,
    5 seconds into the movie. He is on the far right
    of a group of spectators watching Maurice fight
    off security guards. He is standing behind
    a man who is holding a newspaper with both hands.
    Lenny Bruce is advertised on a burlesque house
    poster about 1 hour, 24 minutes into the film.
    Johnny (Sterling Hayden) is putting a pawnshop
    suitcase into his car. The poster is on the far
    right of the screen.
    Sterling Hayden plays in another great film,
    “Crime Wave” (1954) which was released as a DVD
    by Warner Home Video in 2007. Ted DeCorsia and
    Timothy Carey also appear in both films. Ted DeCorsia
    plays the bent cop, Randy Keenan, in “The Killing”.
    He plays the hoodlum, Doc Penny, in “Crime Wave” &
    is in the first scene. Timothy Carey plays the horse
    shooter in “The Killing”, and a sadistically loony
    gang member (Johnny Haslett, uncredited) in
    “Crime Wave”. He dosn’t say much but is still
    creepy and terrifying.
    According to DVD commentary by noir archeologist and
    historian Eddie Muller, “Crime Wave” is notable for
    it’s crime verite style, done with shoulder cameras
    and in a very short time. It is so real it feels like a documentary. The DVD’s other commentator, crime author James Ellroy, points out that much of the movie was filmed on actual locations in 1950’s
    Los Angeles; the gas station holdup, the LA police headquarters at night with real policemen
    and perpetators, a diner scene with (probably)
    real night shift workers and customers, the outdoor chase scenes.
    “Crime Wave” is worth seeing for the commentary
    of Eddie Muller and James Ellroy alone. It is
    worth watching even more so for the understated,
    stellar performance of Sterling Hayden. Enjoy !

  3. Oops – made a mistake in my earlier comment.
    The Lenny Bruce poster can be seen in
    “The Killing” around 1 hour, 15 minutes,
    18 seconds into the film. Also, great blog
    site. That’s all folks.

  4. david hartzog

    Just about any film that pairs elihsa cook and marie windsor has got to be noir. I think the killing is definately noir, especially with the downbeat, doomed protaganist ending.

  5. sakara

    Steven H.Scheuer’s Movies on TV…some 1980s edition had Scheuer give HALF A STAR! to ‘dirty harry” and ‘death wish’—just because of their politics! Francis the Talking Mule movies got better ratings from him—no joke.

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