Raphael Georg Klopper’s review published on Letterboxd:
I think some people take for granted the fact on how actual smart Stanley Kubrick was already in his early years as a filmmaker. Often is discussed on how by those early days he still was a filmmaker in search of his voice and refinement of his ever growing style, and while that’s all fundamental true, he also showed to be a real smart ass while actually knowing his limits, but also knowing exactly what he could do and draw out of it. For that, you can actually see on Killer’s Kiss how Kubrick is clearly using the film’s very own making and existence only to take him to future greater heights, is a B Noir made for the easy buck entertainment value and with almost forced cheesy happy ending that clearly wasn’t fitting to the overall tone of the almost hopelessly depressing story told here, but even still, the film does carry a voice and touch of its own behind the camera.
Sure he was trying to prove he could work WONDERS even with such a miserably low budget, but still create something that feels completely unique and of his own trace. On one hand being eager to make his very own version of Robert Wise's masterpiece Set Up, sharing some clear familiar elements with the “Boxing Noir” aspect, but as he was trying to get on the Noir filmmaking you can also notice how Kubrick very well did his homework and seeks to construct a film Noir that similarly walks in the Hard-Boiled lines of films like Ulmer’s Detour, Dassin’s Naked City, Mann’s Raw Deal; but in the other hand of it all, he follows a more ‘rudimentary’ Noir approach.
Because this clearly isn’t your average tragic crime story turn into a character tragedy as it’s a familiar (and great) convention in Noir films, though it follows that main basis of plot writing, Kubrick rather decides to focus the attention of his camera into a plot that’s actually focusing on people trying to escape from loneliness and their lives condemned to doldrums and personal failures, and that only leads them to a path of death and misfortune in love. There is an empty, dirty and silent vastness present here, which goes from the epically gigantic alleys to even in the busiest streets, and also reflected in the hopeless, frustrated and trapped character’s faces without being able or allowed to express themselves properly.
While Kubrick would forever be criticized for having characters with actors performing robotic and emotionless performances (a forever sad understatement), that same characteristic was already here playing a narrative purpose in the film’s overall tone of an almost poetic realism mixed with bitter touches of neorealism inside the B-scope of a basic Noir feature. From the way his camera shots the vastness of its alleys and streets focusing on the banal sight of shop windows, street performers, the claustrophobic subways and dirty streets tortured by wind and garbage; there already was an transgressive avant-garde rebel living inside Kubrick, anticipating what would become years of experimental styles by decades only in his small poor mediocrity doing low budget independent pictures.
But again, building the author he was to become by the different approach decisions he was making in usual storytelling grounds. For one, this movie is rather boldly being way more visual storytelling than actual screenwriting, that its own presence in the film becomes to feel detractive of what the already great visual almost theatrical voyeurism of Kubrick is telling about this people with so little said, especially in the first great intro minutes, maybe the best half of the entire pretty one-hour short film, telling everything about this characters without barely saying a word aside the initial Noirish narration, before even going to play with the narration factor itself on later sequences.
Like the ballet dream or memory sequence, that through a rather compellingly well written monologue that taunts your attention to every word spoken by Gloria (Irene Kane)’s character talking about her past, while the visuals on screen are of her ballerina sister dancing unstoppably in the dark stage lit only by an above light, exploring with such scenic simplicity the limits of experimental storytelling. Something that gets repeated itself through the molds on which the film builds itself look, tone and appearance, while Kubrick was bringing all his knowledge of photojournalism and cinematography to its visual use and creates these real portraits with his camera silently following the movements of his characters inside the cubicles on where they live.
With Long pan-shots, quiet tracking, freezing the frame focus, and with the help of the SUPERB work of light and shadows of his own cinematography, he creates these peaceful pictures that look like real paintings. Shaping a form of a silent and somber poetry, enigmatic in all its features and visual components, an prison of an almost living dream impossible to wake up. And just as it was in Fear and Desire, its main premise seems to be simple and direct, but there is something else here where the eyes don’t reach under the almost abstract surfaces that Kubrick creates in his characters that sometimes seem to be made out of porcelain woven from their usual characteristics of characters of the specific genre, but which again, perhaps have more to reveal than just the simple premise of forbidden love leading to crime and tragic decline may suggest.
But the tragedy told here is not purely and simply in the way it is told, but what is behind each of the characters and their actions, it is a much more lethal tragedy, as it is intimate and personal. This is a story of failed losers, a boxer (Davey - Jamie Smith) who can barely win a fight, who lives in a poor apartment in total loneliness, and the first woman in whom he starts something emotionally, changes and sacrifices all its miserable existence.
While Gloria is a woman who is a slave of her own body, a little girl trapped in time and in a woman's body, haunted by a past filled with pain, loss and hatred. Who uses her body to survive, even to the point of later betraying Davey, the man who says she loves just to have a chance to live, as a good femme fatale would do. And Davey himself is taken as a coward that tries to escapes when he can barely save Gloria from the henchmen of Vinnie Rapallo (Frank Silvera) Gloria's frustrated lover, and who is perhaps the most emotionally charged character in the film and with a genuinely good performance by Silvera. Who even within his figure of a disgusting antagonist, carries with him a mentally broken human being, in search of maintaining his sexual and loving comfort close to him to supply his sick need, by any darker means necessary.
Enhancing that the stakes of the love triangle conflict that ensues on the movie has this pretty small intimate scale, but its consequences at stake show to seek deeper layers to play with its characters, and with an unstoppable energy that explodes on the final acts once the plot thickens its suspense and shows its real colors. Is a real RAW brutal film that shows itself at those moments, from out of nowhere neck bites to a fight throwdown with axes and spears inside a mannequin’s warehouse taken straigh out of a horror film; it shows a movie eager and ready to blow at any moment just for the cathartic shock to remind us that this, as a dreamy reality is it may be, is also a real world of violence and consequences luring on top of its characters actions and reactions.
Like said before, it’s a little movie, specially little compared of course of what Kubrick would later accomplish in so many greater highs, but he wasn’t doing at all bad for himself in his early years as Killer’s Kiss may very wells showcase and represent. Not only a movie where Kubrick left his little mark on the independent cinema and the Noir genre, but also one where he was already showcasing the reach of his vision and sense of originality while approaching genre and filmmaking itself, and definitely packing here some real great stuff while at it! Is a film that definitely deserves more respect and attention that it gets!