Ryster’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s only understandable that even the best of us, the most talented, had our small beginnings. In this case Stanley Kubrick, a founding father of modern cinema, had his start with a film that he’d rather forget. He compared his first feature, Fear and Desire, to that of a child’s drawing stuck on a fridge. Needless to say he quickly disowned that film. So that then brings us here, to his second feature, as he considered it his student film project era. Killer’s Kiss is a 1955 noir thriller with little to no bite. In terms of the period in which this was originally released I’d say it lacks competition with other films in its genre. If I was to have seen this in 1955, I would never have imagined that it’s director would go on to create some of the greatest and most timeless films. At just over an hour long, Killer’s Kiss really does feel small.
In saying that however, there are sprinkles of a foundation beginning. Within the intelligently placed silhouettes and shadows, and in the urgency of a final fight, Kubrick’s iconic direction can be spotted ever so slightly. This being if you’ve seen his other works. Use of narration and muted performances in order to express the story in an unconventional way. Kubrick’s genius in going against cinematic standards is clear as he tells this story of a has-been boxer through a majority of flashbacks. The amount being something that was really unheard of for a film at that time. Unfortunately, the execution isn’t particularly captivating. Instead of being intrigued with how the character of Davey Gordon got to where he is at the beginning of the film, you begin to forget that what you’re watching is a flashback in the first place.
The background to this film ends up becoming even more interesting than the actual film itself. The shoestring budget that lead Kubrick to fight his hardest in order to get it made. Supposed stories of Kubrick negotiating with homeless beggars in order to film a scene in a back alley. The post production troubles that lead to the recorded audio being unusable. It’s a wonder that this film even got completed. In knowing all that, while watching the film I will admit that you can hardly ever tell that the audio has been re-recorded and played over the film and that the on location scenes that Kubrick wasn’t supposed to film are surprisingly well orchestrated. There is a certain level of talent behind the camera here that is still admirable and it’s for that reason that this is an intriguing watch.
The acting is nothing to write home about, with no one really delivering a gripping performance. In fact, all the actors seem like they either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t really want to be there (and either case may be entirely true). There is a moment however, at the beginning of the third act and at the end of the hour, where a chase ensues and a fight commences. And it’s quite exciting. The film finally gets its surge of energy and grips the viewer. The shot composition is eerie with mannequins providing lifeless viewers to the fight to the death, and both Frank Silvera and Jamie Smith feel like they’re out for each others blood. It’s urgent, brutal and quite violent for a small, independent, 1955 film. I was impressed. And then the film ends. It wasn’t enough to convert me completely into liking this and calling this an underrated Kubrick film.
In the end, this is nowhere close to the heights that Kubrick got to in his career. For the most part it’s not even that good. But there is small things to be found here and there that prove that even at an early age that Kubrick was going to be one to watch. It’s only just over an hour long, but it has the pacing of a snail and rather mediocre performances from a small cast. If you want to see a genius at his beginnings, or you’re a Kubrick completionist, then there’s sufficient reason to give this at least one viewing. Other than that, this isn’t worth the short amount of time.