Killer's Kiss ★★★

Neither top-tier Kubrick nor top-tier noir, but still a fascinating artefact for anyone interested in charting the progress of the auteur. It's debatable whether it even constitutes a proper film noir - visually it fits the bill, it's got the voice-over, and there's the seedy urban milieu of back-alley-fire-escape New York, but it also lacks a lot of standard tropes. As ever, it seems Kubrick is less interested in the mechanics of genre than in the framework it provides him for exploring his own preoccupations, most notably at this point, photographic composition. We get a glimpse of Kubrick Future at times, exhibiting his magic eye for framing despite a very limited budget.

The story is pretty rote: a washed-up boxer's love for a gangster's moll (rendered slightly ridiculous by the fact he's known her all of two days before announcing his undying affection) land him a whole heap of trouble. The dialogue is functional, the acting only passable and the score is just kinda there, hanging around aimlessly; it's visual flare where Killer's Kiss scores. Three sequences in particular stood out to me. Firstly, the high shot of the staircase down from the dance hall, the checkerboard pattern drawing the eye to the darkness of the street outside - an exquisite bit of framing. This leads directly to the hit in the alleyway; an extended sequence filmed in deep focus with static camera and great high contrast lighting. The rooftop chase, where the camera pivots through 180, tracking Davey's desperate run, combined with overhead crane shots, is very striking, and finally, the confrontation between Davey and Rapallo in a shadowy room full of half-lit mannequins, which results in a classic axe vs halberd duel and lots of flying dummies!

That ending though... everyone knows a happy ending is a noir no-no. You don't wrap these things up with a tear-jerking reunion; if they're still alive, you rain down cosmic malice on your protagonists' heads and drown them in a sea of existential despair. Get with the program Stan! To be fair, that's a failing he redressed in fine style a year later with the significantly bleaker (and better) The Killing.

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