The title and poster art for The Killing were obviously designed to emphasize the film’s noir elements. However, while the plot does revolve around a crime, and there is a femme fatale, the film lacks the weight and visual style of quintessential noir films such as Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep. Moreover, Marie Windsor’s portray of the fatale is so over the top as to render it almost comical. The film is more of, and works better as, a straightforward heist story, focusing on the details of the crime and the meticulous planning that went into it rather than the characters and the relationships between them. Because the crime is somewhat complicated, there are a lot of dots to be connected. Unfortunately, this brings us to films biggest weakness. To do this, Kubrick chose to use a rather mechanical sounding voice-over that delivers a play-by-play of the action. The device simply is not used well here, though one wonders if it isn’t the inspiration for its later use to much greater effect in the TV series Dragnet. Still, for fans of caper films, it may be worthwhile. Per Wikipedia, although it tanked at the box office, “the film was critically acclaimed, landing on several critical Top-Ten lists for the year” and is furthermore noted as having since gained a cult following. Rotten Tomatoes lists its rating as “97% fresh,” and while I personally would rate it considerably lower, I did very much enjoy the ending, which is clever and brings to mind the Robert Burns line about the best laid plans of mice and men.
Additional Thoughts and Notes:
(1) Couldn’t help wondering if the clown mask Head Ledger wears as The Joker in the recent Batman film isn’t an homage to this film. Check it out in the trailer at around 0:12.