The Killing (1956) – Review by A.H. Weiler

Though The Killing is composed of familiar ingredients and it calls for fuller explanations, it evolves as a fairly diverting melodrama.
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by A.H. Weiler

The poor man’s sage who first noted that “all horse players die broke” not only was right but awfully conservative. The Killing, which was unveiled at the Mayfair on Saturday, is a sharp, black-and-white illustration of the theory that the odds are against both a daring gang who rob a race track and the bettors, to judge by the robbers’ record “take.” Though The Killing is composed of familiar ingredients and it calls for fuller explanations, it evolves as a fairly diverting melodrama.

Stanley Kubrick, the film’s youthful director, who also wrote the script, was not being niggardly in his stakes. The motley crew headed by Johnny Clay, the ex-convict who devises the scheme for the big “killing,” shoots at nothing less than a $2,000,000 haul. The preparations for this coup are reminiscent but not nearly as imaginative as those of the classic, The Asphalt Jungle. And, the motivations and backgrounds of a few of the mob appear to be weak considering their blameless backgrounds and the risks involved.

Mr. Kubrick has kept things moving at a lively clip as the plotting is revealed in timetable fashion. Sterling Hayden makes a restrained but hard and efficient leader. His Johnny Clay is a tough citizen who knows the dangers his boys will face and he takes no chances. Elisha Cook does well by the role of a Caspar Milquetoast of a race-track cashier who is willing to risk his neck to buy the love of his wife. As that two-timer, Marie Windsor is properly cheap, brassy and decorative.

Kola Kwarian, as a wrestler who aids in the hold-up, and Tim Carey, as a psychopathic gunman, contribute a couple of realistic characterizations, and Joe Sawyer, as a track bartender looking for quick money to help his ailing wife; Jay C. Flippen, as an aging member of the gang; Ted DeCorsia, as a corrupt cop; Vince Edwards, as Miss Windsor’s boy friend, and Coleen Gray, as Mr. Hayden’s fiancée, are interesting but not new types.

Aficionados of the sport of kings will discover that Mr. Kubrick’s cameras have captured some colorful shots of the ponies at Bay Meadows track. Other observers should find The Killing an engrossing little adventure. Chances are it will be less exhausting than a day at the track.

The New York Times, May 21, 1956

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