Sunday, April 7, 2013

Killer's Kiss (1955)

'Killer's Kiss' from 1955 was Stanley Kubrick's 2nd feature length movie as well as his first film noir. His second one being the well-known and critically acclaimed 'The Killing' from a year later of course. Stanley Kubrick co-wrote, directed, co-produced, edited, did the cinematography and probably made coffee first thing in the morning for everybody working on this movie. Due to inexperience with using a soundcrew, he ended up taping the movie without sound, and adding in all sound and dialogue afterwards. By that time however, main actress Irene Kane (who would later on become a journalist under the name Chris Chase), was no longer available, so someone else had to do her voice, an actress named Peggy Lobbin. It might explain why Kane's character in the movie comes across as wooden and awkward. But I digress...

The story revolves around 3 characters: over-the-hill prize-fighter Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), taxi dancer Gloria Price (Irene Kane) who works in a dance hall owned by Vincent Rappalo (Frank Silvera) who's obsessed with her. Gordon and Price live in the same apartment block and their windows are opposite each other, so they occasionally catch a glimpse of each other. One night, after Gordon loses a televised fight watched by Rappalo and Price, Rappalo goes over to Gloria's apartment and he gets a bit too frisky with her. She starts to scream, and Gordon hears her and runs over to help her. Rappalo is long gone by then, but it is the first real contact Davey and Gloria have. The next morning they have breakfast and Gloria tells Davey the story of how she became a taxi dancer, a paid dance partner. Before they know it they're in a relationship, born more out of a need for real human contact than anything else. Davey's uncle George who owns a horse farm in Seattle has asked him to come over for a vacation, and Davey's thinking of moving there to work. He wants Gloria to come with him, and she accepts. They both try to get their last payment, Davey from his manager and Gloria from Rappalo and that's when things go haywire. Rappalo doesn't want to let Gloria go that easily, so he has his men kidnap her, but not after they kill Davey's manager due to a mix-up, and the movie rapidly moves to a violent climax in a mannequin factory where Rappalo and Davey face off.

The story is fairly straight-forward, and doesn't need all that much time to play out. In fact, it takes less than an hour. Maybe that's why Kubrick added a fairly unrelated scene where Gloria recounts the story of her father and her sister and how she ended up as a taxi dancer. The scene shows her sister Iris, a ballerina, in a solo dance with Gloria narrating. It's quite unnecessary for the story and serves little purpose. Iris however was played by Ruth Sobotka, who was Kubrick's wife at the time, so maybe that explains things.

Jamie Smith and Irene Kane are not exactly great actors, and Frank Silvera is the saving grace of this movie acting-wise. But the cinematography really helps this movie. Even though Kubrick was still fairly inexperienced at this point, his eye for beautiful and clever shots was already present. He utilizes a (now mostly torn down) industrial area of Manhattan in effective ways to create claustrophobia and tension and show rundown building and empty, grey streets. Also the strange angles he uses during Davey's fight help tremendously with that scene.

There are 2 musical themes that are repeated several times. One is a softer, more romantic theme which gets played (in varying ways) during the more mellow parts of the movie. Then there's a more upbeat samba-like theme, which gets played during the more tension-filled scenes. Pretty nice touches. Then during the final scene in the mannequin factory, when the two men finally square off, the music stops and the echo-ing sounds of their footsteps and weapons hitting materials are the only sounds left. The soundtrack is actually quite clever this way, it compliments/mimics the mood of the film, right until the final fight, when the echoing sounds becomes a soundtrack in itself. Very clever.

The final squaring off itself between Davy and Rappalo is quite insane and brutal. Rappalo is wielding an axe and Davy a sharp-pointed pole, and the way Rappalo is swinging the axe wildly and hitting the mannequins, it really seems like somebody could've gotten seriously hurt during the shooting. It's a great sequence which is more realistic also becuz both men are stumbling around, tripping over broken mannequin parts, throwing whatever they can at each other. It looks anything but choreographed. It's an awesome scene.

Because all sound had to be added afterwards, it comes off rather weird at times. The sounds of Davey and Kid Rodriguez hitting each other during the fight sound rather fake for instance. Which is a shame, the fight itself is filmed in a pretty nice manner with strange angles, such as from between Davey's legs and from the floor looking up between the 2 fighters. It is also apparent often that the dialogue was added afterwards, and the sounds of footsteps are almost invariably out of sync with the visual footsteps. It distracts a bit at times but truth be told, it works to the movie's advantage in the aforementioned fight, the echoing sounds really add tension there.

'Killer's Kiss' is not a classic film noir nor classic Kubrick movie, but it's pretty good nevertheless and especially the last 20 minutes or so are well worth watching.

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