Review: The Killing DVD

The Killing DVD boxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick | CAST: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Timothy Carey, Elisha Cook Jr., Joe Sawyer, Vince Edwards
RELEASE DATE: 8/16/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: restored version of Kubrick’s 1955 film Killer’s Kiss, new video interviews, vintage Sterling Hayden interview excerpts, more
SPECS: NR | 85 min. | Crime thriller | 1.66:1 widescreen | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The Killing

Sterling Hayden plots a racetrack robbery in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing.

Stanley Kubrick’s (Barry Lyndon) indispensable 1956 racetrack robbery film noir The Killing has never looked better than it does in Criterion’s new DVD edition.

Told via the kind of radical-for-its-time splintered narrative that Quentin Tarantino has favored (or co-opted) for years, The Killing weaves a nihilistic tale of a racetrack robbery orchestrated by tough-guy Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove), peppered for maximum impact with a sharp screenplay by the great pulp writer Jim Thompson. Thompson’s gritty dialog is delivered by a supporting cast of legendary character actors that includes Coleen Gray (Red River), Timothy Carey (Paths of Glory) and Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon).

A movie that’s highly regarded for the stark black-and-white cinematography that both underscores and enhances its shady and deceitful characters, The Killing is filled with rich and dramatic images. On this DVD, the blacks are liquidy and pure and the “brighter” scenes, particularly the exteriors at the racetrack, are strong and well-detailed. Kubrick’s Killing and its players live in a place of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal — it’s truly a black-and-white world, and that’s definitely what we’re looking at here. Okay, there are some grays, too, but they also look sweet…

Leading of the excellent collection of supplements — if you can even call this first one a “supplement” — is a restored version of Kubrick’s atmospheric 1955 noir Killer’s Kiss, about a prize fighter (Jamie Smith) who gets involved with a dancer (Irene Kane) and her bad-boy boss (Frank Silvera). It was young Kubrick’s second film, and though it’s not nearly as engaging as The Killing, it’s required for fans of the filmmaker. (Not to mention that it looks and sounds great on this disc!)

Among the other fine DVD bonus features are Killing-related excerpts from a vintage interview with ever-manly star Hayden, taken from a 1986 installment of the French television documentary series Cinéma cinémas. In it, the actor talks about being leery of Kubrick at the outset, but when he saw the confidence and apparent expertise that Kubrick brought to his craft, he quickly got behind his director.

The most engrossing extra is a new 20-minute interview with Killing producer James B. Harris, who offers an in-depth look as the production of the film, beginning with his introduction to Kubrick via a friend and Kubrick’s subsequent invitation to him to attend a screening of Killer’s Kiss. And then the two decided to make a movie…

Harris also humorously recalls first approaching Hayden about acting in The Killing. When Harris told Hayden that the film was to be directed by Stanley Kubrick, Hayden said “Stanley Kramer?” When Harris responded, “No, Stanley Kubrick,” Hayden replied, “Stanley who?” He wouldn’t say that now.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.