Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 6/18/99
1955 (1999) - MGM/United
review by Todd Doogan,
special to The Digital Bits
Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/B
Specs and Features
67 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered,
Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4 page production
booklet, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20
chapters), languages: English (DD mono), subtitles: English &
French, Close Captioned
Stanley Kubrick put
his early career as a photographer to good use with his second film,
the film noir classic Killer's Kiss.
Kubrick started his prolific career as a Look
magazine staff photographer, at the ripe old age of 17. Always a fan
of movies, he quit in 1950 to focus on a motion picture career.
After a few short documentaries, and a self-financed independent
film, Kubrick made Killer's Kiss
as a one-man show. A 26-year-old, Kubrick secured the financing
through family members, and on the shoot he did everything, from
operating the camera, to editing, foley, directing, and writing.
Basically, Kubrick did everything but act in the damn thing. I think
every bit of Kubrick ended up on celluloid here, because the passion
he had for this film is very clearly defined.
Killer's Kiss is a pretty
short film, but no matter the length, it wallops you over the head
like a punch-drunk boxer. The story involves a long-out-of his-prime
fighter, Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), who is pretty much done in the
world of boxing. He's got a weak chin, and can't even go a full
round before being knocked down 3 or 4 times. Knowing his time is
up, Davey takes an offer from his uncle to come to Seattle and work
on a horse ranch. It sounds like a slow but fulfilling life, except
for the fact that Davey gets sucked into the world of the dance hall
racket, when he decides to "save" a young girl from her
gangster boyfriend Travis Bickle-style. Nothing goes right, people
die, and characters turn on one another. The whole thing ends inside
a mannequin shop with two people fighting amid detached and
disassembled human forms.
Killer's Kiss is a well-drawn
film-noir. It's a compelling thriller, and it does offer some pretty
wild characters. But that's not what's going to draw you into this
world. The thing that sets Killer's Kiss
apart from every other early career film, is the way it was shot.
New York comes alive on film in the way Kubrick photographs it. A
chase across New York rooftops looks so good, you wish it went on
longer so you could enjoy the detail more. It's simply stunning.
Kubrick's use of light and shadow makes you think back to those
early boxing photos, where there was no gray - just black and just
white. The boxing match and the climatic fight in the mannequin shop
are simply beautiful. I can't get the images out of my mind.
The film is badly in need of restoration, and I wish that MGM had
done some repair work to the film before they put it on DVD. There
are dirt specks, tears and simple wear evident everywhere on the
source print. On the DVD, it all becomes more apparent due to the
nice transfer. The black and white, and light and shadow, all look
wonderful on this disc. The soundtrack is fine in its original mono,
but it was flawed from the beginning with bad foley (sound effects
done by Kubrick), synch problems, and muffled dialogue. All of this
was due to its low production cost, and lack of professional
equipment (though it's not bad for a kid in a room with a microphone
and some props). With regards to the sound, there's not much MGM
could have done. But when it comes to the video, I would have really
liked a restored print. Extras on board include a production history
booklet, and a trailer that seems to be missing the open and closing
titles. I was a bit confused with the trailer's condition.
Killer's Kiss is a wonderful
film, that showed audiences the true promise of a young genius named
Stanley Kubrick. Today, it stands to remind future filmmakers that
they have a long way to go. Even with a low budget,
less-than-stellar actors, and no crew, Kubrick turned in a film most
filmmakers only wish they could make. That says much about the power
of Kubrick's work. In a word, Killer's
Films of Stanley Kubrick on DVD