Friday, December 26, 2008

Stanley Kubrick and Elisha Cook, Jr.

I notice that today is the birth anniversary of character actor Elisha Cook, Jr. I've recommended his movie Don't Bother To Knock before, so will recommend something completely different today: The Killing. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick, and it's just as good as the later movies for which Kubrick is more remembered.

The movie has an "all-star" cast of B actors in a mid-1950s post-noir crime story: Sterling Hayden (almost reprising a role he had done several years earlier in The Asphalt Jungle) plays a man who plans the robbery of the takings at a race track, with a gang involving people both on the outside, and race-track workers. The plan is that, after the robbery, they'll all meet at a predetermined location, but you know that something is going to go wrong. As such, the movie is almost formulaic, but the 1950s movies crime dramas have a sense of realism about them that makes them seem both gritty and fresh, and well worth watching. Not only that, but doing it by the numbers is a big plus for Kubrick and The Killing: later movies like 2001, where Kubrick had the directorial power and budget to do whatever he wanted, come across as more self-indulgent.

No, The Killing is a much littler picture. The lack of a "name" cast makes the story more important, and that story really shines, and allows these B actors to show just how good they could be. In addition to Hayden and Cook, there's Marie Windsor as Cook's long-suffering wife; Vince Edwards as Windsor's girlfriend, who learns about the robbery and wants in on it; and Ted de Corsia, who played wrestler Willie Garza in The Naked City, showing up as a police officer.

If you've seen a bunch of 1950s crime dramas, The Killing may not seem too original, although that shouldn't detract from the film's quality. If you haven't, it's an excellent place to start on the genre. Happily, The Killing is available on DVD.

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