Two lonely people lead parallel lives mirrored in a pair of low-rent apartments. He, a boxer, prepares for a prize fight against his next opponent. She, a taxi-dancer, readies herself for a night of fending off a different type of contender. As they dress, they steal glances at each other across a courtyard just too wide to reach across. The rectangular window frames through which they view each other, mimics the camera frame through which we, the audience, watch them. However, once these two characters break frame and leave their respective rooms, their lives – and their troubles – intertwine. The movie is legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s “Killer’s Kiss” (1955), a taut tale of two lost souls looking to escape the urban jungle, featured all May (2022) on MGM HD.
“Killer’s Kiss” was Kubrick’s second feature film, and part of the pleasure of the movie is the chance to see a young filmmaker at work. Before he pursued directing, Kubrick had been a street photographer, influenced by the great tabloid photographer Weegee (aka Arthur Felig), where he developed an eye for capturing city life by night. He was also employed as a photojournalist for “LOOK” Magazine, where he honed his talent for visual storytelling. All of this is evident in the film: much of the story is told through images and minimal dialog that moves the plot along in a brisk 67-minute running time.
The story follows Davey (Jamie Smith), a boxer who, having lost one fight too many, decides to return home to the family farm in Washington state. When he convinces his pretty blonde neighbor Gloria (Irene Kane) to join him, they run afoul of her boss Vincent (character actor Frank Silvera) a low-level gangster and owner of the seedy Times Square ballroom where she works. It’s a noirish tale that takes the viewer from bare-bulb Brooklyn tenements to dingy dance halls, and to the seamy side streets of midtown Manhattan.
Despite being shot on a shoestring budget, the sequences are thoughtfully plotted. A cat and mouse chase between Davey and Vincent up and down the stairs of Gloria’s apartment building near the beginning of the film is a masterclass in limited location use and editing. Look for a tracking shot following Gloria crossing Times Square that looks as if it must have been filmed guerilla-style from the bed of a truck. Kubrick’s trademark sense of poetry is on full display as well – there’s a battle between Davey and Vincent in a mannequin shop that serves as both metaphor for two men fighting over a woman as well as a thrilling and dangerous action sequence.
In time, Kubrick would be known for large-scale epics, meticulous attention to detail, formal compositions, and heady ideas. In “Killer’s Kiss,” Kubrick is concerned with a story that is more intimate and shot with a sense of looseness and urgency. Take a walk on the wild side with Stanley Kubrick’s “Killer’s Kiss” all this May (2022) on MGM HD.