- Killer’s Kiss is young (27-years old in 1955) Stanley Kubrick’s sophomore effort after 1953’s Fear and Desire. Both films are short (between 60-70 minutes) and feature intriguing titles- Killer’s Kiss, in particular, has to be up there with the all-time greats.
- It is worth noting that although Kubrick had essentially no budget- this is still shot in 35mm. In the 2020s, nearly seventy years later, some established auteurs are still working on 16mm because of the higher cost of 35mm.
- Kubrick’s background was in photography- and this is an ode to 1950s New York City- and to the night- which sort of makes it noir or noir adjacent.
- Kubrick shot it (like the Italians- or silent films of course) without any sound and created his sound from scratch in post-production in the 10 months after the principal photography. Knowing this, one can see all the tricks Kubrick utilized : leaning heavily on the music, creative audio cues like a letter from an aunt and uncle, a tv commentator on the fight, voice-over as another tool. The voice-over and flashbacks certainly help root it in noir.
- “edited, photographed, and directed by Stanley Kubrick” in the credits- a healthy ego even early on.
- The story is about a washed-up boxer (Jamie Smith) a girl (Irene Kane) and the man between them (Frank Silvera). But really, much like Godard’s Breathless (1960), the set up is really just an excuse to explore cinema style (for Kubrick it is photography in this example, for Godard it is form).
A remarkable shot of Smith through a fishbowl in closeup.
Another standout is the shot from undeath the leg of Smith on the other side of the boxing ring .
Smith is a voyeur- watching her as she undresses- Rear Window is the year before in 1954—he witnesses the crime. He is on the phone in the foreground, but Kubrick cares about Kane’s character changing in the background.
- Atmospheric- the camera and the boxer brooding before the fight.
- Man and woman spotting each other through a window without the need for dialogue
- A sort of inborn, imaginative use of angles in the actual boxing ring- it does not look like any of the dozens of boxing films from the 1930s, 40s or 50s.
- Tracking from screen right to left along with Kane along a busy New York City street
Strong stage lighting and spotlight work on the ballerina during the dance scene– Kubrick is already an accomplished photographer. But there are formal issues aplenty (probably part of the budget and audio decision limitations of trying to build a feature). The film goes to Kane’s character’s voice over during the flashback (really just an excuse to show off the ballet photography).
- The lack of story coverage does sort of make it elliptical and moody- not all bad- but one can see the seams a little too much as he patches it all together.
- As mentioned, Godard’s Breathless feels like a comparison (Kubrick’s work is not on that level of course) or Paris Belongs to Us from Rivette- the story outline and genre are just sort of the excuse for the experimenting.
- An innovative extended rooftop chase sequence.
Likewise, Smith’s face among the mannequins makes for several inspired compositions during the final sequences in the film.
- A tacked on happy ending that apparently Kubrick made a compromise on with United Artists to help ensure some funding for future projects- including 1956’s The Killing.
- Recommend / Highly Recommend border- certainly more interesting artistically than the average fare—but not enough to push it into the top 10 of 1955.