Killer’s Kiss (1955)
Release Date: October 1st, 1955 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Stanley Kubrick Actors: Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, Jerry Jarrett, Mike Dana, Felice Orlandi, Shaun O’Brien
he evening of his big fight against rookie welterweight Kid Rodriguez, veteran boxer Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) moves listlessly around his apartment, unsure of how best to kill time until his manager Albert (Jerry Jarrett) calls him up to tell him to take the subway to the arena. Across the way lives a slim blonde named Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who works at the Pleasure Land dance hall (as a female partner for lonely men – in a “human zoo,” as she calls it) under the thumb of aggressive employer Vinnie Rapallo (Frank Silvera). While Gordon ends up losing the match, Gloria is molested at the club by Rapallo.
Feeling washed up and contemplating going back to Seattle to his Uncle George’s ranch, Gordon is inspired to stay a bit longer when he rescues Gloria from further unwanted advances by Rapallo, who drunkenly barges into her apartment (which happens to look into Gordon’s room). Engaging in a whirlwind romance, the two decide to go together to Seattle. All they need is to pick up some money from Albert for the fight and from Rapallo for Gloria’s last week of work. But this spontaneous, lucky union becomes steeped in unfortunate confrontations and dangerous mistakes.
“Can happiness buy money?” Beginning with a film noir narration (with notes of fitting angst and discontent and sarcasm) before shifting into a flashback, “Killer’s Kiss” goes on to feature solemn music, unusual camera angles, plenty of creeping shadows, and, of course, violence. Bad decisions, extreme coincidences, mistaken identities, and even flashbacks within flashbacks (chronicling what appears to be an irrelevant tale of jealousy involving Gloria’s sister, a successful ballet dancer) further paint this tragic crime drama with obvious shades of noir. Foggy landscapes, a battered warehouse, and a fearsome abandoned alley are similarly grand settings for turmoil.
Writer/editor/cinematographer/producer/director Stanley Kubrick creates a foreboding parallel as Gordon’s loss corresponds with Gloria’s abuse, and then again as Rapallo transitions from being a pursuer to the panicked man fleeing from his prey. The lead duo is a striking pair of underdogs, just as Gordon and Rapallo make for intense opponents during a final showdown that escalates into an axe-and-spear duel (like something from “Spartacus,” a film Kubrick would direct a few years later). There’s also sharp boxing choreography and framing (the kind that’s close, invasive, moves alongside the extended arms of the fighters, peers up at their faces from the ground, or stays low enough that it can cheat the fact that the ring doesn’t extend into a crowded arena, like a bigger-budgeted picture could afford). And the finale in a mannequin factory is particularly potent, bringing to life a nightmarish locale that harks back to a fleeting image of a doll hanging from Gloria’s bedframe. Though short and simple, “Killer’s Kiss” is a fascinating exploration of man’s infatuation with (or inability to escape from) violence, as well as an educating look at an early work from one of cinema’s most revered auteurs.
– Mike Massie