May roundup (2) : KILLER’S KISS (1955) [6/10]

Published on: May 17th, 2009

KILLER'S KISS : [6/10] : USA 1955 : Stanley KUBRICK : 67m (BBFC) : seen at The Star and Shadow cinema, Newcastle, 17th May 2009 ( £4.00)
   Second low-budget film by Stanley Kubrick is much more widely screened than his debut, Fear and Desire. It was, according to the opening titles, "photographed, edited and directed" by Kubrick, who also came up with the story – a slender but convoluted affair about Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), ageing boxer in Manhattan who becomes romantically involved with his neighbour Gloria Price (Irene Kane). The latter works as a "dancing partner" at a Times Square nitespot run by the lascivious Vincent Rapallo (a misleadingly top-billed Frank Silvera), who has designs on his employee. Melodramatic, coincidence-dependent complications ensue, narrated in flashback – with further flashbacks within the flashbacks – by Davey as he waits at a train station and mulls over the tumultuous recent past.
   Being charitable, one could ascribe the plotting's deficiencies to Davey rather than Kubrick and his (uncredited) screenplay collaborator Howard Sackler. After all, with exactly 100 fights under his belt, the pugilist - while far from punch-drunk – isn't the brightest of bulbs. But Kubrick can't duck responsibility for the editing: even at 67 minutes, Killer's Kiss is full of dead spots, lacks urgency and feels considerably longer than it should. Just as well, then, that Kubrick the cinematographer does such a fine job with an array of atmospheric New York locations – from the neon-glare bustle of Times Square to eerily deserted streets lined with gloomy warehouses, to the rooftops across which Davey is chased by Rapallo and his goons during the climax. 
   There's a marvellous documentary feel to many sequences, including Davey's televised fight with Kid Rodriguez – watched by Gloria and Rapallo in the latter's office (Rapallo visibly getting sadistic kicks from witnessing the bruising encounter) in one of numerous scenes where characters become fascinated spectators to events unfolding behind screens, windows or glass doors.
   It's a shame that Kubrick never again served as Director Of Photography on his own movies – this was also the last time that he's credited as his own editor, which is rather less of a source of regret. Likewise it was probably no massive loss to big-screen acting that Smith (who does at least look like a down-on-his-luck pug) never made another movie, or that Kane's sole subsequent feature-film appearance seems to have been a minor part in All That Jazz 24 years later. They never threaten to burn up the screen with their supposed passion, and given how "disconnectedly" Kane comes across it's no surprise to learn that her voice was dubbed by an uncredited Peggy Lobbin. Then again, one can forgive all of the performers being somewhat distracted if the 1984 drama Strangers Kiss - a fictionalised version of how Killer's Kiss was made - is an accurate portrayal of the sinister shenanigans supposedly unfolding behind the scenes. 17.5.09

Neil Young
May 2009