As we continue to explore the best of film noir, let’s examine The Killing – gosh, what is this movie about? Yes, there is a lot of killing in The Killing, but this is film noir you don’t want to miss. A great script, a great director, great dialogue and more make this an awesome thrill ride, but as film noir does, The Killing also brings us face to face with the dark side of humanity.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Plot
I’m going to take a bit of a detour this post and focus on the plot more than the noir hero and femme fatale. The Killing, in a nutshell, is the story of a gang of greedy, petty criminals who plan a daring race track robbery. As with most film noir, their plan goes awry and disaster ensues. Sterling Hayden plays the noir hero, Johnny Clay, and Coleen Gray is the femme fatale, Fay.
What is cool about the plot and how it unfolds is its non-linear style. This film noir was shot in 1956, and done so well that many have copied this style (think Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction).
Eddie Muller, the president of the Film Noir Foundation, says: If you believe that a good script is a succession of great scenes, you can’t do better than this. Hey, that scene was so good, let’s do it again from somebody else’s perspective. If a movie has great scenes throughout, you can bet that it’s written well. What we end up with is a classic crime caper, raw, tense, and suspenseful, and it’s almost perfectly paced.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Writing
The Killing was based on the suspenseful, action-packed novel Clean Break, by Lionel White. White wrote many novels in the noir style, and many were made into movies. As with the movie, the plot of Clean Break unfolds from the various character’s viewpoints, in an overlapping style, and it is truly brilliant. It was also groundbreaking for the time (as an author, what higher compliment could you get than that you broke new ground). Both the movie and the book seem liked scattered puzzle pieces, scenes randomly unfolding, but everything comes together in the end in stunning fashion. As an author, I admire how well this was achieved.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Dialogue
The style of the dialogue in the movie closely reflects the pulp fiction of the day. That razor-sharp dialogue was translated from the novel to the screen by a master pulp novelist, Jim Thompson. Unfortunately, in today’s times some of the dialogue can seem a little melodramatic, but if you get past this, you see some fabulous writing delivered by a great cast.
The Best Of Film Noir – The Director
The Killing was directed by Stanley Kubrick (Lolita, Path of Glory and Dr. Strangelove). It was his second feature-length film, and we see his style developing. We also see a master at work. Kubrick never lets the directing get in the way of the film, but rather lets the characters tell the story, pulling us in. The Killing established Kubrick as a budding force in Hollywood.
The Killing performed poorly at the box-office and it seemed to have been forgotten, but it’s gained a cult following of late. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then The Killing is it. Quentin Tarantino based his movie Reservoir Dogs on The Killing. Both movies tell a tale of a heist from various viewpoints and more (I don’t want to spoil either film so I won’t tell you what – watch for yourself and see what I mean). Many other movies have copied the non-linear style as well.
So grab your popcorn, get your soda, get comfy, and watch The Killing. You are in for a treat.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor