To state the usual: these aren’t reviews. There’s no reason anyone should care whether or not I thought an old movie was good or bad – unless we can have great fun tearing it down to the rancid molecules that made up the film stock. This is about the way things looked before color became the expected norm, and artists were exploring what you could do with the idea of Grey.

This shot tells you two things: the movie might be awful, but it’s going to look gorgeous, and possibly pretentious as hell.


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Let’s get to it. Presenting:

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New York. Old New York. That’s Penn Station, of course – one of the most spectacular spaces in New York, torn down for a rathole station and dull blunt skyscrapers up above.

We can get the Star Trek connection out of the way in the first minute, thank heavens:

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Gerald Fried, red-shirts died!  Nothing very Trek about the score; it’s does the job. Sounds nice and crisp, thanks to the Criterion transfer. And why would Criterion lavish time and money on a little 1955 crime story that’s 67 minutes long?

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Ah. Well. There you go. It’s considered his first, although he’d done a few before. A young man with a head full of ideas, our Stanley. Three problems, the actors being two of them. The hero:

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Given the title, you might think he’s a Hard-Boiled French Killer in town for a job, but no – he’s that favorite profession of the old noirs, the Washed-Up Boxer. He has no money, no future, no hope, but he does have a suit. He’s waiting on a dame:

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Her real name was Chris Chase, and she was a journalist. She did one other movie, a quarter century later: “All That Jazz.” It’s hard to tell whether or not she’s a good actress, because every – single – line of dialogue was redone in post-production, is if they didn’t discover until the movie was wrapped that they’d been shooting next to a jackhammer testing facility. No room tone, no ambient sound mixing with the dialogue. The other problem is the plot, which is rather bare and dull. The movie hits the canvas early and stays there. But you keep watching, because Kubrick’s eye is peerless. The composition and the lighting are noir-plus:

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Let’s see, though – if it’s Noir, it has to have a scene in a staircase:


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Like all good noirs, you could sell a screen grab as a work of art, Fraught With Modern Ambivalence. (TM)  Hey, how about another:

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I think if they really wanted people to Watch Their Steps they might have chosen a floor-tile pattern that didn’t make it difficult to judge distance if you’d had a cocktail. The headers people must have done going down those steps.

He had a budget of $75,000. But who needs money when you have a good lighting man, and the city of New York?


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Once again: you really don’t need to know what’s going on to know what’s going on.

The real star of the film, to state the obvious, is New York.


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Much of the action takes place in Times Square. Old Times Square, heading towards the seedy period. It can be difficult to sort out what’s where, because every shot is full of enormous blaring signs, all of which are gone. This movie is the definition of inadvertent documentaries. No budget? No problem: treat the city as your set.


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Himberama? It’s a work by magician Richard Himber, which explains the rotating rabbits on the sign. Bonus fun: Himber was also a songwriter, and wrote the original theme for the Today Show.

Newsreel theaters, a sign of the past: CNN for the pre-TV age. I don’t know if people went inside eager to learn about the world, or just wanted a warm place for a nap for a cheap price.


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One other amusing ananchronism:


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Drunken Shriners! Complete with fezes! So apparently the cliche of the hammered conventioneers had some truth. Everyone else is sober and cinched-off like good New Yorkers, but these merry out-of-towners are so full of Gotham’s glee they’re dancing around Times Square while one plays a harmonica.

The great BOND building, formerly the International Casino, notable for the giant pink nude statues that would later be replaced by giant brown nude Pepsi bottles.


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Finally, something that gave me a start. Recognize this?


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No? Well, old movie fans with cable TV, this ought to click:

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That’s used in a late-night Turner Classic Movie channel promo. And now you know: the man who would direct 2001 gave us the smoky-noir images for that wonderful old piece of bygone New York.



 

21 Responses to Black and White World: Killer’s Kiss

  1. roger h (bgbear) says:

    I remember hearing on TCM that Kubrick did not have permission to shoot many of the scenes. I am sure that saved some graft of the budget for actual filming.

  2. roger h (bgbear) says:

    Oops, that did not come out right, I started to insult NYC officials and then I thought better. Graft/costs whatever.

    ;)

  3. hpoulter says:

    Huh. Never hoid of it. Doesn’t look nearly as good as “The Killing”, but worth checking out. Netflix has it, too. Good to see Kubrik could operate on a Roger Corman-style budget.

    For my money, a film isn’t really “noir” unless there is at least one scene lit entirely with muzzle flashes. A related shot is in Fritz Lang’s “Ministry of Fear”, where a room is plunged into total darkness until someone shoots (her brother to death) through the door, and for a few moments the light streaming through the bullethole is the only thing visible on-screen. Now, that’s noir.

  4. Lileks says:

    That’s a pretty strict definition. It’s like saying Trek isn’t Trek unless Kirk works his charms on an alien babe.

  5. roger h (bgbear) says:

    No, I think Kirk needs to rip his shirt for it to be Trek.

    Does someone die in every noir film?

    Does someone or something die in every episode of Star Trek?

  6. hpoulter says:

    You have a point, natch. Let’s just say it’s not the kind of Noir that makes me go Yowzah! without gun flashes, just as Trek (TOS) isn’t real Shatnerific Trek unless it features the “fakey fight music” at least once. (dit-dit-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit-dit-DAH)

  7. hpoulter says:

    Shatner didn’t rip his shirt after season 1. The girdle would have shown.

  8. Anyway, about “Killer’s Kiss.” Never seen it. But now thanks to one James Jim “Jimmy” Lileks, I want to. Well done, sir.

  9. RR Ryan says:

    I don’t know if it was true at the time, but in the eighties, a permit wasn’t necessary for filming in public buildings. And as for the Today show, another fun fact: Sigourney Weaver’s dad created it.

  10. DaveInAz says:

    I’m much more grateful that he created Sigourney Weaver.

  11. Charley Weaver is her DAD?????? (I kid, I kid…)

    Her dad is really Doodles Weaver.

  12. hpoulter says:

    Charley Weaver is Cliff Arquette. And yes, he is related to those other Arquettes (as grandfather). Doodles Weaver, who was a truly scary entertainer, was the UNCLE of the lovely Sigourney (real name Susan Weaver).

  13. RR Ryan says:

    I considered the Charley Weaver joke when i posted, but knowing some of the people involved, it seemed a little tasteless. Not to name-drop or anything.

  14. boblipton says:

    Sigourney’s father was Pat Weaver, the big TV exec.

    Bob

  15. Doc says:

    meh. torrents ftw.

    ;)

  16. Mike Gebert says:

    No, it’s nowhere near as good as The Killing. But it got him that job and enough of a budget to afford sync sound, which was hard for no-budget filmmakers to accomplish back then, hence a fair number of visually ambitious indies in which everyone walks around in a dreamlike state of silence (eg, Dementia/Daughter of Horror) or the whole thing is narrated or something.

    I watched Clockwork Orange not too long ago and was surprised by how modest it is in many ways. Between the genuine spectacle of 2001 and Barry Lyndon, it ekes out a particular mod-hideous look on a pretty small number of sets and some actual London locations turned into a Kubrick future mainly by his staring at them real hard and making weird music play behind them. There’s more of Killer’s Kiss in it than you’d realize.

  17. GardenStater says:

    I know a guy who dated Sigourney Weaver in college. Lucky SOB.

  18. Mike Gebert says:

    Was it while she was wearing her Peter Pan costume?

  19. Chris Green says:

    One good scene from Killer’s Kiss is a rushing corridor shot of a drive down the street in negative reminiscent of the Star Gate sequence in 2001. And Mike G is right about a A Clockwork Orange — it was nearly all location shots save for just one or two simple sets.

  20. Sydney Brillo Duodenum says:

    For some reason, I think that Kubrick used that black and white tiled stairwell in Eyes Wide Shut, but I don’t have the movie at hand to check.

  21. Diana Barry Blythe says:

    Thanks for answering an age-old question! I wondered if that TCM bumper (?) before the movie comes on originated with TCm or was part of some movie.

    The lady taking off her earring and the guy in the ticket box always looked like 1980s actors who were playing the 1950s. Ha!

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