Edit Content

Main Menu

Fonts of Knowledge


Recommended Sites


It is a mistake to confuse pity with love.


Killer’s Kiss


Kubrick’s multihyphenate overdrive starts here – see, most infamously, his rude grasping for special-effects recognition with 2001: A Space Odyssey, the irony being it garnered him his sole Oscar; you can only conclude it served him right – and Killer’s Kiss is big on mood but also hard-boiled imitation. It’s also, following on from Fear and Desire, very slight, clocking in at under seventy minutes.

This smacks strongly of Kubrick attempting to broker material that would carry more commercial chances than his earlier art-conflict pic. Albeit, he again has (uncredited) that film’s writer Howard Sackler on screenplay duties. Kubrick’s was a big fan of boxing, and it was his idea to make protagonist Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) a pugilist. A rather the worse-for-wear one, Davey falls for dame Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who’s being used and abused by her taxi-dancing establishment owner Vinnie Rapallo (Frank Silvera). The establishment is called Pleasure Land (which conjures associations of Disneyland, which opened the same year. Or Epstein Island). She calls it a “depraved place”, which implies a lot, just as there’s the suggestion that, when Vinnie calls round her apartment, it’s having raped her the night before. Davey and Gloria decide to get out of Dodge, but the obsessed Vinnie has other ideas.

The gumshoe narration is pretty dire, although Smith delivers it more convincingly than he looks as a boxer (I suppose he is a losing boxer); awkward spaces are likely down to dialogue that was again post-synched (Kane, unavailable, was voiced by Peggy Lobin). That and its director’s more artistic leanings. The performances are mostly fine, however. The greater problem is that Killer’s Kiss doesn’t really find its feet until the last half, when the threat is writ large; Davey’s manager (Jerry Jarrett) has his head stoved in by Vinnie’s goons, mistaking him for Davey, and Davey takes up arms against a sea of troubles, like a duck to water, in order to rescue Gloria. Alas for his glass jaw, however.

Kubrick intersperses the early passages with contributing narratives – letters and calls from Davey’s uncle, a dream sequence – but the most significant is a rather high-tragedy flashback recounted by Gloria, the sort of thing Lynch would unspool straight while mocking its absurdity. Gloria’s sister, played by Kubrick’s then wife Ruth Sobotka, cut her wrists when her father died, having married in order to ensure there were means to care for him as he slowly wilted on the vine.

The Lynch comparison may be significant; his films are (were) steeped in the unsettling occult underbelly, often familial or community based. Is Killer’s Kiss a prelude to Lolita? While it seems like the stuff of lurid pulp, at a glance, what precisely was the parental relationship, such that the ballet-dancing daughter would first marry to maintain daddy – having previously refused the possibility of matrimony, it seems for her art – and then kill herself when daddy died (playing “their song”)? And then that sister would not-quite prostitute herself in the big smoke (also dancing, out of guilt)? And, assuming that’s the subtext, what are we to make of Kubrick’s wife playing the part? Gloria tells Vinnie “To me, you’re just an old man. You smell bad” (Silvera was, frighteningly, an old, smelly man of 41 when he made the film, a decrepit decade older than Kane). Is her revulsion in part because he bears a resemblance to dad, if she squints and looks sidelong?

When it comes to the action, the pulse is raised late in the proceedings when Davey escapes his shackles and leaps through a window, pursued by Vinnie and a hood, into the street and then onto rooftops and into a warehouse full of mannequins (did this inspire Ridders for Blade Runner? It’s certainly forms a visual link to the more explicitly posed ones in A Clockwork Orange). It’s quite evident this early that, when he isn’t being side-tracked by his own self-avowal, Kubrick was a first-rate thriller director (as he’d prove more persuasively still with his next film). Likewise, his depiction of Davey getting pasted in the ring early on is short, swift, savage and cut with the kind of immediacy that doesn’t date.

Kubrick was financed (largely) by another pharmacist for his second film – dad was a homeopath and his uncle, who contributed to Fear and Desire, to his likely chagrin, owned a drug store – and had it snapped up by United Artists. The studio demanded the uncharacteristic happy ending; Kubrick capitulated, since they agreed to finance The Killing as part of the deal.

However, as a prelude to this cheerful-ish denouement, Davey drawls in the voiceover about how Gloria probably didn’t look kindly on his legging it from the goons, just as he didn’t warm to her attempting to make nice with Vinnie (this sequence echoes the captive girl in Fear and Desire, attempting to appease the uncontrolled/predatory man). Both make the point that they’ve only been together for two days; this isn’t going to last. That Fear and Desire passage, with the men objectifying the woman (“a pretty little thing”), finds other echoes here; the manner in which Davey – a nice guy – sits in the dark watching Gloria change clothes, for his viewing pleasure, is the sort of thing we expect from Hitchcock or De Palma.

Jay Dyer notes the Minotaur Productions company of Killer’s Kiss in reference to The Shining’s maze. As does Juli Kearns, making somewhat more of it, characterising the streets themselves as one; her analysis is immensely detailed, and like Fear and Desire, it comes down to whether you feel the picture warrants such veneration. True Kubrick heads invariably aver there’s no end to the attention he deserves. With his films generally, though, you don’t sense you have to go looking for hidden meanings, in that he’s clearly exuding hidden meanings upfront (they’re still hidden, of course). Here, we have to be informed use of the negative image in the dream sequence has been likened to 2001’s trip. All Kubrick’s work is a maze, but perhaps without a defined centre. Our simply being trapped in it, in and of itself, may be the point.

Nevertheless, I doff my proverbial to Kearns’ forensic sense pointing out the triangle on the wall by Davy’s window (“It’s the Illuminati Good Housekeeping Stamp of Approval!”), and how the filmed letter is entirely different to the one Davy outlines in the voiceover (we aren’t privy to whatever it is that happened to Davy’s parents, in contrast to Gloria, but the voiceover suggests a more idyllic construct than the letter, with its mention of cars needing fixing. Perhaps coincidentally, Davy’s reluctant to return to his uncle, while Kubrick was only able to secure funding from his the once).

Kearns also draws attention to the uber-creepy doll in Gloria’s flat, the Orson Welles connection (magic tricks and magicians, The Tempest as resonant throughout Kubrick’s work) and Cocteau’s Orpheus. Then there are the numbers. Now, Kubrick undeniably had a some-thing for them, and if you can point to what the numbers mean, great (Juli highlights 114 as a recurring Kubrick rubric, and applies it to the ace and four of spades in the hood’s formidable distraction manoeuvre).  There’s “a sense of sacrifice always is involved”. I have to admit, she loses me somewhat when she gets into Kubrick’ shot numbers. I mean, yeah, perhaps. But that kind of detail is absurd – again, I’m not saying it isn’t there or intended, just that it’s absurd – and begins to grate, unless I have a steer as to what it’s for. Besides which, to marshal such precision, you’d surely have to be HAL. Or have a 200 IQ.

Indeed, it’s easier to argue Fear and Desire as more fruitful in an analytic regard. Killer’s Kiss does, however, offer a compelling vision of an oppressive urban landscape, one with which its director was intimately familiar; Fear and Desire could easily lend itself as a title to Killer’s Kiss. The picture is, at times, and odd conjunct of the low-key realist and heightened (mostly rather strained or phoney) genre devices.

Pauline Kael slated the picture as “poorly written”, suggesting “It has a vivid feeling for the tawdry milieu but not much else; it’s conceived in flashy sequences rather than as a believable story…” Geoff Andrew of Time Out called it “a moody but rather over-arty B thriller” but suggested “the films more pretentious moments tend to flash past, rather than linger as in Kubrick’s later work”. I think most likely what you can see here is a brilliant mind finding its way into genre clothing, a way to sell its abiding themes, ideas, symbols and obsessions in a manner that doesn’t immediately distract from the content. But it would take material from other sources to seal the deal on such a modus operandi.

Our Score

Click to Confirm Your Score
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Most Popular

What is currently passing for knowledge around here.

  • You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
    You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
  • My life has been one glorious hunt.
    My life has been one glorious hunt.
  • Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
    Esoterica Now
    Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
  • The Vaccine
    The Q & A
    The Vaccine
  • I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
    I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
  • Dark Forces: More on Draco, Anunnaki and AI
    The Q & A
    Dark Forces: More on Draco, Anunnaki and AI