On my noir journey, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s first film (oh, second – he removed his first feature from circulation himself), Killer’s Kiss. The title doesn’t make all that much sense to me, despite the labored voice over on the theatrical trailer that leads up to announcing it, (“Her Soft Mouth Was the Road to Sin-Smeared Violence”) but the film is pretty good. Not great, not even really good, in fact, it’s seriously flawed, but Kubrick is so imaginative, and it has such great location shots, and so much weird and fascinating imagery, that I like it. Of course, I am a huge fan of Stanley K.
The film is short – 67 minutes – and is narrated by Davy while he waits for a train in Penn Station, NY. The use of that glorious setting, now long gone, gives the film an unintentional kick for the architecturally aware. Davy is a nice guy and a boxer, but a has-been boxer. He’s just had his last chance in the ring, and he failed. He needs to start fresh in life. Kubrick shows boxing as unglamorous and brutal. Just the shots of Davy being prepped by his trainer are disturbing.
Davy lives in a tiny one-room apartment across an airshaft from a pretty girl who works nights in a sleazy dance hall. They are aware of each other, and intrigued – they watch each other through the window, each unaware of the other’s gaze. Voyeurism, objectification of women, mediation of sex – the usual Kubrick drill. Here Davy watches her undress, and later she, in a perfectly composed shot, watches him. Kubrick’s background as a Magnum photographer shows here.
At the dance hall, we are treated to the sight of the advertisements showing busty women, “Couples Invited,” “Dance with Us!” More women as objects for sale. And the girl’s name is Gloria Price. She’s the not-so-willing lover of the owner of the hall, Rapallo, and they watch Davy’s last fight on TV together. At least one of them is getting very turned-on by the spectacle of a man being beaten…and Rapallo suspects that Gloria may be keen on him anyway…
When he returns to his apartment to rest after his defeat, Davy gets a sympathetic call from his uncle. As he talks to him, he looks at Gloria undressing across the way. In this wonderful sequence, Davy looks out at us who stand in the space occupied by Gloria. We see him looking at her in the mirror behind him. You can barely make her out in the bright window in this still, but he’s watching! Space, mirrors, the two lovebirds watching each other through windows and on TV…will they ever get together?
Davy falls asleep, but awakes from a nightmare of driving through Brooklyn to the jeers of the audience at his last fight. The dream is in negative, another Kubrick favorite. Remember that trip to Jupiter in 2001?
When he awakes, he hears Gloria screaming as she is threatened by Rapallo. He rescues her, and that’s the start of their romance. Rapallo is the jealous type, so he orders his thugs to rough up Davy, but they grab his manager by mistake, and then kill him. This all happens in Time Square, the source of some great NYC location shots c. 1955. At times, the camera is hand-held and jumpy.
From there, it gets nasty, as Davy uses his wits and brawn to get even. Rapallo has kidnapped Gloria, so the fight is over the woman too.
Talk you scum! Where is she!? They drive to a deserted loft neighborhood.
There’s a chase over the roofs of NY that is remarkable again for the location shots, and then the final duel to the death between Davy and Rapallo in a mannequin warehouse. As they fight, female figures are hacked to pieces, skewered, used as weapons, and tumbled upon.
As a surreal commentary on this brutal chivalry, these body parts tremble in the dark, silent and mysterious like a de Chirico painting.
In the end, he gets the girl…