Stanley Kubrick’s account of an ambitious racetrack robbery is one of Hollywood’s tautest, twistiest noirs. Aided by a radically time-shuffling narrative, razor-sharp dialogue from pulp novelist Jim Thompson, and a phenomenal cast of character actors, including Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Timothy Carey, Elisha Cook Jr., and Marie Windsor, The Killing is both a jaunty thriller and a cold-blooded punch to the gut. And with its precise tracking shots and gratifying sense of irony, it’s Kubrick to the core.
Criterion presents Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 in a new 1080p/24hz transfer on a dual-layer disc.
There’s a few minor issues with the digital transfer that make it a little disappointing. Through most of the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film and then scattered about here and there the image can have a bit of a noisy look, as though the image has been over-sharpened. Grain rendering becomes a bit of a mess and looks quite unnatural, blocky even. It’s a little distracting early on but then subsides and the picture takes on a more natural, filmic look through much of the remaining time, the issue appearing in milder cases in a few other spots. At its cleanest the image is great, presenting a sharp image with excellent definition. Contrast is spot on with clean blacks and superb gray levels.
Other than a few tram lines and some minor marks the print is very clean, the best shape I’ve ever seen the film in.
Overall I would say it’s strong and very pleasing but the sharpening early on was disappointing and a little distracting. Thankfully it becomes less of an issue later on. But whether you focus on its strong aspects or weak aspects, it’s far better than MGM’s previous DVD by a long way.
The lossless PCM mono track delivers an average audio presentation. It’s flat, lacks fidelity, and music can come off a little edgy. But dialogue is easy to hear and, despite a slight fuzz here and there in the background, it’s clean.
Criterion puts together a rather nice special edition for the film, going all out and including Kubrick’s previous film, the 67-minute Killer’s Kiss, previously available on DVD on its own from MGM. I’ve always found the film an interesting look at Kubrick building his style but in the end I’m not terribly fond of it. The story, which follows a “down and out” boxer (is there any other kind in noir?) looking to run away with the woman he’s just fallen for, who is of course tied up with a murderous gangster, is really simplistic and I’ve always felt it lacked a true dramatic pull. But what makes the film worthwhile is that it’s obviously more of a chance for Kubrick to find his style. You can see him playing somewhat with tracking shots, his framing, camera moves, and of course lighting, which does look fantastic.
Criterion also gives the film a fairly nice looking high-definition 1080p/24hz transfer, though it too suffers from some over sharpening. Still, blacks are nice and deep and shadow details are strong. The print shows some minor wear-and-tear but it still looks to have been cleaned up.
For Killer’s Kiss Criterion then includes some supplements specific to this film, the main one being a 10-minute interview with Geoffrey O’Brien, who offers a very solid defense of the film, even offering that the weaknesses are part of its charm. I agree with pretty much everything he says but I still find the film a bit of a chore, even at just over an hour.
Following this is the film’s theatrical trailer.
In all, despite the fact it’s not a film I’ll probably feel inclined to watch again, it’s a great inclusion and I’m happy Criterion included it as a feature instead of releasing it separately; it really adds a solid amount of value to the edition.
And the same can also be said of everything else. Moving on to supplements specific to The Killing, producer James B. Harris talks for 21-minutes about first working with Kubrick and the work they did for United Artists, starting with The Killing. He goes over how the project came to be, starting with finding the book Clean Break (which Sinatra was apparently looking into getting made), Jim Thompson’s involvement in writing the script, and the reactions to the film (both good and bad.) It’s a fine recollection of the director and offers a nice back story to the production, making it a worthwhile feature if not a wholly exciting one.
Next is probably one of the best features on the disc, 23-minutes worth of interview material featuring actor Sterling Hayden taken from 1984 episodes of Cinéma cinémas. Divided into two sections he first talks about his early days in Hollywood and how he came to be an actor (unable to take it seriously at first), talks about Asphalt Jungle, Johnny Guitar (offering amusing anecdotes about Joan Crawford) and some of the awful films he did over the years. He talks a little about the McCarthy era and how he came about to “name names” (something he still feels extreme shame in) and then talks briefly about Kubrick and his work with the director on the films The Killing and Dr. Strangelove. He covers so much in the short time we get here and easily offers one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve seen in recent memory and the fact it’s only excerpts is upsetting . At any rate what we get is pure gold.
Finally we get an interview with Robert Polito on author Jim Thompson, running 19-minutes. Polito covers in great detail the working relationship between Kubrick and Thompson, who punched up the script for The Killing and also did some work on Paths of Glory. The two also did work together on other projects that ultimately didn’t see the light of day not surprisingly. Polito then goes over his other work in Hollywood and tries to explain why his novels are so hard to adapt, always missing the more complex aspects (though he says Coup de torchon is the best adaptation.) A decent extra layer to an already impressive edition.
The disc concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer (which contains a number of spoilers) and the booklet included first contains an essay on the film and Kubrick’s early career by Haden Guest. The booklet also includes a reprint of an interview with actress Marie Windsor who talks a bit about the shoot. Charming read, and occasionally funny in its short length, especially when she goes on about the eccentric Timothy Carey.
No commentary but I can’t say I missed it. We get a solid set of supplements, with the inclusion of Killer’s Kiss really making it a bargain.
The image is a little rough at first, for whatever reason, but straightens itself out and as a whole comes off as another strong transfer. But the supplements really make it a nice edition and add a lot of value to it. It comes highly recommended.