Killer's Kiss is the earliest (made in 1955) Stanley Kubrick film widely available to the mass public, and presents many of the director's techniques in raw and unrefined forms. It was released to a muted public and critical reception, and at just over an hour in length, barely qualifies as a full feature film. Killer's Kiss was mostly financed by Kubrick himself, and he was able to sell the distribution rights to United Artists. He had hoped the film would place him at the bottom rung of an important career ladder in Hollywood. Despite the film's lack of success, it did successfully push the director forward in his quest for artistic acclaim.
The film is stock noir, and suggests Kubrick still had yet to acquire his craft in terms of proper plotting and strong character structures. Washed-out boxer Davy Gordon (Jamie Smith) intervenes when he witnesses a tussle between a woman living opposite his apartment and her lover. The woman is dancer Gloria Price (Irene Kane), and her lover Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera) is also her employer. Soon Davy and Gloria are drawn towards one another, angering Vincent, who not only resents Davy's intervention, but also is planning his murder.
Despite all of what Kubrick has achieved since the release of Killer's Kiss, one has to mention the weakness of the film with regards to its narrative. Dialogue is often delivered in a stilted fashion, obviously down to the fact that the whole film was post-synched, and the story seems derived from as many cliché-ridden B-movies that Kubrick could steal from. Also, there are some almost 'interlude'-type segments thrown in that do nothing for the plot and appear to serve no other purpose but to bulk out the length of the film. A more experienced Kubrick would have used that time to expand his characters or story dynamic. Considering Killer's Kiss was only the second effort of any worthy length from the director, it still is a fantastic effort, and the poor plotting elements of the film are ultimately redeemed by the film's fabulous beauty in its final act.
One of the reasons that Killer's Kiss is endeared to many Kubrick fans' hearts is the vivid urban aesthetic the film exhibits. The film's final act contain some of the most wonderful and naturalistic uses of a New York backdrop, so much so that it's hard to believe the film didn't possess a wealthy budget. If anything, the cheapness of the production actually helps to convey a distinct sense of alienation projected on to the protagonist's shoulders; even the looming landscape seems to be against Davy and his desire to escape to a better life. Kubrick photographed the film himself, and suggests that even at an early point in his career he had a stunning eye for set-piece composition. It's rare to see a Kubrick film so open and naturalistic, being that the director is famous for his rigid framing and closed locations.
Acting wise, the cast performs to their limitations. Jamie Smith has the perfect look for a down-in-luck loser unable to shake the hassles of his failings, and Frank Silvero manages to combine a charismatic screen presence with that of a sleazy villain. Irene Kane is the weak link as Gloria, and she does nothing to elevate herself above the film's B-movie origins.
It's hard to objectively rate Killer's Kiss, as despite being a film that falls short of most targets, it easily surpasses other targets. When compared to other Kubrick efforts, it's obviously going to fall way short, purely because Kubrick had not even found himself as a director. Even so, Killer's Kiss is certainly of interest to any film or Kubrick scholar, and should be witnessed as a snapshot of a man in mid-flight destined for cinematic respect the world over.
Presented in the film's original fullscreen ratio in black-and-white, MGM have given each of the three early Kubrick films similar transfers, with sharp and detailed imagery counter-acted by print shimmering with excessive dirt and edge enhancement. The transfers of each film exhibit the film in a pleasing fashion, even if the overall effect is far from perfection.
Each of the early MGM Kubrick films are presented in their original mono soundtrack, and are clearly audible if slightly low in terms of volume level. Killer's Kiss is the weakest of the three films in terms of sound quality, with often poor post-synched dialogue fluctuating in volume level and heavily marred by hiss. Obviously, this is a fault of the original film, but the sound mix does nothing to render the film more audible.
Menu: A static menu comprising of some promo shots from the film.
Packaging: Presented in the standard MGM amaray template with identical cover artwork to that of the Region 1 version and a chapter listing printed on the reverse of the inlay and visible via the transparent amaray.
Trailer: Sadly, each of the three early Kubrick MGM releases are only graced with the original trailer in the form of extra features.
An interesting film, if only to present the style of Kubrick in its embryonic form, Killer's Kiss is a mostly weak effort but still carries a considerable punch visually. The disc is adequate at best, but is still worthy of a purchase.