The Killing + Killer's Kiss
An ex-con, a corrupt cop, a reformed alcoholic, a wrestler, a sharpshooter and a pair of inside men: these seven men intent on executing the perfect robbery and taking a racetrack for two million dollars. But this is the world of film noir, a tough, sour place where nothing quite goes as planned…
For his third feature Stanley Kubrick adapted Lionel White’s Clean Break with a little help from hard-boiled specialist Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me), and in doing so created a heist movie classic, one to rank alongside John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The robbery itself is one of cinema’s great set-pieces, as taut a piece of filmmaking as you’ll ever find, expertly controlled by Kubrick, who called The Killing his “first mature work”.
Starring Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar, The Godfather), perennial fall guy Elisha Cook Jr (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep) and Marie Windsor (The Narrow Margin) as his duplicitous wife, The Killing is quintessential film noir, still as brutal, thrilling and audacious as it was almost six decades ago.
Arrow Video presents Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition presentation is delivered in 1080p/24hz. The disc has also been locked to region B.
Though the source print looks to be in about the same shape as what’s on Criterion’s Blu-ray Arrow’s transfer does look quite a bit better. Criterion’s had an issue with compression, or at the very least a weak encode, which led to odd blocking and pixilation in the image, compromising what was otherwise the best presentation I had yet seen for the film. Arrow’s transfer is much, much cleaner, lacking the noise found in the Criterion version, rendering grain a bit better and looking far more natural. Contrast also looks a bit better, where the Criterion I guess looks a little bit boosted, while blacks are still nicely rendered.
Detail is exceptional, particularly on close-ups, and the textures on outfits and walls come through cleanly. Again the print has a few minor blemishes, heavier in what appears to be stock footage, but on the whole the image has been nicely cleaned up.
Criterion’s was still ok at the time but the Arrow release nicely improves over it, offering a far cleaner transfer, lacking the digital anomalies that could be found on the Criterion.
The PCM 1.0 mono track in the end sounds about the same as the Criterion to me. Dialogue is clear and music sounds good, but the track on the whole lacks fidelity and does have a generally flat tone to it. Still, this is more a product of age, nothing to do necessarily with the transfer.
Arrow loads on a number of supplements, featuring some of the same ones Criterion does. First is Kubrick’s previous film the 67-minute Killer’s Kiss, which Criterion also included on their Blu-ray edition. 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.
The transfer is decent, with the print still showing some minor wear. It looks to be the same master used by Criterion as I couldn’t detect any differences between both versions, which is fine since it’s a decent looking presentation.
Arrow next presents The Evolution of a Master, a 25-minute conversation with scholar Michael Ciment. Ciment talks about Kubrick’s early films, including the two here and then Fear and Desire to a lesser extent, to look at how Kubrick developed his style, and also how the films offer the basis for the themes that would show up in just about all of his films, right up to Eyes Wide Shut. It’s a fairly thorough and engaging scholarly supplement.
Arrow next includes a 16-minute interview with Sterling Hayden, filmed in 1970 for French television. Criterion also included an interview with Hayden on their edition of The Killing, and I still feel that may be one of the greatest interviews I’ve ever seen. Arrow somehow manages to find a completely different Hayden interview (with Hayden sporting one hell of a beard) and it may also be one of the greatest interviews I’ve ever seen. Though there is a slight language barrier as the two talk in a mix of English and French (Hayden knowing only what he calls “military French”) it’s an incredibly rich discussion. Hayden, while working on his boat, talks about his military career and his acting career (doing a lot of “typical Hollywood crap” as he calls it) and other subjects. There’s no B.S. coming from this man, he’s open and honest and surprisingly self-critical. He’s an incredibly engaging subject and it’s amazing that Arrow was able to track this one down.
The disc then features An Appreciation by Ben Wheatley, director of a number of films including Kill List and Sightseers. He explains the impact Kubrick’s film had on him (his films made him realize exactly what a film director was) and talks about the imagery and moments that stick with him, particularly from The Killing. Not a necessary feature to view but it’s a nice 12-minute tribute.
Arrow then provides theatrical trailers for each film on the release, while also providing an isolated music and effects track for The Killing.
Arrow then includes one of their great booklets, stacked full of material, and divided into two sections to more or less focus on each film in this release. It starts with a fantastic essay by Peter Kramer going into a great amount of detail about Kubrick’s early work up to The Killing, getting into nice detail about that particular film’s production. Barry Forshaw then provides a great short piece on Lionel White, the author of the story on which The Killing was based. Ron Peck then writes up another great essay, this one on Killer’s Kiss and how it fits into Kubrick’s filmography. Arrow then includes some reviews written for the films during their initial releases. There is only one for Killer’s Kiss, which is lukewarm but admits to there being promise in the director, while the rest are all for The Killing, which are varying degrees of positive (they also show how the film was all but buried by the studio). I love these inclusions on Arrow’s part and wish more producers did such things.
In the end Arrow puts together a modest but incredibly solid set of supplements with the Hayden interview and their booklet being the strongest points.
The supplements are all solid but it’s the transfer that makes this release a great one, beating out Criterion’s somewhat problematic presentation. Comes with a very high recommendation.