Killer’s Kiss

Killer’s Kiss
   United Artists, 67 minutes, 1955 Producer: Morris Bousel and Stanley Kubrick; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Kubrick; Cinematographer: Kubrick; Assistant Director: Ernest Nukanen; Music: Gerald Fried; Sound Department: Walter Ruckersberg and Clifford van Praag; Editor: Kubrick; Production Manager: Ira Marvin; Cast: Frank Silvera (Vincent Rapallo), Jamie Smith (Davy Gordon), Irene Kane (Gloria Price), Jerry Jarret (Albert, the fight manager), David Vaughan (conventioneer), Alec Rubin (conventioneer), Ralph Roberts (gangster), Phil Stevenson (gangster), and Ruth Sobotka (ballerina/Iris).
   STANLEY KUBRICK’s second feature, Killer’s Kiss, was initially titled Kiss Me, Kill Me when it was coscripted by Kubrick and Howard Sackler. Kubrick shot the film in the shabbier sections of New York, which gives it a visual realism unmatched by the postsychronized sound track (although Kubrick had become more expert at postdubbing than he had been a few years earlier, when he made FEAR AND DESIRE). A relative, a Bronx druggist, financed the film.
   The hero is a boxer named Davy Gordon (Jamie Smith) who is young but already a has-been. We discover him pacing in the waiting room of Grand Central Station, awaiting the departure of his train. Over the soundtrack we hear his voice as he begins to recount the events of the past few days in an effort to sort them out for himself. “It all began just before my fight with Rodriguez,” he muses, and we cut to a poster advertising Davy’s fight, then to Davy examining his face in the mirror of his cheap furnished room. His only companion seems to be his pet goldfish, which he dutifully feeds, indicating a softer side of his nature. There is one shot of Davy seen through the fishbowl as he peers into it, symbolizing that he is as imprisoned in his narrow life as the fish in its bowl.
   In his loneliness he has taken to staring at Gloria Price (IRENE KANE), the girl who lives across the way, whose window is just opposite his. That she is equally lonely is reflected in the fact that at other times she snatches looks at him from her vantage point. They are two isolated individuals whose habit of watching each other from a distance only further emphasizes their separateness. Later, they leave their building at the same time, their paths crossing in the lobby as Davy makes for the subway on his way to his fight and Gloria meets her boss, Vince Rapallo (FRANK SILVERA), who is waiting at the curb to drive her to Pleasureland, the dance hall where she works as a hostess.
   The scene shifts to the arena for what Peter Cowie calls in Seventy Years of Cinema (1969) “one of the most vicious boxing matches ever seen on the screen. ” Kubrick’s experience in making his short documentary “DAY OF THE FIGHT” (1950) undoubtedly helped him to give the arena scenes in Killer’s Kiss their authenticity. He photographs much of the fight through the ropes to make the viewer feel that the bout is being seen from ringside. At crucial moments the director moves his hand-held camera into the ring, first showing Davy’s opponent, Kid Rodriguez, lunging at the camera as if at Davy’s jaw, and then showing Davy slumping to the floor in a daze. At this point Kubrick turns the camera upward to catch the overhead lights glaring mercilessly down on the prostrate fighter.
   While Davy broods in the darkness of his room about his final failure to make it as a fighter, he sees Gloria enter her room across the way and begin to undress for bed; Davy watches with undisguised interest until his phone rings. It is his uncle George, offering his condolences over the bout and inviting Davy to come back to Seattle to live and work on the family farm. The camera is on Davy as he talks; behind him is a dresser, in the mirror of which we can see Gloria’s reflection as she gets into bed. In a single shot, perfectly composed, Kubrick shows us Davy’s erotic interest in the girl registering on his face as he talks distractedly to Uncle George, while at the same time we see the dreamlike image of Gloria in the mirror which is the true object of his attention at the moment.
   Later Davy is awakened by a scream and sees through the window that Gloria is being assaulted by Vince. Her assailant flees when he hears Davy coming, leaving him to comfort Gloria. She explains that Vince had come to ask her to become his mistress, and when she sneered at the idea he became violent. Davy assures her that Vince will not come back. The next morning, as Davy and Gloria breakfast together, Gloria tells him about her dead sister, Iris, who was a ballerina; and we see Iris (played by RUTH SOBOTKA, a member of the New York City Ballet and Kubrick’s wife at the time) in a flashback, dancing alone on a dark stage, illuminated by a spotlight. Gloria explains in a voice-over how Iris became despondent after she gave up her dancing career and finally slashed her wrists. The sequence adds interest to Gloria’s character by illuminating her tragic background as surely as the stage spotlight illumines Iris. In Grand Central Station once more,we see Davy still nervously awaiting his train for Seattle, recalling now how he told Gloria of his plans to return to the farm. The viewer at last learns the source of Davy’s anxiety while he paces the station floor: he desperately hopes that Gloria will arrive in time to go with him as she had promised. This is a nifty suspense hook on which to hold the filmgoer’s interest as Davy goes on with his story.
   After Vince kidnaps Gloria, Davy tracks him down and forces Vince at gunpoint to take him to the warehouse loft where Gloria is being held. At the warehouse, Vince’s men overpower Davy, but he escapes and runs down the street. (In the chase scene that follows, Davy’s white socks change unaccountably to black—the only lapse in continuity in any Kubrick film. ) Finally Davy takes refuge in the storeroom of a department store which is filled with mannequins. Vince finds him and the two men face each other for what both of them know is going to be a struggle to the death.
   The partially dismantled dummies grotesquely prefigure the violence that the two protagonists inflict on each other. Vince hurls a torso at Davy, then Street shooting in New York City, Killer’s Kiss (Kubrick estate) grabs a fire ax from the wall. Davy fends off his assailant with the broken bodies of the mannequins until he is able to seize a spike-topped window pole. Finally Davy delivers the death blow off camera. There is a close-up of the smashed head of a dummy as Vince’s scream of pain elides with the screech of a train whistle in Grand Central Station.
   Davy brings the story up to date by recounting that he was cleared of charges in Vince’s death because he acted in self-defense, but he fears he has lost Gloria. Up to this point, the exterior scenes in the film have taken place mainly at night. This dark, brooding atmosphere is quickly dispelled as the camera cuts to a bright, sunshiny day outside the station, where a cab is just drawing up to the curb. Gloria gets out and rushes inside to join Davy in his flight from the city to the fresher life on the farm. They embrace and kiss as the camera pulls away, losing sight of them in the congested crowd of passersby hurrying through the station. In their departure from the brutal big city, which has proved a harsh and unpleasant place for both of them, one can see early indications of Kubrick’s dark vision of contemporary society which are elaborated in his later films. Critics found Killer’s Kiss the work of a talented amateur, who showed promise of better films to come.
   ■ Cowie, Peter, Seventy Years of Cinema (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1969), p. 222;
   ■ Hirsch, Foster, The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir (New York: Da Capo, 1983), pp. 85–86, 136–139;
   ■ Naremore, James, More Than Night: Film Noir (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 156–158;
   ■ Nelson,Thomas, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze, rev. ed. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2000);
   ■ Polan, Dana, “Materiality and Sociality in Killer’s Kiss,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick, ed. Mario Falsetto (New York: G. K. Hall, 1966), pp. 87–99.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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