Gray, Colleen


Gray, Colleen
(1922– )
   Colleen Gray was born Doris Jensen on October 23, 1922, in Staplehurst, Nebraska. She graduated with honors from Hamline University, where she appeared in several college productions. Afterward she was active in little-theater productions before going to Hollywood in the mid-1940s. Her first movie was the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair (1945). She appeared in some FILM NOIR movies, including Kiss of Death, opposite Richard Widmark, and Lucky Nick Cain (1953), with George Raft.
   Given Gray’s association with film noir, it is not surprising that STANLEY KUBRICK chose her for his classic noir, THE KILLING (1956). Hence JOHN BAXTER seems ungracious in his Kubrick biography when he implies that Kubrick selected her because she was at the time the mistress of Max Youngstein, production chief at United Artists, which was releasing the picture.
   The Killing revolves around a racetrack heist planned by Johnny Clay (STERLING HAYDEN), an exconvict. Early in the film, Johnny opens a bottle of beer in the dingy kitchen of the flat where he is staying, while he describes his accomplices to his girlfriend Fay (Colleen Gray) and fills her in on his planned caper. To quell Fay’s misgivings about Johnny’s getting involved in a major crime after recently getting out of prison, Johnny says,“Anytime you take a chance you had better be sure that the stakes are worth it because they can put you away just as fast for taking ten dollars as for taking a million. ” Johnny arranges to meet Fay at the airport after the robbery, as they plan to go away together. Fay reasserts her faith in her lover as he sends her away. Fay’s loyalty to Johnny, comments NORMAN KAGAN, “is the dependency of the weak” on the strong.
   Colleen Gray recalled working with Kubrick on the movie for Peter Bogdanovich: “He was a small man wearing army fatigues and clodhopper shoes, and had bushy hair and was very quiet. ” Referring to the scene just described, she said, “I kept waiting for him to direct and nothing happened. ”When was he going to tell her what to do? “He never did, which made me feel insecure. Maybe that fact that I felt insecure was fine for the part—the girl was insecure. ” Fay had good reason to be insecure, as she fretted about whether or not Johnny could bring off the robbery and make good his escape with her to the tropics.
   The robbery goes off without a hitch, but Johnny’s gang is killed in a shootout with a rival mob that tries to steal their loot. At the climax of the film, Johnny, the only surviving member of the gang, drives to the airport to meet Fay as planned. En route he buys the largest suitcase he can find and stashes the cash in it. He finds Fay and they proceed to the check-in counter, passing two FBI agents who are quite clearly sizing up everyone who enters the air terminal. With nervous nonchalance Johnny demands that the airline allow him to lug his huge suitcase on board with him, rather than stow it in the luggage compartment. Throughout his bickering with the airline personnel, which Kubrick records in a single take, the bulky bag stands inertly in the center of the frame, as Johnny futilely tries to minimize its size.
   The scene begins to take on the flavor of black comedy, as the obliging clerk suggests that Johnny transfer some of the contents of the valise into some of his other bags and then asks Johnny to consider insuring the suitcase. “Just give me some idea of what is in it and its estimated value,” he says with mannered friendliness, “and we’ll take care of it. ” Realizing that he is causing a scene, Johnny capitulates and watches apprehensively as the bag is tossed onto the conveyor belt and disappears from sight.
   Johnny and Fay near at the departure gate as the baggage wagon proceeds across the airfield toward the plane. Standing nearby is a flighty dowager with a yapping poodle. Suddenly her dog runs barking into the baggage truck’s path, and the woman screams. As author Barry Gifford describes the scene, the driver of the truck swerves to avoid hitting the animal, and Johnny’s hefty case “topples off the baggage cart and bursts open; and the bills are blown to hell and back by the wind from the airplane’s propellers,” as Johnny and Fay stare in stunned horror. The fate of the money in The Killing recalls how the gold dust in John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) blows across the desert sands. In that film, as Barry Gifford states, “the . . . Mexicans cut the bags of gold dust off the mules and scatter it to the winds, unaware of what they’re doing. ” When the men who slaved to acquire the gold find out what happened, they can only laugh hysterically when they contemplate how it has drifted away from them.
   By contrast, Johnny and Fay stumble toward the taxi ramp, where they hopelessly attempt to flag a cab. When Fay urges Johnny to make a run for it, he stoically shrugs off the suggestion. Resigned to their fate, Johnny and Fay turn resolutely around to face the two men advancing toward them through the glass doors of the flight lounge. Working out of the grand noir tradition,Kubrick managed in The Killing to give a new twist to the story of a man trapped by events he cannot control.
   Colleen Gray played in a number of crime melodramas in later years, including the gangster films Johnny Rocco (1958), opposite Steven McNally, and P. J. (1968), with Raymond Burr. She disappeared from films in the 1970s and 1980s, making a final appearance in Cry from the Mountain in 1986.
   References
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997);
   ■ Bogdanovich, Peter, “What They Say about Stanley Kubrick,” New York Times Magazine, July 4, 1999, pp. 18–25, 40, 47–48;
   ■ Gifford, Barry, Out of the Past:Adventures in Film Noir (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 99–100;
   ■ Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick, rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 1989), pp. 33–46.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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