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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Early "Kiss" from Stanley Kubrick

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jamie Smith, Irene Kane and Frank Silvera.
(1955, Black and White)

This nifty little 67-minute long film noir set in an unnamed East Coast city is one of Kubrick's earliest films, reportedly shot with a borrowed camera while the director was on public assistance. 

Unlike most flicks of the type, it features a (spoiler alert) more-or-less happy ending, but don't let that stop you from checking it out: it has an underlying bleakness as bitter as a two-timer's lies and the framing of many scenes suggests what Kubrick would achieve as a filmmaker later in his career.

In the film, Davy Gordon (Smith) is a boxer and used to be agood one before time and other fighters got the better of him. Hoping for a big payday and a comeback of sorts, he takes on Rodriguez, a younger, faster welterweight, and ends up down for the count.

On his way to the deck, Davy takes one of many
punches thrown by his rival, Rodriguez.
After talking with relatives back in the Pacific Northwest, Davy decides to pack it in and return home. What complicates matters is the fact that he has met a girl, Gloria Price (Kane), who works in a dime a dance joint owned by petty gangster Vince Rapallo (Silvera). When Rapallo, who is crazy about Gloria, forces himself on her, Davy comes to her rescue. 

This simple action brings the boxer and the dance hall girl together -- and  puts Rapallo in the mood for vengeance.

From our vantage point in an era in which explicit sex has become the rule, it seems hard to believe how quickly can suggest a romance in a film that would be rated GP these days only because of the violence in the last half. Kubrick does it here with nothing more than a kiss. After the smack in question, Davy says, "Something's happened."

Gloria responds, "Yes, I know . . .You kissed me."

Gloria (Irene Kane) is the love interest
that sparks the action in Killer's Kiss.
"Is that all?" he asks, bewildered, to which Gloria responds "That's all I saw, and I was watching all the time."

As the pair pack to leave town, Rapallo decides to take Gloria back from her new boyfriend. His goons kill a friend of Davy's by mistake, however, and they kidnap the girl and rendezvous with Rapallo, setting up the final confrontation.

Davy forces Rapallo to take him to Gloria.
Though Kubrick made Killer's Kiss on a budget so small you could easily miss it with a microscope, with a cast of unknowns so obscure their pictures belong on milk cartons, he delivers an amazingly satisfying film.

Silvera, who was in the cast of Viva Zapata, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and The Greatest Story Ever Told, but who did most of his work as heavies on series television, is one of the greasiest villains I have ever seen in a movie. He seems to sweat through every scene he is in, leaving a glistening trail behind him like a 160-pound slug.

Oleaginous villain Vince Rapallo (Frank Silvera)
casts a greasy pall over the film.
Like Silvera, Smith mostly did TV parts, but his low-key performance as the hero of this short thriller adds immensely to the film's gritty verisimilitude.

And Kane, who had only the briefest of acting careers (she is better known as a journalist under the byline Chris Chase), is a treat as a woman who has burned by so many men she's been forced to invest in asbestos lingerie.  She is no conventional beauty, is convincing as the kind of arms-length woman who could drive a small-time mobster wild with desire and earn his enmity with an ill-timed insult.

"That's all I saw, and I was watching all the time,"
Gloria tells Davy after they kiss.
Don't look for high-speed auto stunts or manic shootouts in Killer's Kiss: you won't see them. The action is confined to a rooftop foot chase between Rapallo and Gordon, one ring-boxing sequence and a violent struggle between the hero and villain in one of the creepiest settings in all moviedom --  a manikin factory. 

It's definitely a film worth seeing. I give it four nooses.

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