Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Stanley Kubrick’s third feature film is a solid crime thriller which shows occasional signs of the style that made Kubrick an important figure in cinema. With Dragnet-style narration, the story is told of an attempt by a group of men to make a killing by stealing millions of dollars from a racetrack in broad daylight, while the track is open and with crowds milling about. The boss, Sterling Hayden, is a crook just out from a stretch in jail. Two guys who work at the track (Elisha Cook Jr. and Joe Sawyer) are the insiders who will help Hayden get to the room where the money will be transferred to an armored truck. An over-the-hill Russian boxer will start a fight in the bar to distract the crowds and the security men; at the same time a hired gun will shoot a horse during the race to cause even more confusion. Hayden will put on a face mask with a bulbous nose and hold the staff at gunpoint while he stuffs a huge sack with all the cash that will fit. On his way out, he will dump the sack out of a window where a crooked cop catches it and stashes it away for Hayden to pick up later to split up among the men. What could go wrong?

Well, for starters, there’s the milquetoasty Cook's knockout wife (Marie Windsor) who, when he lets the plans slip, makes her own plan with her studly lover (Vince Edwards) to get a piece of the pie (or maybe even the entire pie) for themselves. Not to mention the sweet old lady with a poodle who, in the climax, inadvertently winds up being as big a problem as Edwards. Kubrick's showy visual style is on display here, but it’s fairly subtle, used primarily in a series of tracking shots across rooms through the film. Though the story is generally presented in chronological order, the narrative is fractured in places, leading to flashbacks, and the occasional presentation of an event from two perspectives. The film is tense without resorting to artificial melodramatic tricks to tighten the screws. Acting is sometimes thought of as a weak link in Kubrick's movies, but everyone is practically perfect, from the reserved, tightly controlled Hayden right down to Timothy Carey as the off-kilter gunman. Best, however, are Cook—who winds up almost as the star of the show—as a sweaty, weasely schmoe, Windsor as his lusty, conniving wife, and Edwards (at right with Windsor) as the chunk o' sex who throws the biggest wrench of all into the proceedings. I've liked him in his 50s films, but it’s a shame that his TV stardom as Ben Casey seems to have ended his film career before it could blossom. A must-see for fans of crime, film noir, and Kubrick. [DVD]

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