Stanley Kubrick, Irene Kane, Frank Silvera, Jamie Smith, and Ruth Sobotka in Killer's Kiss (1955)


(director/writer/editor/cinematographer: Stanley Kubrick; cast: Frank Silvera (Vincent Rapallo), Jamie Smith (Davy Gordon), Irene Kane (Gloria Price), Jerry Jarret (Albert, Fight Manager); Runtime: 67; United Artists; 1955)

“Kubrick has created a sinister noir film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unsuccessful boxer, Davy Gordon (Jamie), rescues an unhappy young woman, Gloria Price (Irene), from being assaulted. She is a dancer in a shady nightspot. They probably live in the same type of modest NYC apartment building that the Bronx born Stanley lived in as a child.

Vincent Rapallo (Silvera) is the sleazy and evil boss who has a crush on Gloria, refusing to take her ‘no’ for a final answer. His menacing sneers are unforgettable. For its very limited budget of $75,000, this film equals in style and eloquence the highest budgeted films of that era.

Frustrated that his amorous advances are getting him nowhere and stung by her comment of him as a stinking old man, Vincent attacks her in her apartment only to be thwarted by Davy. This brings the two lonely people together, and after knowing each other for only 2 days they fall in love and decide to leave the city and go to his uncle’s place in Seattle.

By mistake Vincent’s two henchmen seeking revenge grab Davy’s fight manager, Albert (Jerry), thinking he is Davy, as he waits for him on a street corner and they beat him to death. They also kidnap Gloria; and, when Davy’s rescue attempt of her fails and he is tied up by the kidnappers, he hears her beg Vincent to spare her life — telling him that she could now love him. This is too much for Davy to take and he jumps out of the warehouse window to escape as Vincent follows him, leading to a mannequin factory battle scene where one of Kubrick’s classic fight sequences takes place.

The scene returns to the opening shot of the train terminal where the disconsolate Davy is thinking to himself what a sucker he has been to take life so seriously, when at the last minute Gloria appears and they kiss and makeup.

Kubrick has created a sinister noir film, employing dark angle shots from a hand-held camera which is used effectively in the street scenes where he probably didn’t have official permission to be filming. It is a surprisingly well-made film, especially considering its low-budget constraints and the very independent way it was produced. It is one of my favorite noir films because of its surprisingly effective moody style; it had something intangible that I enjoyed that goes beyond its taut story and authenticity, it reminded me so much of how the 1950s were a time of alienation and failed dreams for youngsters who were trying to capitalize on the boom times after WWII. Davy and Gloria’s fling, despite the stilted acting, captured so much of the way lovers of that generation had trouble communicating with each other that their plight of hapless innocents, stuck in a world of powerful figures who controlled their lives, made it seem as if their only hope was to go where the grass was greener. It actually mirrored a migration away from the city for many children of that generation.