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Directed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick in 1955, Killer's Kiss runs a brisk sixty-seven minutes or so but not a second of the film's short running time is wasted. The storyline follows a man named Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), a boxer by trade whose better days are behind him. This is becoming increasingly obvious to Gordon as he keeps losing fight after fight, and he figures it's time to hang up his gloves for good and move to Washington State and take work at a horse ranch owned by his uncle.
Gordon makes plans to leave New York for Seattle but before he goes, he decides to visit a dancehall (literally an establishment where men would pay for the privilege of dancing with a pretty, often young, woman) in Times Square. Here he spots a girl he knows, Gloria Price (Irene Kane), getting into it with her boyfriend, a gangster named Vinnie Rapallo (Frank Silvera). Gordon steps in to do what he feels is the right thing, and it goes south very, very quickly, making the next three days in his life very complicated indeed.
Co-produced, shot and edited by Kubrick at the age of twenty-seven on a low budget and a tight schedule, Killer's Kiss does an excellent job of showing off the filmmaker's background as a still photographer for Life Magazine and other outlets. The gritty photography isn't as polished as what we'd see in his later efforts but the knack for fantastic compositions is on full display and the use of shadow and light and of mirrors in the picture is truly excellent. The film also benefits from some great mid-fifties era Times Square footage that lends the picture the sort of inner city tension that it needs to work and which definitely amplifies the authenticity that Kubrick was so clearly going for when he chose to shoot in the locations he wound up using. The story itself, written by Kubrick with a screenplay by Howard Sackler, is a fairly standard noir thriller, it doesn't break a lot of new ground and will probably play out the way seasoned viewers of the genre expect it to, but the visuals, pacing and editing are all very strong and go a long way towards elevating the production in a big way.
Despite the fact that the audio work was done in post and therefore the movie doesn't feature live sound, the performances come through pretty strongly. There's a physicality to Jamie Smith's work in front of the camera that helps make his character believable and that suits the background details we're given about Davey Gordon's life and career. It's a world-weariness that is just part of Smith's overall demeanor in the movie, but it's an important aspect of his work here. Irene Kane plays the female lead well, we can see why Gordon falls for Gloria, she's sweet and pretty and nothing short of charming. She also has a vulnerability to her and we can understand why the older Gordon could and would latch on to that and want to protect her regardless of the dangers that might be involved in doing just that. Throw in Frank Silvera as a slimy gangster and the movie winds up well cast, as Silvera is also pretty entertaining here as the film's primary heavy.
Killer's kiss comes back to UHD from Kino Lorber on in HVEC encoded 2160p ultra high definition framed at 1.33.1, the film's original aspect ratio, with Dolby Vision and HDR enhancement taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Generally speaking, the picture quality here is excellent. There are a few minor instances of print damage here and there but they are very minor and the black and white picture looks consistently strong, showing strong contrast and deep black levels. Detail is always excellent and there's a lot of appreciable depth and texture to the naturally grainy, film-like picture. There are no problems with obvious compression artifacts nor is there any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about, the picture quality here is very impressive.rn rn
The only audio option for the feature is a 24-bit 2.0 DTS-HD Mono option in English. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. Though the audio on the picture was done in post and has that odd distant quality that sometimes accompanies films where this has been done, the overall quality of the mix is really good. The track is clean and concise and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. Levels are properly balanced throughout and this track would seem to be an accurate representation of the film's original sound mix.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with film historian Imogen Sara Smith. The track proves to be a good mix of analysis and trivia about the film. It covers the film's place in Kubrick's filmography and how it compares to other, earlier pictures that he directed. There's a lot of biographical information about the cast and crew that worked on the film as well as an exploration of some of the themes and visuals that are used in the picture.
A theatrical trailer, bonus trailers for The Killing and Paths Of Glory, menus and chapter selection options finish off the supplements on the disc, and this release also comes packaged with a slipcover featuring some excellent vintage artwork.
Killer's Kiss holds up, it's an impressive early effort from one of cinema's most important directors that is tense, stylish and exciting. Kino's UHD release isn't stacked with extra content but the commentary is enjoyable and, more importantly, the presentation of the feature attraction is excellent. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.