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Killing (4KUHD), The
Written and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1956 and based on the novel 'Clean Break' by Lionel White, The Killing introduces us to a man named Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) who has just recently been freed from a half-decade stint in the slammer. Proving you can't teach an old dog new tricks, he almost immediately sets out to put together a small crew of five men to help him execute a heist at the Lansdowne Racetrack. The plan is to split the estimated two million dollar payday and split it evenly between each member. Each man has his own motivations for wanting in on this, and in Johnny's case, it's to run off to Boston with the love of his life, Fay (Coleen Gray). She doesn't feel she's pretty enough or smart enough to be with anyone else, and she waited for him while he was in prison. Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen) is doing it out simple loyalty to Johnny. A cop named Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia) needs some cash to pay off a loan shark. Track bartender Mike O'Reilly (Joe Sawyer) wants to get his ailing with Ruthie (Dorothy Adams) the medical care she needs. Track ticket clerk George Peatty (Elisha Cook Jr.) wants the money he needs to hopefully save his marriage to money grubbing wife Sherry (Marie Windsor).
Johnny, being the mastermind behind it all, also hires two outside men, a hulking man who works at a chess shop and wrestles in his spare time, and a firearms expert, to help out. The wrestler will start a brawl at the bar in the racetrack, the firearms expert will take out the horse in the lead. Chaos will ensue, allowing Johnny and his men to get in behind the scenes and escape with the cash while the cops all deal with the mess outside. These two men remain unknown to the rest of Johnny's crew.
Things seem to be going just fine until George lets slip to Sherry that their money troubles will soon be over. She gets some information out of him and then goes to her lover, Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), with the details, urging him to essentially head them all off at the pass and scoop up all of the cash for themselves. When it comes time to execute the heist, things start off remarkably smoothly, but the closer they get to pulling everything off, the more the pieces stop falling into place.
Tense, tightly paced and comprised of a cast full of interesting and familiar faces, The Killing remains a fantastic, noirish heist film. One of those pictures where you pick up on details you may have missed on earlier viewings, its ending might be a little easier to figure out than it should be in modern times, but it still remains such a well-made film that it's easy to forgive all of that and just take in everything that the movie gets right. Kubrick's direction is as tight as it's ever been, and the cinematography from Lucien Ballard is excellent from start to finish.
The movie also makes excellent use of a strong cast. Top billed Sterling Hayden is really strong in the lead, he's as believably tough and smart as he is charismatic and the scenes that he shares with Coleen Gray are surprisingly tender. Elisha Cook Jr. is also great in the film, his back and forth with Marie Windsor so remarkably acerbic at times that you almost want to wince, the dialogue in these scenes really cuts deep and the two performers really do a fantastic job of selling it. The rest of the cast aren't given quite as much to do but they sure do a rock solid job with their parts, there isn't a weak link in this chain.
The Killing comes back to UHD from Kino Lorber on in HVEC encoded 2160p ultra high definition framed at 1.66.1, 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.
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 author/film historian Alan K. Rode. It's quite an interesting talk and a valuable addition to the disc. It goes over where the director's career was at this point as well as technical information about the cinematography and the processes Kubrick to get specific shots. It goes into quite a bit of deatil about the different cast members and what they each brought to the production as well as lots of detail about the different cast members that poplate the film. Along with the expected amount of trivia and information, Rode also provides some welcome analysis of the picture, exploring some of its tropes and themes.
A theatrical trailer, bonus trailers for Killer's Kiss 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.
The Killing holds up extremely well, a beautifully directed and very well-acted thriller that easily holds our attention from start to finish. More extras would have been welcome but the commentary on the disc is good, and more importantly than that, Kino's 4k presentation looks fantastic. 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.