Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a prizefighter past his prime, with a career described as “one long promise without fulfillment.” KO’d in the first round of his last fight, he returns to his stark New York apartment, where he wakes to the screams of the blonde (Irene Kane) who lives in the building across from him.
The prizefighter learns what we already do, that the dame’s name is Gloria. She’s employed as a dance hostess. Disgruntled with the jealous behavior of her employer Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera), they got into a fight. Davey has accepted an offer from his uncle to come work on the family horse ranch in Seattle, and deciding that he’s in love with Irene, asks her to come with him. She accepts.
Davey arranges to meet his manager at the dance hall to receive money owed to him. Irene tries to pick up her last check from Rapallo, but he goes into a jealous rage and refuses her. While Davey is busy chasing a pair of drunken Shriners who stole his scarf, his manager arrives at the front of the dance hall. Rapallo sends two of his goons outside and they kill the manager by mistake.
With Irene missing and the police now hunting for Davey, he goes after Rapallo with a Luger pistol and attempts to rescue the dame. Chased down empty alleys, across rooftops under the New York skyline and attacked by an ax wielding Rapallo, Davey has his hands full.
Edited, photographed and directed by Stanley Kubrick, with a story also credited to Kubrick, Killer’s Kiss was the director’s second feature film. His first effort was Fear and Desire, a war drama the director put together himself, but quickly disowned, buying up almost every print and dictating that the sole legal copy never leave the Kodak archives in Rochester, NY. As far as Kubrick was concerned, Killer’s Kiss was his debut feature.
Kubrick raised the film’s $40,000 budget from friends and family and shot it guerilla style. United Artists distributed the film, which clocks in at 67 minutes, has a misleading title, and a script with all the depth of something bled on the back of a pulp magazine. If Kubrick’s name was nowhere on the credits, it would probably be dismissed as a lost student effort with some interesting ambiance, but no story.
I liked this for what it was. Preferring to work as close to home as possible, Kubrick shot Killer’s Kiss on locations not far from his apartment in New York City, and the film has a great on-the-fly feel that captures the city from someone who lived there in the mid-’50s. It’s a hard edged, joyless New York, but the street scenes are given a raw look.
Far from trying to shoot a documentary, Kubrick brings a beguiling mood to the film. Davey’s escape from Rapallo and his goons – sprinting down vacant alleys, across barren, locked rooftops and finally, having to fight his way out of a room full of mannequins with the maniac Rapallo swinging an ax at him – is like something out of a bad dream.
Problems recording sound on the set led to Kubrick dubbing the dialogue and sound effects in post, lending scenes a disjointed feel. As would be the case in many of his subsequent pictures, story, character and dialogue are not a going concern for Kubrick here. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who’s never seen one of his films, but understanding what I was getting into, I dug what the director put together.