Finally! After winding my way through Stanley Kubrick's films on DVD for
months, I have actually viewed the last one currently available: Killer's
Kiss from 1955. Now I can take a nap until Eyes Wide Shut appears in
KK was Kubrick's second feature-length film, following 1953's Fear and
Desire. Apparently, the latter movie not only cannot be found on home
video, but Kubrick also blocked attempts at theatrical screenings because of
his intense dislike of the work. Whether this will change now that he's
gone is anyone's guess, but I think that it should appear, warts and all.
Anyway, since FAD remains unavailable, KK stands as the earliest piece
of Kubrick's work we can view. While you can detect some signs of his later
style, the piece itself seems rather bland and self-consciously stylized.
Kubrick attempted a film noir but the movie so lacks plot that the program
just kind of idles for most of its brief running time; to call the story
sketchy would be a compliment. Kubrick makes the movie look pretty good -
it seems like a fairly visually sophisticated effort for such a young
filmmaker - but it falls flat because it often appears empty - style for
The focus sticks closely to the characters, but they also seem ill-drawn and
unformed. The acting is decent but unexceptional and we never get much of a
sense for them other than that they appear sad and semi-desparate. Kubrick
seems to want to say something but never quite spits it out and the movie
just diddles along until its conclusion.
That ending actually is the one exceptional thing about KK. It's not
special or extraordinary in any way except for the fact that this is a
Kubrick film; in that regard, the finale stands out like a sore thumb in
comparison with his other pictures. I won't give away the ending, but let's
just say that no other Kubrick movie concludes in a similar manner.
I didn't dislike Killer's Kiss but I thought it seemed bland and
unremarkable, terms the rarely describe the work of Stanley Kubrick.
Although it only lasts 67 minutes, it actually felt longer, and that ain't a
Killer's Kiss appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on
this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because the dimensions of the
presentation do not require it, the movie has not been enhanced for 16X9
televisions. Although the image possesses definite flaws, it looks pretty
decent for a 45-year-old film made on a shoestring budget. (Actually,
Kubrick foretold the future experience of filmmakers like Kevin Smith and
others who self-financed their initial offerings and then sold them to
studios at a later time.)
KK seems fairly sharp and crisp for the most part; softness rarely becomes
any kind of an issue, and I noticed virtually no jagged edges or shimmering.
Print quality is a major problem, though. Speckles, scratches, hairs and
marks appear frequently, and the picture displayed an awful lot of grain.
Black levels seemed decent though occasionally tended toward slight
grayness, and shadow detail looked fairly transparent without much
over-darkness that would block important facets of the image. While the
picture probably could look a lot better, all considered the film seems
Less satisfactory is the rather poor monaural audio of Killer's Kiss. The
best I can say about it is that it lacks distortion; other than that, it's
pretty bad. Dialogue seemed exceptionally poorly dubbed and did not
integrate well with the image. It also simply sounded bad for the most
part; speech appeared very muffled and flat, although I usually didn't have
much trouble understanding it. Effects and music, on the other hand, came
across as shrill and harsh. Yes, they avoided distortion, but I still found
it unpleasant to listen to them. Killer's Kiss doesn't offer the worst
soundtrack I've heard, but it's pretty bad.
Also unsatisfactory is the complement of supplements on this DVD. We get a
trailer which is in terrible shape; it actually lacks video for its
beginning and ending! The DVD also comes with a booklet that contains some
brief production notes.
Killer's Kiss isn't Kubrick's worst film, but it's much closer to "bad"
than it is "good," and the DVD presents the movie in a rather weak way, with
fairly acceptable image but very poor sound and extras. For those curious
to witness early Kubrick, it's worth a rental, but that's about the extent
of its value.