Early Kubrick in 4K Ultra HD: The Killing

Stanley Kubrick started his Hollywood career with this crackerjack noir heist thriller. He did it so well that it’s hard to believe that he never tried to do a noir again.

Professional criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) orchestrates a complex racetrack robbery likely to net two million 1956 dollars. Hayden’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery does wonders for snappy, pulp-heavy dialog like “You’d be killing a horse – that’s not first-degree murder. In fact, it’s not murder at all. In fact, I don’t know what it is.”

Clay needs collaborators, and he doesn’t trust other crooks. He builds a team of people desperate for money. One of them (Joe Sawyer), the oldest of them, can’t avoid medical care for his sick wife.

And then there’s Elisha Cook Jr., noir’s all-around frightened weasel, who has other marital problems. He thinks that if he had more money, his dreadful, scornful, adulterous wife (Marie Windsor) might actually love him. When Clay meets that awful wife, he sees her for exactly what she is. “You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.”

The Killing was Kubrick’s third film, and his first made with major studio money (not much). It’s also Kubrick’s first film based on a novel (Lionel White’s Clean Break).

I give the film an A.

How It Looks

Kino Lorber tells us that this is a brand-new Dolby Vision HDR Master from a 4K Scan of the original negative. It can only be played on a 4K UltraHD player.

That 4K disc provides an incredible image. This is one of the best black-and-white transfers I’ve seen.

The image is presented in a 1.66×1 aspect ratio, giving very thin black lines on the sides of the screen.

Kino should have included a conventional Blu-ray disc in the box. They didn’t.

How It Sounds

The audio is what it should be: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0ch 48kHz. The two channels are identical, which is the right thing to do with a mono movie.

And the Extras

  • New audio commentary by Alan K. Rode. He’s often interesting, especially when talking about Kubrick’s relationships with screenwriters and cinematographers. But Rode wastes a lot of time on cast biographies. Rode is the author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film and Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy.
  • Trailer
  • Optional English subtitles

The disc is available today – July 26.