Davy, a boxer, saves Gloria, a nightclub dancer, from a mugging. The couple start a relationship, which excites the jealousy of Glorias menacing employer, Vince. Vince kidnaps Gloria, and Davy sets out to rescue her.
Stanley Kubrick’s first feature film was Fear and Desire, an allegorical war movie he was so dissatisfied with that he managed to get it suppressed. Killer’s Kiss, his second feature is an exercise in film noir fairytale which shows just how powerful a filmmaker Kubrick was right out of the gate.
Followers of his later career will note the appearance of themes and images that recurred (a final axe-fight in a warehouse full of disembodied mannequin parts would not be out of place in The Shining), but this is also notably unlike later Kubrick films in its use of authentic New York locations (which extends to cine-verite-look on-the-streets footage worlds away from the every-detail-controlled-in-the-studio films of the later years), an original story penned by the director and a 67-minute running time.
The plot is a tiny anecdote about a washed-up boxer, a dance hall dame and a slimy hood, and one crowded weekend of brutality and romance. There’s a sense of a young director playing games: the boxing match (a definite influence on Raging Bull) is all low-angle close-ups and subjective shots with plenty of thump and dazzle, and the traditional Expressionist look of noir is exaggerated with many a tricky shot or doomy plot twist.
The three unfamiliar leads are all excellent as small-timers struggling with big passions, and there is already a potent use of raucous source music and subtle sound design to augment the stark, haunted black and white imagery. Matthew Chapman’s film Strangers Kiss is based on the making of this movie, with Peter Coyote as ‘Stanley’.
Kubrick's second feature shows his promise as a powerful and iconic director in motifs and style.