Noir-ish

Not a femme fatale

Last evening I watched Killer’s Kiss, a 1955 film by Stanley Kubrick. It’s his second film, made when he was only 26 (the bastard). Is this really noir? It has all the elements – darkness, death, dysfunction, criminals, voice-over narration, hapless people in hopeless lives – but then there’s this happy ending thing that turns it into a good guy rescues damsel in distress and they all live happily ever after fairy tale. The ending seems tacked on, and the Wikipedia entry¬†implies that it was, but they don’t have anything to back up that claim. I searched for a while, but I couldn’t find anything to support the statement either. That whole “What does it all mean?” thing gets killed in the end. So is it noir or just noir-ish?

It looks noir, with the lighting and camera angles. I love the richness of tone that Kubrick gets in his photography. There’s a sense of isolation or desolation as well. The story is set in the bustling metropolis of New York City, but so many scenes make the city look empty – no passers-by, no bystanders, no traffic. All the sound is overdubbed and it shows, which gives it a weird foreign-film feel.

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2 Responses to Noir-ish

  1. I can see your point about how “Killer’s Kiss” might be too different from the genre to be considered noir. However, “Ask the Dust” was also missing many essential characteristics that many would say were imperative for a noir novel, but as a class we still categorized it as such.

    This is from a starred (that means it’s reliable, right?) wikipedia article about Film Noir: “Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style… it encompasses a range of plots: the central figure may be a private eye (The Big Sleep), a plainclothes policeman (The Big Heat), an aging boxer (The Set-Up), a hapless grifter (Night and the City), a law-abiding citizen lured into a life of crime (Gun Crazy), or simply a victim of circumstance (D.O.A.). Although film noir was originally associated with American productions, films now so described have been made around the world.”

    “Killer’s Kiss” includes many of these things that wikipedia mentions, including the black and white visual style, cynical attitudes (Davey is depressed about losing his fight, Gloria has to deal with Vincent…), the central figure being a boxer, the large amount of violence, and Davey and Gloria, both law abiding citizens, are lulled into a life of crime by trying to steal money from his manager and Vincent, respectively.

    I agree with you that “Killer’s Kiss” is much more cut- and- dry than any of the other hardboiled or noir stories we’ve discussed so far; it is very entertaining and interesting, but doesn’t exactly leave you pondering the meaning of human existance. However, although Davey and Gloria do end up living “happily ever after,” or so the audience is led to believe, I don’t think that’s an automatic means for its dismissal from the noir genre.

  2. phb256 says:

    I wouldn’t automatically dismiss Killer’s Kiss as noir, but rather question it – hence “noir-ish.” Maybe Kubrick (or United Artists) felt the visual style was so dark and heavy that letting Davey leave town on his own would be too much, so the fairy tale ending is there for balance. But I think that the ending really changes the character of the story.
    I’d question Ask the Dust as noir as well. I see how it relates to noir. I like the way it gives some context, and the way it bridges between Red Harvest and Mildred Pierce. Maybe what we should take from these is that category isn’t so cut-and-dry; it’s more like a continuum.

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