Five crooks plan an elaborate scheme to rob a
racetrack, but things don't go exactly according to plan.
The Killing (1956)
Written and Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor,
Joe Sawyer, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Coleen Gray,
Vince Edwards, Timothy Carey, Kola Kwariani
Based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White
Every heist movie of the past fifty years, including Reservoir Dogs, Snatch, Ocean's Eleven, and most recently Logan Lucky, owes everything to Kubrick's incredible film noir masterpiece The Killing. It's a film that stands alone in a decade where Hollywood was banking on musicals and epics. It's brilliantly written, remarkably tense, and sports an impeccable cast that all play believable characters. It's never overdone, cheesy, or unbelievable. Frankly, it's the original heist film that created the template we all know and love today.
A small-timer named Johnny Clay brings together four dreamers with big plans, and together they plan to rob a racetrack on the day of its biggest race. He drafts a flawless plan that's orchestrated down to the last second, but they soon discover that fate doesn't care what your plans are. Sterling Hayden leads this film as Johnny, and watching him plot out this genius plan only to watch it all crumble because of one man's stupid mistake is not only tense as hell, but its sad. You actually feel bad for the thieves, which is always an odd feeling in movies like this. But I like the way the film treats its characters. They're not heroes, they're not villains, they're just desperate. It's a trope that would go on to influence heist movies across the years.
With The Killing, Stanley Kubrick proved to filmmakers everywhere that he had talent and he was on his way to dominate the industry creatively. This film perfectly demonstrates his genius for characters, dialogue, and impossible situations. The Killing successfully plays off of the idea of "wrong place, wrong time" and builds a highly engaging narrative with basic pieces that are in every storyteller's arsenal. It's no wonder he went on to become one of cinema's most influential directors. He was killing it from day one.