Crime Does Not Pay: Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING (United Artists 1956)

Before Stanley Kubrick became Stanley Kubrick, he made a pair of low-budget crime dramas in the mid-50’s that are standouts in the film noir canon. The second of these, THE KILLING, is a perfect movie in every way imaginable, showing flashes of the director’s genius behind the camera, featuring just about the toughest cast you’re likely to find in a film noir, and the toughest dialog as well, courtesy of hard-boiled author Jim Thompson.

THE KILLING is done semi-documentary style (with narration by Art Gilmore), and follows the planning, execution, and aftermath of a two million dollar racetrack heist. Sterling Hayden plays the mastermind behind the bold robbery, a career criminal looking for one last score. He’s aided and abetted by a moneyman (Jay C. Flippen ), a track bartender (Joe Sawyer ), a teller (Elisha Cook Jr. ), and a crooked cop (Ted de Corsia ). He also hires a sharpshooter (Timothy Carey ) and a chess playing wrestler (Kola Kwariani) to create diversions in order to insure the heist’s success.

And indeed the robbery does go off without a hitch… but there’s a proverbial fly in the ointment. Seems timid Cook has a bitchy wife (Marie Windsor ) who constantly berates him for being such a loser, so he spills the beans to her about his upcoming good fortune. She in turn gives the info to her young stud lover (Vince Edwards ), who gets ideas of his own. I won’t say anymore for those of you who haven’t seen this marvelously malevolent movie, among the finest films noir you’ll ever see, with an unforgettable final line delivered to perfection by Hayden.

Kubrick’s photographic eye captures every detail, from the mundane day-to-day lives of these people to the audacity of the crime itself. He sometimes repeats scenes to show them from different character perspectives, giving them added depth. Kubrick began as a photographer for LOOK Magazine, and then got into films directing several documentary shorts. He wanted to be his own cinematographer for this film, but the union wouldn’t have it, and the veteran Lucian Ballard was hired, but make no mistake, every shot in THE KILLING is pure, unadulterated Kubrick!

The cast is perfect, but Elisha Cook and Marie Windsor absolutely steal the show as the weak, mousey husband and his unfaithful wife. Cook, unquestionably the Crown Prince of Film Noir, adds to his Rogue’s Gallery of weaselly types as a schlemiel who only wants to please his rotten wife. And Windsor is rotten indeed, the ultimate Queen of Mean, a beautiful package on the outside that masks an ugly black soul. Their scenes together are sheer dynamite, and Kubrick allows both actors to shine.

The oddball Timothy Carey gives yet another oddball performance here, but it’s brief and it works. Kubrick’s chess playing friend from New York Kola Kwarianai, a real-life professional wrestler and promoter, plays the goon hired to create a distraction. Under Kubrick’s watchful eye, Kwarianai does well with his dialog, and excels in the wrestling-inspired scene at the track. There’s so much going on in THE KILLING at all times (something that definitely caught my eye: a poster for a Burlesque show MC’d by Lenny Bruce) it takes more than one viewing to take it all in. And I’m OK with that; THE KILLING is worth watching over and over again.

Prophet Without Honor: Timothy Carey’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (Timothy Carey 1962)

Timothy Agoglia Carey (1929-1994) was an eccentric, oddball actor who played in everything from early Stanley Kubrick films (THE KILLING, PATHS OF GLORY) to AIP Beach Party romps (BIKINI BEACH, BEACH BLANKET BINGO ). He had the look of an overfed vampire, and was noted for his off-the-wall characterizations. Carey didn’t play the Hollywood game, considering himself an artist, and you’ve got to admire that. In 1962, he made a film called THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER, which he produced, directed, wrote, starred in, and released himself. Top THAT, Orson Welles!.

This ultra-low-budget film is totally bizarre right off the rip. Insurance man Clarence Hilliard (Carey) gets himself fired from his job after telling people they don’t need insurance. He wants more out of life, believing man is a superbeing, and begins to set himself up as a God. After watching a rock’n’roll teen idol, Clarence becomes a charismatic, guitar-toting, fiery evangelist, renaming himself ‘God’ Hilliard. Gaining a following, he makes a deal with The Devil and joins the political fray, campaigning for president!

‘God’ Hilliard mesmerizes the masses with his rhetoric, delivering a populist message “for the people” to become Gods themselves, blasting the crooked two-party system, and deriding the news media as “printing lies” (sound familiar?). ‘God’ Hilliard rails against everything, including The Almighty, questioning the existence of God. His final desecration of the Holy Eucharist (which will definitely offend some) gives way to a rather shocking finale.

THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER is shot in a cinema verite stylemuch like the later films of Carey’s good friend John Cassavetes. But Carey adds his own unique vision, “borrowing” from the foreign films of the day. It’s not a great movie, or a particularly good one far as film aesthetics go, but it held my interest straight through til the end. I can’t say that about some of the so-called “classics” I’ve seen (or even clunkers). Carey gave his all for his art here, and created an interesting, thought-provoking film with limited resources, the mark of a true artist.

Portrait of 2 Artists: Frank Zappa (l) and Timothy Carey

There’s some interesting bits of trivia, as well. The score is by Frank Zappa , five years before making the scene with The Mothers of Invention’s seminal psychedelic album FREAK-OUT. Zappa’s distinct musical touch was unmistakable, even back then. The narrator is Paul Frees , well-known voiceover artist who I’ve discussed before. And the cinematographer is credited to one Raymond Steckler, better known as Ray Dennis Steckler (or Cash Flagg, or Wolfgang Schmidt or Cindy Lou Sutters!), who went on to develop his own “artistic vision” with the cult classics THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME CRAZY MIXED-UP ZOMBIES and THE THRILL SEEKERS.

THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER will not be for everyone’s tastes. It’s below low-budget, sleazy, blasphemous, and like it’s creator completely off-center. Those of you who crave something bold and different will be as mesmerized by Carey’s ‘God’ Hilliard as I was. The oddball auteur later made another solo effort, 1970’s TWEET’S LADIES OF PASADENA. If it’s anywhere near THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER, it will be worth watching!

Fun in the Sun: BEACH BLANKET BINGO (AIP 1965)

You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!

Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motley crew have spied Sugar, and the Head Rat immediately declares she’s “nifty”, and Sugar replaces his idol, “Marlo Brandon”.

Frankie wants to try skydiving, and so does Dee Dee (our girl Annette, for those unfamiliar with the series), but macho Frank thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The gang heads to Big Drop’s Skydiving school, run by ‘Mr. Warmth’, the late, great Don Rickles . Instructors Steve and Bonnie (real-life husband and wife John Ashley and the delectable Deborah Walley ) cause romantic complications for Frankie and Dee Dee, because that’s just the way things go in these films. Meanwhile, big goofy Bonehead ( Jody McCrea ) opts out of the skydiving scene, and winds up meeting and falling in love with Lorelei the mermaid, played by marvy Marta Kristen (LOST IN SPACE’s Judy Robinson).

Things get real (or about as real as they can in a drive-in flick) when Von Zipper kidnaps Sugar, only to be snatched from him by his no-goodnik pool hall pal South Dakota Slim (the one and only Timothy Carey !). Slim takes her to his “bubby” house (he calls everyone “bubby”) and ties her to a buzzsaw, resulting in a silent-film style slapstick ending straight outta THE PERILS OF PAULINE. That ending, along with other comic bits, was devised by Keaton, who’s Big Drop’s “assistant”, and it’s obviously the comedy master’s handiwork. Buster has some wonderful sight gags spread throughout the film, like having troubles casting his fishing line in the surf, chasing (and chased by) Bobbi Shaw along the seascape, doing his own crazy version of the watusi, and hanging from a tree limb during the sped-up race to Slim’s sawmill. Buster Keaton still did his own stunts here at age 69, and his dedication to his comic craft, even in a low-budget teen movie like this, is a testament to his considerable talents.

Lynde and Rickles each get to showcase their own comic personas, with Rickles doing some of his stand-up insult comedy while emceeing Sugar’s singing performance, and it’s one of the movie’s comic highlights (Don to Frankie: “You’re 43, Frank! You’re old!”). Donna Loren returns to sing “It Only Hurts When I Cry”, surf rockers The Hondells appear, and even Lembeck and his Rats get a musical number, “Follow Your Leader”. Famed (at the time) columnist Earl Wilson plays himself, 1964’s Playmate of the Year Donna Michelle is one of the surfer girls, and Michael Nader (later Evans’ costar on DYNASTY) is Frankie’s pal Butch. BEACH BLANKET BINGO is perfect for a hot summer night when you’re looking for some mindless laughs, with a bevy of beauties, harmless musical interludes, and some fine comedy from Lynde, Rickles, and especially Buster Keaton. Kowabunga!

 

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 4: B-Movie Roundup!

It’s time once again to make room on the ol’ DVR! Here’s five films that have their moments, but don’t quite make the “full review” cut.

king-of-the-underworld

KING OF THE UNDERWORLD

(Warner Bros 1939, D: Lewis Seiler)

Mediocre entry in Warner’s gangster cycle. Humphrey Bogart had the tough guy hoodlum thing down to a science by this time; here, he plays it mainly for laughs as vain gang boss Joe Gerney. Bogie was definitely on his way up, but co-star Kay Francis (she of the Baba Wawa speech impediment) was on her way down, playing a doctor whose hubby was involved with the gang, now out to prove her own innocence. Plenty of colorful 30’s slang, but not worth wasting your time on. Fun fact: Listen for the scene where Kay calls Bogie “mowonic”!

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GO WEST YOUNG LADY

(Columbia 1941, D: Frank L. Strayer)

Cornball comedy Western starring Penny Singleton (on break from her BLONDIE films) and a very young Glenn Ford. Glenn’s the new sheriff of Headstone sent to rid the town of “Killer Pete”, while Penny’s an Easterner with a knack for trouble. Penny also sings and dances, as does Ann Miller as a saloon girl (the two take part in a great catfight towards the end). Veterans Charlie Ruggles, Allen Jenkins, and Jed Prouty mug it up in supporting roles. Nothing special, but fairly entertaining. Fun Fact: Western Swing band Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys perform their hit “Ida Red”.

dvr3

BAYOU

(United Artists 1957, D: Harold Daniels)

Having lived in Louisiana for five years, I dug this sordid little tale of a New York architect (Peter Graves) who falls in love with Cajun Queen Marie (Lita Milan). Eccentric character actor Timothy Carey plays Ulysses, bully of the bayou and rival for Marie’s affections. Carey’s odd shimmying dance has to be seen to be believed! Interesting B with Roger Corman vets Ed Nelson, and Jonathan Haze (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) in small roles. Worth checking out, especially for Carey fans. Fun Fact: Lita Milan was married to ousted Dominican dictator Ramfis Trujillo.

12

TWELVE HOURS TO KILL

(20th Century Fox 1960, D; Edward L. Cahn)

This minor crime drama tries hard, as a Greek visitor (Nico Minardos) witnesses a gangland slaying and goes into hiding in a small town, pursued by the killers, a crooked cop, and a dogged detective. Barbara Eden is an attractive love interest, but Cahn’s lazy direction and Jerry Sohl’s rather obvious script do the movie in. Close, but no noir. Fun Fact: Supporting actors Gavin McLeod and Ted Knight reunited ten years later as cast members of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

dvr5

WANDA

(independent 1970, D:Barbara Loden)

The gem of this roundup! Actress Barbara Loden wrote and directed this character study about Wanda Goronski, an alcoholic, poverty stricken woman from West Pennsylvania coal country who leaves her husband and kids and hooks up with an abusive petty crook (Michael Higgins). Wanda is uneducated and has no self esteem, just drifts along the backroads of life with no plan, and will definitely hold your interest. Shot on location, this ultra realistic film was Loden’s only directorial effort. Sadly, she died from breast cancer in 1980. If you can only watch one film on this list, make it WANDA. Fun Fact: Loden was the wife of Oscar winning director Elia Kazan.

Now here’s Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys doing “Ida Red”. Take it away, Bob!!

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