Originally published at Kevyn Knox's ultracool blog THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FRAUD IN TH WORLD.
Stanley Kubrick gives the film-noir genre a new twist with a jigsaw narrative layered with quick tough dialogue penned by crime aficionado Jim Thompson. His classic tracking shots and low angle photography are works in progress here but the potential is unmistakable.
Sterling Hayden as Johnny Clay is tough and likable as the gang leader but we’re never allowed intimacy with him or any other character, a device that Kubrick later perfected. Though we are shown some insight into the lives of the participants such as the bartender whose wife is dying of cancer, George and his femme fatale wife, and Johnny and his adoring girlfriend, the camera gives them too much distance for the viewer to make any real connection.
The non-linear timeline pieces the robbery together, sometimes reliving the same event from other perspectives. What makes this interesting is that we are never privy to the plot; we watch it come together like a puzzle until a coherent picture is formed. Kubrick uses a voice-over to keep us on schedule and to explain timing of events but the narrator is imperfect: we are told at 7:00 AM “Johnny began what could be the last day of his life” during a scene between he and his cohort Marv. Later Johnny arrives at the airport and the narrator announces the time as 7:00 AM. I believe Kubrick was breaking with convention by purposely conveying false information from what is typically a neutral omniscient voice. This ominous “mistake” foreshadows the violence and betrayal soon to follow.
Per film-noir expectations, the wicked woman leads the men to destruction with her conniving, greed, and sexual manipulation. The pounding score ups the ante and creates suspense as the tragedy unfolds. Does anyone else think that Timothy Carey was a greatly underrated actor? Finally Clay's dirty deeds are scrubbed clean by propeller wash.
Final Grade: (B +)