There’s a million stories in this naked city and here’s one of them. Killer’s Kiss, Kubrick’s second directorial credit (who co-penned it with Howard Sackler) is a Noir in the classic sense – filmed in moral black and white and shades of gray, with a gorgeous, sometimes brutal use of world-weary lighting (or, indeed, the utter lack of it).
The story revolves around the love-triangle (geometrically difficult, by the way) of Davey Gordon (played by Jamie Smith), a boxer already into his used-to-was late 20’s and his elegant neighbor Gloria Price (played by Irene Kane, former Vogue model and later co-writer of star autobiographies, including books for Betty Ford and Josephine Baker under the name Chris Chase. Sure, I grant you that being a co-author to someone else’s biography is an odd use of the prefix auto, but hey, Noir is a dark, muddled, confusing, and ambiguous world). Gloria is a taxi-dancer, which means she only dances to the music of Cab Calloway. No seriously, she’s a private dancer, a dancer for money, and any old music will do.
Rounding out this terse triangle is Gloria’s boss and the film’s bad guy, Vincent Rapallo, who we first seeing swapping tongue-stuff with Gloria in her dressing room. Though kissing him back, she seems oddly distracted by radio news of Davey having gotten his ass handed to him in yet another fight. They had met in a silent moment early in the film, so you know, embers are already glowing.
Later, while Davey is innocently watching Gloria undress (his apartment is across the courtyard from hers), he gets a phone call from his uncle telling him to come visit the horse ranch in Seattle. This of course leads to Davey having a nightmare so bad, it’s even shown in negative. Luckily, he’s woken by the screams of Gloria, who is being attacked by her boss, who apparently doesn’t think kisses are enough. After driving him off, Davey comforts Gloria and even stands watch while she sleeps. He also looks around her apartment and looks at and goes through her things, like the doll tied to her bed frame. So, it’s... you know... love, and not creepy at all.
Then, over breakfast the next day (hey, hey, hey, he went home and came back in the morning) Gloria tells Davey of her sad, twisted and horrifying youth and sad, twisted and depressing current story. A long walk and an ice cream later they realize the love each other and that they should both go to Seattle. Davey, of course, believes she’s only using him to get out of her unhappy NYC life for the peace of an unhappy Seattle life. But still, a plan’s a plan, so they go about getting their money together so they can leave. This is easier for Davey than for Gloria., who finds her unhappy, love-lorn boss alternately pleading his heart to her or threatening to kill her. Meanwhile, waiting outside for her, Davey is tormented by fez-wearing harmonica players (I’m not making this up).
Things get crazier, with a mistaken identity-related murder, a kidnapping, crushed hopes false accusations, a warehouse full of creep mannequins and, ultimately, a name-clearing resolution. Davey waits at the train station, believing now that her boss is dead, Gloria will never show up for a new life with a bum like him. Will he be left boarding that lonely train alone? Or does she deliver herself in the lip-locked nick of time? You’ll have to watch the film yourself. Watch it with a bottle of cheap whiskey and a side-order of bleak despair. Try and get the original print as the studio messed with the ending, despite Kubrick’s insistence that world, in fact, sucks.
An oddly straight-forward film for Kubrick, it was shot on a sparse budget and an uncle was involved. That’s all I’m saying ok?
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.