Fear and Desire (1953)
Fear and Desire is an interesting watch as even though it is Stanley Kubrick's first film he essentially disowned it. While it's not that bad, Fear and Desire is basically a student film so I wouldn't consider it Kubrick's first "real" movie. It is also pretty short with a run time of 72 minutes. Either way its fascinating for Kubrick fans as this early work shows how far he came with his craft. While Kubrick obviously learned a lot while making this film, there isn't much here that hints at his later work other than the fact that this is a war movie and therefore shares some thematic similarities to Full Metal Jacket.
Turner Classics Movies showed this (back in December 2011) as part of their George Eastman film archive day and the print was gorgeous. It could be restored to look even better so hopefully it will get a home release on DVD/Blu-Ray for collectors.
It kinda feels like a Twilight Zone episode in the way its shot and acted, although this is not science fiction/fantasy and came out several years before that show premiered.
Fear and Desire is for Kubrick aficionados and film buffs only.
The Killing (1956)
The second Stanley Kubrick movie I watched for this post was also made in the 1950s. Although The Killing was only released three years after Fear and Desire it is clear Kubrick learned a lot during this period as there is a night and day difference in the quality of film making.
Sterling Hayden stars as Johnny Clay, a long time criminal who wants to pull a big final heist before settling down and marrying his girlfriend. Hayden would later play General Jack Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and as in other well-known films such as The Asphalt Jungle and The Godfather.
The acting is great all around. Ubiquitous actor Elisha Cook Jr. does a fine job as a horse racing bet teller in on the scheme to steal the money from the counting room of a racetrack. Cook was in tons of movies and TV shows from the 1930s through 1980s with his most famous film being The Maltese Falcon.
A young Joe Turkel, who would later be in Kubrick's The Shining and Blade Runner has a small role.
The directing and camerawork are excellent. The Killing shows the beauty of B&W cinematography as I don't think this movie would've been as good had it been filmed in color. The film is made like a docudrama showing a reenactment of real events. This realism is reinforced by a narrator and scenes being shown multiple times from the point of view of different characters (ex: fight scene, horse being shot, etc.) while the heist is being committed. By playing with time we are able to better see how all these characters and events are inter-connected.
Another thing The Killing does very well is that every set-up has a pay-off. When I watched the scene with a woman talking to an airplane employee about her poodle being excited for the arrival of her husband I was wondering what this was doing here as it seemed superfluous. A few minutes later there was a great payoff for this scene that made it necessary!
Although The Killing is not one of Kubrick's best known films, and doesn't really feel like a Kubrick film, it was still quite influential to directors like Quentin Tarantino (who admitted the film helped inspire Reservoir Dogs) and James Cameron (there is very similar flower box disguising a gun in Terminator 2: Judgement Day).
The Killing was Stanley Kubrick's first (of many) great movies and is on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List.