I imagine that Stanley Kubrick probably would have dismissed this film as juvenilia by the time he got to his imperial phase (he certainly did of his feature debut, Killer’s Kiss, at least). It’s a film noir that in some of its elements feels a little derivative of earlier noir crime films, along with similar elaborately-plotted French heist films of the same era. But to leave it at that would be to overlook just how tautly structured it is, and how much fun to watch. Not that it’s Ocean’s 11 or anything — this is still noir, nobody gets away with anything at a deeper existential level, but while the ending feels somehow fated, it’s also exactly perfectly judged. A voiceover tells us what’s going on, as we see each of the characters who together make up the individual components of a heist orchestrated by Sterling Hayden, and it’s that calmly dispassionate voice that leads us towards a certain inevitability. But along the way, the crisp monochrome photography and the memorable character roles make for a rich tapestry of lowlifes and grifters who each believes they’re set to make a killing on the races. (What they didn’t know is that… etc etc.)
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Stanley Kubrick; Writers Kubrick and Jim Thompson (based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White); Cinematographer Lucien Ballard; Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook Jr., Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen; Length 84 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Thursday 6 October 2022 (and earlier on VHS in the unversity library, Wellington, September 1998).