From his screenplay with snappy, snappy dialogue by Jim Thompson, Stanley Kubrick directs this early noir caper-heist classic. Sterling Hayden delivers the dialogue with a ferocity rarely seen these days.
After a race track heist is compromised by one of the gangs girlfriends (she’s snooping and is discovered), Johnny Clay (Hayden) is asked what he’s going to do now. Clay tilts his head and says
Ah…I don’t think I’ll have to kill ‘er. Just slap that pretty face into hamburger meat, that’s all.
The gang leaves and as Sherry (Marie Windsor) comes to after being knocked out, Clay prepares to go to work.
All right, sister…that’s a mighty pretty head you’ve got on your shoulders. You wanna keep it there, or you wanna start carrying it around in your hand?
Oh, maybe we could compromise and put it on your shoulder. I think that’d be nice, don’t you?
The story is told with voice over screen narration, following the strict time-line of the crime plan. What’s unique (it’s been done before, but not sure if this is not the first) is that the narrative unfolds through several of the principals, so that the time-line goes up to a certain point with one character, and then folds back to an earlier point with another character. This is very effective, and actually tells a clearer picture than the simultaneous linear action form we’re used to.
And I can’t say enough about the acting:
Sterling Hayden, of course, was just a master at this kind of role. Johnny Clay is tough, straight-talking, and with an unwavering moral code that he stood by without question. All of the supporting roles were good to excellent.
Elisha Cook Jr. played the weak link in the gang to sniveling perfection.
And wow! Timothy Carey (Chino in The Wild One, a bouncer in East of Eden) as Nikki Arcane is terrific as a hired rifleman, with all his ticks and facial expressions, he looks like an earlier version of John Turturro. Only this guy could get away with calling Hayden’s chacacter “Pops”.
And what a hoot to see Ben Casey his own self – Vince Edwards.
Now available on DVD.