Greatest Film Scenes
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The Killing (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Killing (1956)

In this early and stylish Stanley Kubrick film-noir crime drama thriller - a raw story of greed and infidelity. The famed director's third film and first major and successful film effort, was a definitive heist-caper, although it was highly under-rated when first released. The doom-laden, voice-over dialogue was derived from Lionel White's novel Clean Break. The film has influenced many heist films, including the original Ocean's Eleven (1960) (also remade in 2001). The black and white heist film was similar in tone and theme to director John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) (also starring Sterling Hayden). This work would influence filmmakers for decades after - most notably Guy Ritchie and crime drama auteur Quentin Tarantino and his film Reservoir Dogs.

The entire movie was presented non-chronologically in a winding fashion (with flashforwards and flashbacks). It was told as an overlapping and interweaving jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks with a mock-documentary narration. It played out in a series of tense, black-comedy scenes with swift transitions. It featured excellent cinematography by Lucien Ballard, but was completely ignored by the Academy.

  • the film opened with a view of a typical day of horse-racing at the Lansdowne racetrack in the Bay Area. [Note: The track was Bay Meadows in San Mateo, CA.]
  • the main five individuals of the film, members of a desperate gang, were plotting a heist that evening at 8 pm in an apartment; the group was conspiring to devise and execute a complex, carefully-timed racetrack heist of $2 million; the plan was to cause simultaneous, diversionary confusion by shooting one of the racehorses in mid-race and instigating a bar fight, thereby allowing Johnny to rob the main track offices and seize the day's takings - but the heist ultimately went terribly wrong
  • the gang members were introduced - all were anti-hero misfits and lowlifes (in an ensemble cast):
    • Marvin Unger (Jay C. Flippen), an elderly bookkeeper who was financing the heist
    • Mike O'Reilly (Joe Sawyer), the racetrack bartender, with an invalid wife
    • George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), the inside-man, the race-track betting window teller/cashier with a nagging wife
    • Randy Kennan (Ted DeCorsia), a corrupt patrolman deep in debt to a loan-shark
    • Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), a grim, determined, and veteran criminal and ex-convict (just released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for robbery at Alcatraz); Johnny was the mastermind - he had recently reunited with his girlfriend to whom he promised a future together after the robbery's success
  • Johnny assured his girlfriend Fay (Coleen Gray) about his foolproof plan to make a lot of money: "None of these men are criminals in the usual sense. They've all got jobs, they all live seemingly normal, decent lives, but they got their problems and they've all got a little larceny in 'em."
  • Fay had been waiting five long years for him and was uncertain about his return to crime, but went along with his statement: "Any time you take a chance, you'd better be sure the rewards are worth the risk." She was insecure about the possibility of him being locked away again if caught, but she believed in him: "I've always believed you, everything you've ever told me....Make sure you're right about it, Johnny. I'm no good for anybody else. I'm not pretty and I'm not very smart, so please don't leave me alone any more."
  • ultimately, pathetic wimp and loser George Peatty became the fatal flaw in the planned heist. He was involved in a troubled five-year marriage with cynical, complaining, domineering, unfaithful, conniving and covetous femme fatale wife Sherry (Marie Windsor), and was easily tricked by her
  • a clue to their unhappiness was revealed when he returned home from work and asked her: "Just tell me one thing. Why did you ever marry me anyway?...You used to love me. You said you did, anyway." She was exasperated that he had promised her riches ("hitting it rich") but nothing had come to fruition. She sarcastically called him "a big handsome intelligent brute."
  • George hinted to Sherry that he might be coming into a lot of money soon ("hundreds of thousands of dollars...maybe a half million") - piquing her interest in how he would accomplish it: "You don't have enough imagination to lie. So what makes you think or know that you're gonna have several hundred thousand dollars?" - George clammed up, although he added: "You're the one I'm doing it for."
George With His Nagging, Complaining and Conniving Wife Sherry
  • Sherry suggested that she was going out for the evening, while he was out at an undisclosed meeting (planning for the heist). Sherry was able to convince George to divulge his money-making scheme to her (off-screen).
  • after learning George's plan, the two-timing wife secretly met up that evening with her slick gangster boyfriend/lover Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), who was also two-timing her. She divulged her love of money: "We're gonna have money, Val. More money than you ever dreamed of. Maybe even millions" - and she would get the money via her foolish husband: "He's stumbled onto something big." She guessed that he was somehow connected to the mob and was pulling off a heist: "They're gonna rob the track offices for the day's receipts."
  • Sherry's plan with Val was that they would steal the money from George and his associates after the robbery at the rendezvous point. Sherry believed that the money would bring her out of poverty and revitalize her life ("And if I just sit tight, I'd be up to my curls in cash, just like that"), and it would allow her to run away with Val
Two-Timing Wife Sherry With Co-Conspirator/Lover Val
  • Johnny's meeting with the other thieves was interrupted when Sherry was found eavesdropping at the door's keyhole. George lied and denied telling her anything, but Johnny harshly asked: "If you didn't tell her then, why was she around here snoopin'?" George made up an excuse for her: "She must have found the address in my pocket. Sure, that's what it was. Thought I was two-timing her, you know, runnin' around with another..."
  • George was forcibly taken home, while Johnny engaged in a shake-down of Sherry, threatening: "I don't think I'll have to kill her. Just slap that pretty face into hamburger meat, that's all." When Sherry corroborated George's excuse, Johnny didn't really believe her - sensing how deceitful, heartless, greedy, unloving and sleazy she truly was: "And you'd care if he was playin' another dame? That would bother you? (ha, ha, ha)...I know you like a book. You're a no-good nosey little tramp. You'd sell out your own mother for a piece of fudge, but you're smart along with it. Smart enough to know when to sell and when to sit tight, and you know you'd better sit tight in this case....You heard me. You like money. You got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart. So play it smart, stay in character, and you'll have money. Plenty of it. George'll have it and he'll blow it all on you and probably buy himself a five-cent cigar....If you're smart, if you keep your trap shut and don't nose around anymore, you'll have money."
  • Sherry agreed to keep quiet and let the heist proceed as planned. Later that evening, Sherry kept it a secret from George what her real motives were. It was entirely implausible that George was chasing after another woman and that Sherry would be jealous of him. Sherry insisted that George, now fearful, not drop out of the plan, since it would mean the loss of the money for her. She counter-balanced her love for him in exchange for the heist, and was able to persuade George to prove his love for her by becoming rich and buying her things:

    Sherry: Think how disappointed I'd be if you didn't get that money. I'd feel like you didn't really love me. I don't see how I could feel any other way.
    George: Why, why should I have to do a thing like that to prove to you that I love you?...
    Sherry: All you've ever done is talk about loving me....Now that you have a chance to do something and to - all those things you promised, buy me things! Well, what are you gonna do, George?
    George: You know there ain't a thing in the world I wouldn't do for ya.
    Sherry: Then you'll do this for me, won't you?
    George (reluctantly): I guess so.

  • three days later and a few days before the heist, Johnny met in a New York City chess club, The Academy of Chess and Checkers, with bald, burly ex-wrestler Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani) - another member of Johnny's team of thieves. Maurice thoughtfully told Johnny about his unconventional choice of a life of crime: "You have my sympathies, then. You have not yet learned that in this life you have to be like everyone else - the perfect mediocrity; no better, no worse. Individuality's a monster and it must be strangled in its cradle to make our friends feel confident. You know, I've often thought that the gangster and the artist are the same in the eyes of the masses. They are admired and hero-worshipped, but there is always present underlying wish to see them destroyed at the peak of their glory."
  • the $2 million dollar race-track robbery involved Johnny holding up accountants in the track's back counting room (after being let in by George), while others assisted in getting the money out of the building, and two other crooks created chaos during the race - including two diversionary tactics:
    • Maurice's instigation of a brawl with O'Reilly near the racetrack bar
    • sharpshooter Nikki Arane's (Timothy Carey) killing of a racehorse named Red Lightning during the race with a high-powered rifle fitted with a telescopic sight, from a vantage point in an adjacent parking lot, as the horses came down the stretch
  • the morning of the heist during an early breakfast, Sherry suspected something was in the works, and again nagged George about their poverty-stricken lifestyle: "It's just I can't stand living like this, in this crummy apartment and a hamburger for dinner." She was encouraged by the fact that they would soon be rich after the robbery: ("Things are gonna be different, you'll see. When we get all that money and we have so many nice things, I'll stop thinking about myself so much"). She pestered him - repeatedly asking him if it was the day of the heist: "It is today, isn't it?" - and realized it was
The Morning of the Heist: Deceitful Sherry
  • the elaborate yet botched and doomed-to-fail $2 million dollar racetrack robbery sequence occurred during the 7th race in the late afternoon. Although the heist went fairly smoothly, sharpshooter Arane was shot and killed by the black parking lot attendant (James Edwards) after downing Red Lightning.
  • all of the surviving gang members were at the rendezvous point in an apartment where they planned to split up the money (but Johnny was delayed by traffic). Val barged in to steal their loot with an associate named Tiny (Joe Turkel). When Val taunted George (calling him a "jerk") about how he had heard of the robbery from Sherry ("a certain little lady"), George appeared from a back doorway. After being struck and seriously wounded, George's gun fired wildly in the room multiple times, hitting Val and appearing to also hit some of his compatriots. Val's gun fired once as he went down and also fired into the room. Seriously-wounded George was the only one to survive.

Val and Tiny - Robbing the Robbers at the Rendezvous Apartment

The Massacre in the Apartment

Fatally-Wounded George During Massacre
  • Johnny arrived after the massacre to see George stumbling out of the building and driving home. As part of the pre-arranged plan if something went wrong, Johnny was forced to take the money to be split later amongst the others
  • after staggering home, George heard Sherry call him from the back bedroom: "I'm back here, Val darling." He confronted his wife Sherry: ("Why did you do it?"), and denounced her for conspiring with Val and planning to run away with him, after she warned: "You'd better get out of here before he gets here." She heartlessly dismissed her husband and refused to help him by calling an ambulance: "Take a cab." Before expiring, George shot her in the abdomen, and as she crumpled over clutching her mid-section, she sputtered: "It isn't fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line." Likewise, George fell to the floor, dead
  • meanwhile, Johnny had crammed the cash into a recently-purchased, cheap large suitcase (but couldn't lock the overstuffed case), and met girlfriend Fay at the airport - with tickets for a flight to Boston. The doomed circumstances of the heist came to fruition when a baggage-cart driver swerved to avoid a poodle-dog on the tarmac, and sent Johnny's checked heavy suitcase of stolen money off the cart onto the runway where it broke open - there was the incredible visual shot of an airplane propeller blowing away the fallen suitcase's contents of banknotes that whirled all over the runway
Final Scene at Airport - Saturday night

Johnny's Suitcase with Money Opening on Airport Tarmac

Johnny with Fay

Johnny's Apprehension by Plain-Clothes Policemen
  • in the final scene, authorities were alerted and Johnny was being approached by armed and alerted plainclothes policemen to arrest him as he exited from the airport terminal to hail a cab. He was warned by Fay: ("Johnny, you've got to run!"), but he calmly and futily replied, with the film's tagline: ("Nah, what's the difference?")

(l to r): Bookkeeper Unger and Bartender O'Reilly

Inside-Man George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.)

Patrolman Randy Kennan (Ted DeCorsia)

Johnny Clay's Trusting and Loyal Girlfriend Fay (Coleen Gray)

Heist Mastermind Johnny Planning the Theft

George Surprised that Sherry Was Caught Listening in on Planning Meeting

Johnny's Questioning of Eavesdropping Sherry

Sherry's Manipulation of George To Steal the Money to Prove His Love For Her

Johnny with Maurice in NYC Chess Club

Johnny Negotiating with Sharpshooter Nikki Arane

Nikki Shot and Killed by Parking Lot Officer (James Edwards)

Johnny Disguised With a Rubber Mask During Robbery at Track

Sherry Packing to Run Away With Val

Wounded George to Sherry: "Why did you do it?"

Sherry Crumpled Over and Dying

George Dead on the Floor


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