Devon Seltzer’s review published on Letterboxd:
***Filling in the Gaps: Stanley Kubrick- Film 1/7***
Killer's Kiss is the second feature length film from legendary director Stanley Kubrick, and for that reason alone is it remembered, otherwise I'm pretty sure this largely by-the-numbers noir tale would have been lost in the cigarette scented smog of time. Killer's Kiss tells the story of washed up boxer Davey “Baby” Gordon, who comes home one night after losing a fight and ends up saving his neighbor, Gloria, from the unwanted advances of her infatuated boss Rapallo. This simple act of kindness leads him down a dark, dangerous, and murderous path.
Don't just take my word for it either, Davey will tell you himself right from the start in his clunky voice-over, a must for noir films. Killer's Kiss doesn't skimp on any of the genre tropes in fact, from the tragic femme fatale, to the smokey dark cinematography, to the unwitting hero who doesn't intend to enter this world at all. Unfortunately, Killer's Kiss doesn't master any of these beats, instead just giving us the most generic and unremarkable noir cliches imaginable.
This isn't helped by the rather mannequin-esqe acting (and I don't mean the final battle's onlookers), particularly from Jamie Smith as Davey. I'm not going to pick on Smith though, because the entire cast is uniformly bad, delivering lines haltingly, as if reading from cue cards at all times. Which they may very well have been as the audio was added entirely in post from what I hear. Not that they had much to work worth, Kubrick's script is rather dull and listless and manages to drag on forever, even though it clocks it at barely over an hour long.
There is quality here though, when the film shuts up and Kubrick lets his camera tell the story, the glowing rays of his talent shine through and bathe us in awe. Kubrick's black and white photography is crisp and haunting, and though this is only his second feature, he already has complete control over his shots. New York's buildings tower over the insignificant characters, the simple act of Gloria walking up a flight of stairs is mesmerizing. The film features the most immersive boxing scene I've ever witnessed, the climatic chase is outstanding, as the camera sits stationary, panning along with Davey as he tries to escape his pursuers. The aforementioned final fight is also a joy, taking place in a mannequin factory, the conflict is unrelentingly tense and the passionless dummies only serve to add extra terror to the moment.
All-in-all, Killer's Kiss is far from Kubrick's best work, but it does show the promise of his future in every shot. If only the film itself had been something other then a fill-in-the-blanks noir with hammy dialogue and stiff acting, all buried beneath an overly bombastic score. Nonetheless, it's still worth a watch for Kubrick's style alone.