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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Killer's + Killing + Kubrick --- Part One

Turns out Stanley Kubrick was one of us for time (lots) he spent hunkered in theatres watching pics old and new from childhood on. Killer's Kiss reveals as much. Bad man Frank Silvera has his office decorated with posters from the silent era, and I've got to believe those set decorations were from Kubrick's private stash. Were there Manhattan shops peddling one-sheets from the 1917 melodrama, Blue Jeans (Viola Dana and a buzz saw), or Goldwyn's The Winning Of Barbara Worth? --- and if so, how much would a penny-wise collector have had to pay for them? Both these adorn Killer's Kiss walls, and I wonder if they, like Rosebud, survived among Kubrick effects after his 1999 death.

Chicago Was Still Photographer Kubrick's Kind of Town, What With Plentiful Noir On Screens and Out In The Streets.

Kubrick Himself Was a Major Selling Point for Killer's Kiss
 The New York Times referred to Kubrick in Film Fan To Film Maker terms (their profile's title) for 1958 interviewing wherein he recalled a boy's life spent inside Loew's Bronx Paradise, inhaling everything they ran. Was SK buff enough to begin collecting from this early stage? Legend persists of his later hoarding a 35mm London After Midnight. Kubrick was among earliest directors with encyclopedic knowledge of film history (elder Robert Florey maybe the first) and evidence of movie-love reveals itself even in still photography for weekly mags prior to making flickers himself (going in to catch He Walked By Night at the State Lake, which Kubrick surely did after photographing its marquee, might well have inspired him to create noirs of his own).

Killer's Kiss, recently out with The Killing on Criterion Blu-Ray, is a film-hound's dream tour of Broadway in 1953's fourth quarter. Marquees are lit with dynamite bills, including November's two-theatre open of How To Marry A Millionaire. There's even a glimpse of the Holiday's front, with its reissue combo of Little Caesar and Public Enemy, that engagement covered previously at Greenbriar. No way would Kubrick have skipped this tandem, fan that he was, even as he dodged officialdom night after night to sneak White Way exteriors.

Kubrick As I Prefer Him: Making Fast, Cheap Thrillers On Borrowed Money

Killer's Kiss may not amount to much story or acting-wise, but what Kubrick captured of sidewalks, store windows, and rooftops is priceless. This is the city at its naked-est. I kept expecting J.J. Hunsecker to step up and hail a cab. An inspired pairing would be Killer's Kiss with same year's The Bandwagon. Kubrick's New York is distinctly not Vincente Minnelli's. A singing Tony Hunter wouldn't make it half-a-block down Killer's street. What joy it must have been to grow up a mere bus ride from this Eden of palaces, grind houses, and street corner pizza by the slice.

Stanley Kubrick made Killer's Kiss with $40,000 of borrowed money. He handled every task but brewing  coffee. United Artists was impressed enough to pay $75K for the negative. The distrib's execs want Stanley Kubrick to align with UA and the way to nab him was to buy out Kiss, observed Variety. The same trade's review (9-21-55) figured  UA's purchase best suited for lower half of the duals wherever it could eke out some bookings. Advertising leaned on the lurid, stills the distributor issued being coarse as you'd expect for an ultra-low-budget pick-up. Samples I dug out of Liberty storage by the early 70's were torn and staple-holed in ways entirely appropriate to this blink-and-it's gone release.

A Killer's Kiss Still Out of Liberty storage with Appropriate Rips and Dings --- I'd Not Want It Any Other Way.

UA Makes Publicity Hay With Kubrick's Maverick Shooting Ways
 Total bookings for Killer's Kiss was a woebegone 3,130. Even UA's Gog got into more theatres than this (7,284 engagements), while oddball Sabaka, its sole lure Boris Karloff in non-horror mode, eased through 4,557 doors. Killer's Kiss would pull drag for UA releases with scarcely greater promise. Los Angeles playdates supported Katharine Hepburn in Summertime, dull said Variety for a first week with $16,000 realized out of four theatres. There was a Frisco first-run with The Indian Fighter, and Denver kept Killer's Kiss for two weeks to back Bob Mitchum's Man With A Gun. Today's cult membership would have loved K'sK with Night Of The Hunter in Detroit, but ticket sales were slim, as was Kansas City's shared bill with Robert Aldrich's The Big Knife, good for a week's meager $4,500 at that city's 3500 seat Midland Theatre.

A Sampling of UA's Sin-Smeared Campaign for Killer's Kiss

Still and all, Killer's Kiss brought $130,285 in domestic rentals and $143,993 foreign. From $75 K United Artists paid Kubrick, plus cost of prints/advertising, they probably came out even, if not better. As for the distributor's back-end deal with their producer/director, Variety would add, it's understood he'll cut in on the "Kiss" revenue after UA recoups its investment, which leaves me wondering if SK ever saw a dime beyond that initial check they'd cut him. Killer's Kiss would certainly have gone into profit with television sales plus non-theatrical (tube runs underway by 1958). Since Kubrick regarded K'sK, in hindsight, as an amateur's effort, perhaps he also left UA alone with regard divvying these further receipts.


Anonymous Paul Duca said...

I love your idea of dueling Broadways with THE BANDWAGON. Remember, Fred Astaire's character was mourning the Great White Way of his youth, looking over the brash and brassy honky tonk of his 1953 version. Twenty years later people yearned for that one rather than Triple XXX Valley, with a hooker for every lamp post (something TAXI DRIVER touches on, but only tangentially)...which today some look upon wistfully, who don't consider the sanitized, suburbanized, Disneyized presentation a great step up.

4:27 PM  
Blogger TLRHB said...

Thanks for all the marvelous ads. That last one in color looks like a young Bobby Dylan as gangster.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Irene Kane looks remarkably like Grace Kelly in that color shot above the "Manniken Display Animates..." ad.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

What does one do with two-Ten Commandments tablets? (I guess you take daily before meals with water.)

2:06 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

... and do you suppose the Zukor and/or Balaban descendants still have these tablets?

5:50 AM  

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