Killer's + Killing + Kubrick --- Part Two
Fortune smiled on Stanley Kubrick in 1955 by way of a producing partner who knew enough industry ropes to help SK get a real movie off the ground. James B. Harris was a distributing entrepreneur still in his twenties with five years experience hustling vid series and fossil features via Flamingo Films, a concern which, according to Variety, began with capitalization of $6,000 and was now grossing three million a year off the likes of Superman, Wild Bill Hickok, The Life Of Riley, and recently acquired jewel, Stars Of The Grand Old Opry. Harris had instinct for biz talent, having nurtured producers-to-be David Wolper (of later documentary fame) and Sy Weintraub (who'd shortly revive a moribund Tarzan series). There was no one better equipped than Harris to make good things happen for Stanley Kubrick.
|Sleazy Cover Art and a Jack Webb Endorsement Make For '56 Must-Reading|
Having Harris in the mix was probably what got United Artists off the dime for The Killing's front money. UA is backing them (Harris and Kubrick) up with 100% financing, which amounts to about $600,000, for their first film, "Day Of Violence," based on the Lionel White novel, "The Clean Break," said Variety. James Harris' 2011 interview for Criterion's Blu-Ray release gave the lie to said reportage ... the distrib, he said, ponied $200G's and not a penny more. Harris, who believed in The Killing and Kubrick, sank personal savings of $180,000 plus another $50,000 borrowed from his father to invest $130,000 in The Killing's negative. The neophyte producer knew it would take meaningful $ to elevate he and Kubrick's project beyond shambles of exploitation then flooding markets.
|Over twenty years since Scarface and Little Caesar Were Made, But Bear In Mind Both Had Been Recently Back In Theatres When The Killing Opened.|
Kubrick's Killing cast looked like a precinct line-up, the director having pillaged players off every crime pic he'd sat through since starting to shave. All these, even putative star Sterling Hayden, were second-tier names, though I'd suspect Kubrick preferred them over a Gielgud ... well, when it's likes of Elisha Cook, Marie Windsor, and Joe Sawyer, wouldn't we all? As to selling a finished product, UA was for more sin-smearing. Like No Other Picture Since "Scarface" and "Little Caesar," promised ads, and this time, buildups weren't far off the beam. Wrinkle was, The Killing came decidedly not off convention's blotter, despite thrill and mayhem Kubrick dutifully supplied. Thanks to a squirrelly structure with labyrinth flashbacks, the director had given his distributor what looked like a bullet-riddled art movie.
|A Better Question in 1956 Might Have Been --- Can You Follow The Killing's Mixed-Up Narrative?|
James Harris realized The Killing would need plenty of TLC, that being industry-speak for a tough sell. Trade reviews acknowledged it was good, but many were confused by Kubrick's puzzle. Where was precedent, after all, for story-telling this loopy? United Artists had little choice but to book and promote The Killing in old-fashioned ways ... maybe crowds would get it once they plunked admission and sat down. Harris interview-recalled disappointment at the film's NY run --- some big barn, a theatre on Broadway ... They had to put speed bumps in the aisles to keep people from walking out too fast. The engagement opened and closed so abruptly, it formed a suction. I like Mr. Harris' wit, but fifty-five years is a long time, and 1956 trade reportage reveals The Killing, on Broadway and elsewhere, to have been not quite the disaster he recalls, but far be it for me to rain on such a colorful and certainly accurate to the spirit account of how Harris and Kubrick's innovative film was received.
That Broadway "barn" where The Killing opened in May 1956 was the Mayfair, previous home for Johnny Guitar and future host to Horror Of Dracula. Harris says the theatre booked it as hasty substitution for a flop, which trades reveal to have been
|A Hopeful Summer '56 Trade Ad Emphasizes Critic Kudos For Kubrick|
Kubrick's film had played a downtown
The Campus offered a double money-back guarantee as insurance that patrons would find The Killing "one of the most suspenseful and exciting pictures you have ever seen." No refunds were claimed during the theatre's first of many holdover weeks. Kotz proved you could wake up a sleeper with deft marketing, his example one to follow by what Variety called Smartie Arties that fed off terrific word-of-mouth generated by The Killing.