Provocatively disavowing, then, the realist documentary mode, The Killing instead embraces a kind of ironic quotation that repurposes popular genre conventions and formulas. Take, for example, one of The Killing‘s most stingingly cynical moments, the charged scene in which a deranged sniper, played with reptilian charm by Timothy Carey, strikes up an unexpected friendship with an embittered African American war veteran working as a parking attendant, played with smoldering intensity by James Edwards. For a brief moment, the awkward and spontaneous connection between the white and black man almost seems to be directed by the other Stanley of postwar Hollywood – Stanley Kramer, whose trademark brand of overwrought social-problem melodrama would give rise a few years later to The Defiant Ones (1958), a heavy-handed, Oscar-winning allegory of troubled race relations. Yet just as suddenly, Kubrick and über-hard-boiled novelist Jim Thompson‘s screenplay subverts and renders ironic the social-problem formula evoked so effectively, with Carey’s demented killer unleashing a viscously casual racist barb that reveals his seemingly enlightened sympathies to be simply a convenient guise, a mocking echo of the clown mask donned by heist ringleader Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) during the climactic robbery.
Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick) — World War I
Thirty years before his half-brilliant Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket, the 28-year-old Kubrick made this most merciless and clinical of antiwar war movies. It details a suicide mission concocted by the ruthless French General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou): his soldiers must storm a German “anthill” with little hope of taking it and placing all their lives in jeopardy. When the botched plan fails, enlisted men must pay for the general’s blunders. Three are chosen at random and condemned to death, with a principled colonel (Kirk Douglas) as their only advocate. As commanding officers move troops across a battlefield like toys that can be replaced when they break, so Dax and Broulard debate the fate of the doomed soldiers. Working from Humphrey Cobb‘s 1935 novel and a screenplay by two other novelists (sensitive Calder Willingham and hard-boiled Jim Thompson), Kubrick sends his camera tracking briskly through the trenches during the ramp-up to battle, then confines the viewer in closeups with the three condemned men — most notably the weeping, groveling Private Ferol, played by the Method madman Timothy Carey. In the equally insane rules of war, the men must prove their worth by dying for a general’s arrogant stupidity. The road to the firing squad is their path of glory.