Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
What’s the score? $2 million. Apparently enough for several guys to have it made in the 50’s.
Who’s calling the shots? Johnny Preston, recently freed, meticulously-planning thief.
Would I rob a bank with him? Johnny is very good at making plans, but perhaps too good as they’re complicated and prone to be unraveled by several unforeseen variables. If he kept it simpler, I might be down, though I’d have to be significantly desperate.
What happens? In Stanley Kubrick’s first feature debut, he shows his obsession with chess by crafting a heist full of interconnected, moving parts. Shot in black-and-white, he centers around Johnny Preston (Hayden), a thief who just got out after a five-year sentence, who plans to rob a racetrack on the day of a massive race. To pull off the caper, Johnny enlists a crooked cop, a boulder-sized wrestler, a clench-jawed sharpshooter, a bartender with a dying wife and a teller (Cook Jr.) who’s wrapped around the finger of his wife (Windsor). In turn, she plots with the man she’s having an affair with to steal the $2 million haul. Narrated in no-nonsense newsreel style, Kubrick masterfully builds tension by following each character to their position just before the critical moment, then starting over again and again. And once they’re set, the pieces started flying around the board in a sequence he follows with his trademark tracking shots. The dialogue is chockful of old-school banter, the knuckle-biting plot is years ahead of its time and the penultimate scene is as beautifully shot as it is deliciously ironic as it is gutting. Kubrick was, is and ever shall be, the man.