Unlike Fuller's or Aldrich's, Stanley Kubrick's pulp is juiceless, not so much the barbarian's abandon as the wiseass' smirk, dutifully hidden behind newsreel grayness and lateral camera sprawls. The plot is a perfect-crime-goes-bust mold, built upon a meticulously planned racetrack hold-up -- Sterling Hayden rounds up the mug gallery (including Ted De Corsia, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Jay C. Flippen) for the heist, the loot inevitably to flutter away in the wind. Young Godard dismissed Kubrick's pirouettes on the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, yet the movie, from Lionel White's novel Clean Break (with some punched-up dialogue by Jim Thompson), was the one to cement the director's reputation as Hollywood's child prodigy. Above all, it is a very knowing genre piece served as a maverick's calling-card, with a built-in commentary on working within the system: "Individuality is a monster, and it must be strangled in its cradle to make our friends feel comfortable," philosophizes hulkster Kola Kwariani, last seen dragged away by a brigade of Keystone Kops. It's a less interesting work than his previous indie Killer's Kiss, though it offers at least one trademark grotesque (Timothy Carey's jazzed-up sharpshooter falling one horse with a long-distance rifle), a robber's facial features disfigured by rubber clown masks, a woozy POV stumbling through a massacre and, most noticeably, Kubrick's nerd's fascination with machinery (the medium above all) gone awry. The narrator's timetable tabulations rewinds and replays the main race, but, characteristically, the wrenches thrown into the hard drive are human, if not humanistic -- greed, fear, prejudice, a putz's love for a duplicitous minx, the un-Kubrickian abundance of human interest occasions a spoof of Huston's one-trait-a-hood Asphalt Jungle gang. Still, Cook's masochistic pains in the claws of sluttish Marie Windsor, a dress rehearsal for Lolita, catch the director's derisive eye -- with these two, who remembers Colleen Gray, Hayden's simpering girlfriend? Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. With Vince Edwards, James Edwards, and Joe Turkel. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce