Early on in that career, he directed a little film noir heist story called The Killing, which he also co-wrote with Anadarko's own Jim Thompson, taking it from a story by Lionel White called Clean Break. The Killing came out in 1956.
Sterling Hayden, the 6'-5", deep-voiced actor who would later have a bad dining experience as Captain McCluskey in The Godfather, plays Johnny Clay, an ex-con who's looking for one big score to finance his retirement with his girl, Fay. Clay is a meticulous planner and has devised a precision scheme for a $2 million score from a horse-racing track -- that'd be somewhere north of $15 million in 2010 money. He has four accomplices, two of whom work at the track, whose help will be crucial to the plan's success. Clay also hires a couple of small-time thugs to play smaller but no less important roles in his plan.
Unfortunately for Clay, the kind of people that are most susceptible to the kind of temptation he offers to steal from their own workplace are also the most likely to be incompetent losers. As the plan progresses, their weaknesses create wrinkles that might derail the heist and put them all in danger.
The Killing is full of straightforward, rapid-fire line readings that help define noirish crime pics. All the old familiar faces have a show, from the spineless worm married to the femme fatale (and how the heck do all these jellyfish wind up with these hotter-than-fire babes, anyway), to the femme fatale herself, to the dumb thugs who can do one thing well but almost everything else poorly. Kubrick lets the lights and shadow of his black and white screen do as much of the talking as the words Jim Thompson put in the actor's mouths, and the scene gets set and re-set several times as we explore each man's role from the beginning. Hayden's really the biggest name onscreen, although Ben Casey fans will be somewhat aghast at what their clean-cut and virtuous doc is up to in this story.
There are times when it feels like The Killing crosses the line into self-parody, but even the best crime noir movies display the same kind of over-the-top bravado that so defines their own characters, so that's not necessarily a failing.