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With: Frank Silvera, Paul Mazursky, Kenneth Harp, Stephen Coit, Virginia Leith
Written by: Howard Sackler
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 60
Date: 03/31/1953

Fear and Desire (1953)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Stew

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For years, Stanley Kubrick's first completed feature film Fear and Desire was a holy grail among film fans. During his lifetime, Kubrick apparently ordered the film pulled from circulation, refusing to let it be shown in theaters or on television, or released on video. Now, somehow, Kino has given it its first official release on DVD and Blu-ray.

Upon seeing it, the first, and perhaps most important question, is whether we can separate Fear and Desire from Kubrick's legacy. Sadly, this doesn't seem likely. The film is very low budget, and aside from a few unique touches here and there, it doesn't stand on its own as an exceptional film of its period.

Even as a Kubrick film, it's slightly less revealing of the director's career to come than his next low budget film, Killer's Kiss (1955), would be, though it does contain one of his major themes.

As it begins, four soldiers survive a crash landing behind enemy lines. (The actual crash isn't shown, probably to save money.) They must somehow sneak back to their own territory. Their first plan is to build a raft and float to safety, but they are potentially seen by an enemy aircraft, and must wait to see if this plan is still useful. Meanwhile, a beautiful peasant woman comes across our heroes; they decide to tie her to a tree, leaving her in the care of Pvt. Sidney (played by Paul Mazursky, who, of course, went on to be a film director as well).

Sidney goes crazy on the girl, foreshadowing Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and especially Jack Torrance in The Shining. If Kubrick's art had been fully formed at this tender age, he would have included a close-up shot of Mazursky doing the "Kubrick stare."

Nonetheless, Kubrick does show some brash invention and a yearning to experiment with angles; perhaps the most unusual sequence includes the mixed and mingled thoughts of the men drifting across the soundtrack as they march through the jungle. In another sequence, the men storm an enemy headquarters, splattering both bodies and uneaten stew across the floor.

In the end, this is precisely the kind of movie that people recommend for "completists," or those that need to see every single Kubrick movie, come what may. I like what one other critic called this movie: it's not quite a lost masterpiece, but it's a good, early demo.

Kino's DVD and Blu-ray comes with one notable extra: a short industrial film that Kubrick made between Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss. It's a full-color, half-hour film called The Seafarers (1953), about the benefits of the Seafarers International Union. Unfortunately, it looks just like any other industrial film of the period and has none of Kubrick's fingerprints.
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