Stanley Kubrick’s “Fear and Desire” (1953)

I recently viewed the debut feature by the late, great film director Stanley Kubrick. That film is Fear and Desire from 1953, which is little-seen because Kubrick pulled it from circulation shortly after it was first released and often prevented public screenings many years later. To this day, it has never been (legitimately) available on home video. The longest known print runs 72 minutes, and can be viewed at Google Video. The film is also viewable on YouTube in eight parts, but that version runs approximately 61 minutes.

The grainy low-budget movie is about four soldiers fighting in a fictional war in an unnamed country, who find themselves trapped six miles behind enemy lines after their plane crashes. One of the soldiers is played by Paul Mazursky, who has also become a renowned film director. Another is played by Frank Silvera, who also starred in Kubrick’s 1955 film Killer’s Kiss.

Kubrick was in his mid-20’s when he made this film, which he directed, produced, photographed, and edited. He could hardly have been expected to be a great filmmaker at this age – and he wasn’t, yet. The film is technically amateurish, and its ruminations on life, death, and morality are heavy-handed and muddled. But some scenes are quite potent just the same. Although the violent scenes are not filmed in a particularly profound way, they still manage to pack a strong punch.

Despite its many flaws, Fear and Desire will be of interest to Kubrick’s admirers. It demonstrates how independent-minded the director was from the beginning, and it contains more noticeable embryonic Kubrick elements than, say, Killer’s Kiss. In particular, it would be a fitting companion piece to either of Kubrick’s better-known war films: Paths of Glory (1957) and Full Metal Jacket (1987).

The YouTube clip below contains one of the film's most memorable (and arguably most Kubrickian) sequences. Mazursky's character is guarding a civilian girl whom the soldiers are holding captive to prevent her from revealing their presence to the enemy, and the soldier on guard is going insane.