Fear and Desire (1953)

fear and desire poster 1953 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Fun to see Kubrick's start

Not the most developed film

Movie Info

Movie Name: Fear and Desire

Studio: Kubrick Family

Genre(s): War/Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s): April 1, 1953

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

fear and desire cast frank silvera kenneth harp paul mazursky steve coit virginia leith

Yep…this will turn out well

Four soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines with few weapons and few options.  Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp) is trying to keep Mac (Frank Silvera), Sidney (Paul Mazursky), and Fletcher (Stephen Coit) together as they suss out a plan to get past an enemy encampment and try to reach their allies.  When they capture a girl (Virginia Leith), things begin to fall apart and the chances of escape start to grow slim.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Fear and Desire is a war adventure film.  Kubrick’s first feature film, he disowned the movie shortly after its release and attempted to destroy the working prints of the movie.  The film survived (though lost for a time) and is in public domain.

Stanley Kubrick quickly made a name for himself, but it feels like Kubrick built his audience slower.  This first outing by Kubrick is rather minimal, but it does show his potential as a director in its style and deeper look at war.  Fear and Desire isn’t a masterpiece, but it is good.

fear and desire virginia leith paul mazursky

Sir, I’m not a fan of charades

The movie is extremely short which does help and hurt the film.  It helps because there isn’t a lot of excess “flab” to cut.  The story feels very deliberate and paced.  At just over an hour, it almost feels like an early television presentation like a dinner theater or even something like an episode of Combat! but with more style.  The concepts of war and the effect of war on the people fighting it is heavy in the movie.  In ways, you can see seeds of other Kubrick films like Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove.  The art of war seems pointless at points.

The cast is fine though they don’t get a lot of time to have their characters fleshed out.  Paul Mazursky’s Sidney is a little over-the-top as the character that is driven crazy by the situation.  Kenneth Harp and Steve Coit’s dual roles as both the members of the platoon and the enemy leaders does help point out the nature of war and how both sides are people…though it was hard as a viewer not familiar with the actors to even recognize they were playing both roles in the first viewing.  The film is also noted for being the first film of Virginia Leith who gained cult fame in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

fear and desire kenneth harp steve coit

Ever feel like you are two people?

Visually the movie does have as much style as it can have for a relatively low budget.  The film relies heavily on voiceover and shooting day-for-night.  Kino released a very cleaned up version of the film that looks like it could have been shot yesterday, but as with many movies in public domain, ragtag version also exist so viewer discretion is advised when selecting which version to see.

Fear and Desire holds the title of Kubrick first feature film, and it feels like a first film in many ways.  It is simple, short, and not the most stunning movie you’ll ever see, but for completists, it is a necessary watch.  It is always interesting to watch an early film of a famous director to see if he has “the touch” that ended up making them noteworthy.  Fear and Desire doesn’t really cement Kubrick as a great director, but those familiar with his other work will enjoy seeing themes that he continued through his career presented for the first time.  Kubrick followed Fear and Desire with Killer’s Kiss in 1955.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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