Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) opposite the police officer he has captive (Kirk Baltz) in the infamous “ear cutting” scene. This scene was allegedly improvised by Madsen.

The “heist film.” It has been around for generations. It has permeated the oldest of classic films in The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926), classic film noir in The Asphalt Jungle (1950), non-American film noir in Rififi (1955), and even more popular films like the original Ocean's 11 (1960) and the 2001 remake, The Italian Job (1969) and its 2003 remake, and films that could be considered neo-noir like Heat (1995).

Perhaps the most famous heist film, the one that has embedded itself in our cultural memory more than, arguably, any other, is Quentin Tarantino's intense, darkly beautiful 1992 neo-noir Reservoir Dogs: infamously known for its black suit-clad baddies and the poor, bound, and blindfolded cop (Kirk Baltz) who loses an ear to Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and the straight-razor he keeps in his cowboy boot while Stealers Wheel's ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ plays in the background. Reservoir Dogs is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Tarantino's 1992 epic take on a jewel heist gone wrong, however, takes much of its cue in terms of its non-linear narration structure, and even the bloody ending, from another film that celebrated its 60th anniversary recently: Stanley Kubrick's seminal classic film noir about a daring horse-race track robbery gone horribly wrong, The Killing (1956).

The Killing often gets overshadowed by the genius of the other films in Kubrick's canon. It is definitely on my favorite films noir list of all time, but I still would not consider it my favorite film from Kubrick (one of my favorite directors). That designation would undoubtedly go to the immortal, terrible splendor that is The Shining (1980), a film that rocks me to my core every time I see it. Yet, The Killing should not be forgotten, especially in a conversation about Reservoir Dogs.

The main hoods of “Reservoir Dogs” in a enhanced still from the film. From right: Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen).

Both films start off with a number of hoods executing, and a few heads planning, their respective heists. Tarantino went with the various color names for his hoods: Steve Buscemi as “Mr. Pink,” Michael Madsen as “Mr. Blonde,” Quentin Tarantino as “Mr. Brown,” Tim Roth as “Mr. Orange,” Harvey Keitel as “Mr. White,” and Edward Bunker as “Mr. Blue.”

A very young Rodney Dangerfield in the crowd as a walk-on extra in “The Killing.”

Kubrick's hoods are almost as anonymous with their names being a part of the story, but not an important one. In fact, the voice-over narration in the film stresses that the hoods were chosen for their various roles in the heist, like creating a riot at the track's bar (look for a very young Rodney Dangerfield in a walk-on role in that scene) to distract track police from the over-all heist, and assassinating one of the horses in the middle of a race with a rifle from a parking lot in order to create a further distraction for track police, precisely because of their disposability as low-level, street hoods. Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), the overall actor and mastermind of the heist, doesn't even cut the hoods in on the take: he pays them a set amount in advance.

The main hoods of “The Killing”, Johnny (Sterling Hayden) at center.

This is another point of convergence between the two films. There are five hoods in The Killing. In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Blue doesn';t even play much of a visible role beyond the beginning diner scene where all six men are gathered and the scene toward the film's end portraying the time before the jewel heist where heist mastermind Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn) have all six men together in a room to outline the plan of action and the main plan to mitigate risk if any of the men are caught: the required use of the colors as names versus each man's individual given name to limit the amount of information each participant is privy too.

Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor) opposite her demure husband George (Elisha Cook Jr.) in “The Killing.”

Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) in his most pivotal moment in “Reservoir Dogs.”

An interesting point of convergence between the two films is what ultimately foils both heists. In The Killing, it is a greedy woman named Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor), who is married to the track cashier George (Elisha Cook Jr.) and cheating on him with a crook who seeks to disrupt the whole thing named Val Cannon (Vince Edwards), and ultimately does in the climactic and bloody gun battle at the apartment rendezvous.

The stand-off in “Reservoir Dogs.”

George (Elisha Cook Jr.) in the stand-off in “The Killing.”

Reservoir Dogs is groundbreaking also in that all the various narrative streams revolve around the one warehouse rendezvous point where all the participants, besides Mr. Pink, get into a standoff, the pressure from the undercover cop in the group and the lack of success to the heist finally coming to a head. This is pretty well reflected in The Killing too when George invades the apartment rendezvous point with a gun, his temperament scared, mind crazed, finally seeking to vindicate himself and his pride. As in most film noir, there isn't a happy ending.

Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) in “Reservoir Dogs.”

Johnny (Sterling Hayden) as he starts to attempt his escape at the end of “The Killing.”

The most striking part of the cinematography of both Reservoir Dogs and The Killing occurs directly after these climactic endings. We get a wide view of the carnage that both failed heists wrought. We see all the bodies laid out in all the visceral reality of crime gone horribly wrong because of the very human frailty that marks all film noir.

In the finality of both films, we also see two escapes from the scene of the carnage. In The Killing, it is Johnny with the money. In Reservoir Dogs, it is Mr. Pink with the diamonds. Yet, will either man make it? That is a key question and a huge part of the dramatic crux of the cultural love for the heist film.