An Evil to Behold : Sherry Peatty in The Killing (1956)
This article was kindly published by the Dark Pages last May and it was my attempt at presenting a take on Marie Windsor with a voice over as if I were representing the thoughts of poor Elisha Cook Jr. Was I successful? You tell me.
“Fix me a drink,” she says. Doesn’t she know that I just worked all day and maybe I’m the one that would like to sit down and have a drink served to me? Here she lies, decked out as usual on the couch, reading a fashion magazine and hasn’t even dressed. And yet, no matter how many times I ask her if she loves me, she says yes. Even when she doesn’t put any emotion in the answer, at least she says yes. And what about dinner? Nothing. All the guys down at the track can go home and at least they have a wife waiting for them with a meal cooked and ready to be served.
“Sherry. You used to love me.”
So says George Peatty, marvelously played by Elisha Cook Jr. in The Killing. A weak shell of a man whose life isn’t playing out the way he had hoped upon marrying Sherry, one of the screen’s most delicious femmes portrayed by Marie Windsor. Stuck in a marriage to a man she has come to despise, Sherry is obviously waiting for something or someone to grab onto and ditch what’s left of her used up meal ticket. Before she knows it she is presented with both. After riding Cook over the supposed future and wealth he’d promised her when the married, Sherry briefly sheds her demeanor of indifference when Cook lets it slip that he may be coming into some big money. When she realizes he is serious, the evil temptress comes bubbling to the surface. Here is a woman who can push and scheme to get the details that her hubby isn’t supposed to divulge.
“You’re the one I’m doing it for.”
Sherry has her hooks in deep into George and immediately sets about constructing the double cross. Not surprisingly, she has a he-man lover in the form of Val Cannon (Vince Edwards). The funny thing is that he plays her much the way she plays Cook. It’s pretty obvious that Windsor isn’t the only woman in his life. She spills her guts to Vince about the heist and talks of how she’ll “be up to my curls in cash.” Vince has a better idea. It’s not just Cook’s cut that is worth grabbing, but the whole take.
“You’d sell your Mother out for a piece of fudge.” So says the gang’s head honcho, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), after threatening to turn her pretty face into hamburger. Sherry goes into defensive mode after the gang members her husband is involved with discover her eavesdropping. But her doe eyes and innocent demeanor aren’t fooling Clay, who has that look of the world weary traveler. “You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” Clay knows exactly what Windsor is all about and isn’t going to be caught in her scheming web. He wisely brushes aside her sexual advance.
Maybe I’m in too deep. These guys play rough and I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this kind of thing. I didn’t say a word about telling her anything. They roughed me up but I didn’t say anything. They dragged me out of there and Johnny wouldn’t let her come with me. She’s my Sherry. She shouldn’t have been there, but she wouldn’t say anything to anyone.
“Did Johnny try anything?”
When George tells Sherry he’s pulling out of the job, the selfishness that he refuses to see in her comes forward. “All you ever do is talk.” She lays into him about his unmet promises and the miserable life he has dealt her. Berated into submission, George once again agrees to take part in the heist.
“You’ll always love me?”
Sherry is so perfect at keeping her husband off balance by twisting his emotions. Trying to find out the date of the heist, she finally answers George’s earlier questions about whether or not Johnny had “tried anything.” The implication is obvious and Cook’s face is a window into the tortured images she has unleashed on him. Her evil knows no boundaries. Confirming the date, she promises: “I’ll be better to you in the future.”
Where’s johnny? Where’s the money? All dead. They’re all dead. That man said it was Sherry. I should have known that she wouldn’t stay with me, but why did she have to want it all? I worked my whole life to make her happy and now it’s all over. I’m hurting and she’s waiting for the money. Sherry I’m hurt. Sherry.
“Why did you do it?”
Time for the cruel hand of fate to deal the final laugh on Sherry Peatty. Expecting her boy-toy Val to walk in the door and sweep her away from her run-down apartment, she’s confronted with what’s left of George. Bloodied and seeking vengeance, he finally sees her for what she is, confirming what he has known deep down inside for quite some time. “It isn’t fair,” she gasps as their relationship is finally terminated.
The Killing is an essential film on so many levels. Yes, it’s a Stanley Kubrick film that is in so many ways the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. It features an outstanding cast of familiar character actors: Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Timothy Carey and of course Elisha Cook Jr.
All shine in their respective roles. But standing alone without competition we have Marie Windsor as Sherry. She must have been the inspiration for Peggy Bundy on Married With Children. She’s selfish, greedy and has the know-how to use her God-given talents to get ahead. Casting her opposite Cook was a sensational choice. Cook made a career out of weak yet quick tempered characters, while Windsor was adept at playing tough, already having appeared opposite Charles McGraw in the noir classic The Narrow Margin. When we look back at Noir cinema, there are of course many “dames” to love in spite of yourself but Sherry, as the conniving wife of a man who is clearly out of his league is truly an evil to behold.