Alex Singer introduced Kubrick to a young producer named James B. Harris, and the two became close friends. Their business partnership, Harris-Kubrick Productions, would finance Kubrick's next three films. The two bought the rights to a Lionel White novel called Clean Break, which Kubrick and co-screenwriter Jim Thompson turned into a story about a race track robbery gone wrong. Starring Sterling Hayden, The Killing was Kubrick's first full-length feature film, shot with a professional cast and crew. The resulting film was unusual in 1950s American cinema in having a non-linear storyline and an unhappy ending. While it was not a financial success, it received good reviews.
The widespread admiration for The Killing brought Harris-Kubrick Productions to the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The studio offered them its massive collection of copyrighted stories from which to choose their next project. During this time Kubrick also collaborated with Calder Willingham on an adaptation of the Austrian novel The Burning Secret. Although Kubrick was enthusiastic about the project, it was eventually shelved.