Ernest Hemingway s spare, laconic short story about two professional killers and their encounter with a mysteriously unresisting victim was significantly expanded into this all-time film noir classic, which Hemingway said was the first adaptation of his work that he really admired. As washed-up boxer turned hitman victim Ole 'Swede' Andreson, Burt Lancaster made his screen debut, and was catapulted to instant stardom, not least for the screen chemistry that he showed opposite sultry Ava Gardner, whose Kitty Collins is the very personification of the femme fatale. German émigré Robert Siodmak was one of the filmmakers who helped create film noir, and Elwood Bredell s high-contrast cinematography, all harsh lighting and long shadows, elevates the film far above a conventional crime drama. But even on that level it s a first-rate demonstration of how to maintain narrative tension, with the flashback structure withholding crucial details until almost the very end.
The Vine Of Evil Bears Bitter Fruit
- The Killers review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 3
Greatly altered from Ernest Hemingway's short story about two hit-men who wonder why their victim doesn't care about dying (the 1964 remake was much more faithful to the source material), in this version, the title characters, after making a memorably nasty impression in the first few minutes, are almost completely absent from the film, and don't even notice that Burt Lancaster is oddly apathetic about being shot dead. By the way, if you remember seventies private eye Frank Cannon, whose trademark was being fat, you might enjoy seeing the actor who played him, William Conrad, as one of the murderers.
Lancaster of course steals the film, as he usually did, despite having surprisingly little screen-time. Although we nowadays remember him as a square-jawed hero, he was always better at playing characters who were somewhere between flawed and irredeemable (he would have made a fantastic Batman). Here he plays a basically good but rather dim-witted boxer drawn to the dark side through a combination of an injury that ends his boxing career and his overwhelming attraction to the irresistibly sultry Ava Gardner, which is definitely lust rather than love, an emotion Lancaster manages to project superbly, despite the Hayes Code meaning that he couldn't say or do very much about it on screen (this film is clearly having fun getting things past the censor - there's even a not-very-veiled reference to heroin addiction), and we truly understand that he's a nice guy who just kind of got swept away by events he wasn't smart enough to think through until it was too late.
Where it falls down is giving us a hero in the unfortunate form of Edmond O'Brien, the insurance investigator who solves the mystery simply because he's an obsessive-compulsive jobsworth with the charisma of a car-park. Whereas a true film noir masterpiece like "Rififi" shows us all the events from the point of view of the people directly involved in them, here we mostly see this dull and totally unsympathetic man interacting with people more interesting than him, and the things that really get our attention nearly all occur in flashbacks. This was probably a deliberate joke on the part of director/scriptwriter Robert Siodmak (who pretty much invented what we nowadays think is the ancient myth of the werewolf), since he goes out of his way to point out at the end that the hero's death-defying exploits have resulted in his insurance company's customers having their next year's premiums reduced by a tenth of one cent, but all the same, it badly undermines the film's appeal to make us spend so much time in the company of the least interesting person in the entire cast.
It's not a bad film. It's just nowhere near as good as it would have been if they'd omitted the central character entirely and let us spend much more time with everybody else.
Early Lancaster Outing Shows Promise
- The Killers review by PE
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You rated this film: 2
I didn't realise it at the time but this was Burt Lancaster's first senior acting role and you can see , even in this early outing his potential. He oozes charisma and the sexual chemistry with Ava Gardner is potent. I didn't find the film itself particuarly engaging, it lacked the tension that you would hope to find in a movie of this genre but it is nevertheless a decent plot and moves along at a decent pace.
Isolated Music and Effects soundtrack to highlight Miklós Rózsa s famous score
Frank Krutnik on The Killers, a video piece by the author of In a Lonely Street, which introduces the film and offers a detailed commentary on four key scenes
Heroic Fatalism, a video essay adapted from Philip Booth s comparative study of multiple versions of The Killers (Hemingway, Siodmak, Tarkovsky, Siegel)
Three archive radio pieces inspired by The Killers: the 1949 Screen Director s Playhouse adaptation with Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters; a 1946 Jack Benny spoof; the 1958 Suspense episode Two for the Road which reunited original killers William Conrad and Charles McGraw
Trailers for The Killers, Brute Force, The Naked City and Rififi
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