The Killers

1946, Movie, NR, 102 mins

Review

KILLERS, THE
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The first Universal production supervised by Hellinger, a one-time reporter turned film producer, this definitive film noir is at least as powerful as his earlier crime movies, THE ROARING TWENTIES and HIGH SIERRA. THE KILLERS, which features a now famous musical score (later used in the "Dragnet" TV series) by Miklos Rosza, is also notable as Burt Lancaster's film debut. The ace crime director Siodmak uses the bare bones of Hemingway's terse story to build a taut and fascinating tale of murder, robbery, and betrayal. It also features one of the genre's most celebrated femme fatales.

It opens with the killers of the Hemingway story (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) entering the diner in search of the Swede (Lancaster). They have a murder contract to fulfill, they learn that he will soon be coming in for dinner. Nick Adams (Phil Brown) overhears the killer's intent and runs to a boarding house to warn the Swede. He listens, but remains indifferently on his bed, explaining simply "I did something wrong... once". With that he quietly awaits his fate. The Hemingway story ends about there, but this is only the beginning of the film. Edmond O'Brien is Jim Reardon, an energetic insurance investigator whose company has to pay off on the Swede's death. By interviewing the Swede's associates, Rearden begins the laborious process of reconstructing the dead man's turbulent life, a process we see through a series of extended flashbacks.

We first see him as a young boxer who gets thrust into the posh and corrupt world of organized crime, overlorded by boss Big Jim Colfax (Dekker). He becomes enamored of the sultry Kitty Collins (Gardner), Colfax's girlfriend. She entices the big, handsome boxer with the promise that she will leave the boss for him if he helps the gang in an elaborate armored car robbery. Kitty and the Swede would then take the loot, double-cross Big Jim, and flee to a life of their own. This sounds too good to be true. It is.

The cast is excellent and Siodmak's direction is hard-edged and moody. Lancaster's personality amazed viewers seeing him for the first time, and he soon reached star status with BRUTE FORCE, I WALK ALONE, ALL MY SONS and other heavyweight films. Lancaster, a former circus acrobat, began his career here at age 32 but looked much younger. THE KILLERS was also the first important dramatic role for Gardner. Hemingway admired Gardner's portrayal of the eternal vixen and they became lifelong friends. She appeared in other Hemingway vehicles, notably THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO and THE SUN ALSO RISES. leave a comment

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