Tuesday, February 26, 2013


(August 1946, U.S.)

If one were to attempt to isolate one particular film that could easily define the genre of American film noir (one that DIDN't have Humphrey Bogart in it), one could very easily choose THE KILLERS, based on an original short story by Ernest Hemingway. It has the hero, the femme fatale (or the "dame"), the cop (or the "copper", the hit men, the psychopath, the not-so-bright bad guy and the criminal mastermind or ring leader.

The film starts our rather simply and quietly with two hit men coming to a small town in New Jersey to kill gas station attendant Ole Andreson (played by Burt Lancaster in his screen debut), aka "the Swede". The Swede's coworker warns him but, strangely, he makes no attempt to flee and they do kill him with repeated gun shots. Life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (played by Edmond O'Brien) is assigned to find and pay the beneficiary of his policy. Tracking down and interviewing the dead man's friends and associates, Reardon doggedly pieces together his story with the help of police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (played by Sam Levene), a close, longtime friend of the Swede. Through story flashbacks, we learn of the Swede's life as a former boxer and a petty criminal. We also learn how he unconditionally loved the "dame" by the name of Kitty Collins (played by Ava Gardner), even to the point of serving a three year "stretch" (that means prison sentence) for a stolen jewelry heist she's accused of. I tell you, that's either real devoted love or real incredible stupidity. Then again, the character of Swede doesn't come off as a particularly bright man, even if he's meant to be the hero or protaganist of the film. Perhaps it's his down-on-his-luck desperation that makes his character even just a tad likeable. Perhaps it's just the talent that Burt Lancaster possessed to pull it off that way.

As previously mentioned, THE KILLERS has all the textbook definitions for quintessential film noir, including the final resolution that puts the femme fatale at the center of the cause for all matters that have gone down. In other words, it was HER all along, and like most female characters of the genre, audience very likely don't feel a bit sorry for her. It's even rather pathetic to listen to Kitty try to save her own ass by begging her husband on his deathbed to use his last words to declare her innocence in the big crime. Really, some woman just have no sense of "Tammy Wynette" (stand by your man!).

It's interesting to note that with regard to the adaptation of Hemingway's original story, only the first twenty minutes of the film which shoes the arrival of the two contract killers, and the murder of "Swede" Andreson, is a close adaptation of Hemingway's work. The rest of the film, showing Reardon's investigation of the murder, is wholly original. Still, I suppose attaching the name of Ernest Hemingway to any film title doesn't hurt its chances at the box office and with the public taste. Apparently, THE KILLERS was also one of the few films from any of his works that Hemingway himself genuinely admired.

Favorite line or dialogue:

R.S. Kenyon: "Why don't you take a good rest. I must say you've earned it. This is Friday...don't come in 'til Monday."

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