The Killers (1946)

The Killers (1946)

Synopsis: Two hit men walk into a diner asking for a man called “the Swede” (Burt Lancaster). When the killers find the Swede, he’s expecting them and doesn’t put up a fight. Since the Swede had a life insurance policy, an investigator (Edmond O’Brien), on a hunch, decides to look into the murder. As the Swede’s past is laid bare, it comes to light that he was in love with a beautiful woman (Ava Gardner) who may have lured him into pulling off a bank robbery overseen by another man (Albert Dekker).

Image result for stills of film the killers starring burt lancaster

What a lot of fun this noir was to watch for the first time. A film debut for both Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, their careers established, and the admirable plot twists kept me guessing, but I found myself admiring the direction and cinematography the most. The variety of camera angles, the silhouettes, the position behind the driving wheel, just about every scene was staged in an appealing way–it was no surprise to me to learn that director Robert Siodmak was nominated for the Oscar in 1947.

Charleston: Stop listening to those golden harps, Swede. They can land you into a lot of trouble.

The screenplay was adapted by Ernest Hemingway‘s short story “The Killers” by John Huston, Richard Brooks, and Anthony Veiller. I want to reread Hemingway’s story and explore more of John Huston’s writing contributions.

How does this film-noir rate in your estimation? 



38 Comments on “The Killers (1946)

  1. A terrific film noir, right up there with “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity”…both stars really commanded the screen, didn’t they? For some reason WordPress isn’t allowing me to “like” the post!

    • Hi John! Your comments mean more. 😉
      DI is at the top with Sunset Blvd reigning supreme for me. This one was a classic I’ve should have seen decades ago. That’s okay, with older eyes, I appreciated the film far more than my younger self, probably.

      • Just posted a look at the new travel memoir by Paul Theroux, and including your latest novel as other “must buys” for holiday gifts!

        • I’ve been swamped at school. I just went over to your blog — I like all of your suggestions. It means a lot that you liked my work. Bless you!

  2. I really like the movie but I am afraid the short story is very short and has not much to do with the movie. Like most of Hemingway’s short stories, unlike his novels, reading them leaves me with a short case of ‘huh’.
    There was another movie based on the same short story made years later. Good cast but not as good as the first one in my opinion. Probably best remembered as the last movie Ronald Reagan ever made.

  3. Great review 🙂 Director Robert Siodmak knew how to pace a film and his film noirs (like all the masterful ones) has a keen eye for cinematography and yes, this one helped skyrocket the careers of stars Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • There’s one scene that stays with me — I love it when Swede is running down a cobbled street framed by a bridge or tunnel. The contrast of black and white and his sillouette is quintessential.

    • I don’t know much other than she was hooked up with Frank Sinatra. She oozed sex appeal. I can sure see why guys went ga-ga for her.
      In the film, I admired her eye work when she was contained in her setting – the car, backed up in the apartment, restricted by arms – she had the slightest raising of the brow or the lowering of the eye lids that had me glued to her every expression. Subtlety! Such an underrated quality these days. Everything today has to be blaring at you.

  4. I never tire of this film, and must have seen it a dozen times. As you rightly say, the cinematography makes it stand out from so many others in the genre.
    I also like the 1964 version, with Lee Marvin, though many other film fans don’t agree. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    • I have not seen it, so can’t say. Usuallly remakes pale in comparison. This one has a lot going for it. Not as good as Sunset Blvd, but that’s okay.

  5. I haven’t seen this one in quite a while, but it does stand out in my memory as an excellent example of his work.

  6. Shamefully I have never seen this one even though it has always been on ‘my list’. It has all of the ingredients of a movie I would love.

    • Oh, you are like me, then. Long overdue. But I tell ya, now that I’m older, much caught my eye and appreciation. You watch this one, and I’ll watch an Bergman film. 😉

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed The Killers, I’m always loathe to recommend films to people as my favourites sometimes fall flat. Now I need to dig out my DVD and watch this one again.

  8. Another I haven’t seen ! shame on me.But I was a kid when that came out. And they never show it on TV. Have to seek it out I guess. Strangely however, my parents took me to Elmer Gantry. That was pretty adult too.

  9. This probably ranks in my top 10 or so. Fine performances and moody cinematography make it a classic. The 1964 remake is different but offers a deadly performance by the great Lee Marvin.

  10. Yes, this isn’t an actor’s movie. It’s all about script structure and visuals. Very effective noir, though. The remake, with Ronald Reagan as a bad guy (!), isn’t half as good.

    • Never saw it. You’re an expert on film classics. I’m glad you agree. The acting wasn’t remarkable, but I sure liked the setting and staging and pacing!

  11. Siodmak was a fine director, and one of the best with existential crime films. Both The Killer and Criss Cross with Lancaster are excellent, although,I prefer Don Siegels 1964 version of The Killers, and would rate Phantom Lady as Siodmaks masterpiece. But seriously you cant go wrong with any of Siegels or Siodmaks efforts, although i would steet clear of the Siodmak Lancaster pirate parody. The Crimson Pirate. …a side note. the transcendent russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky, made a short film of The Killers opening scene as a film school project. It is quite good.

    • I’m reading about Siodmak right now in the bio I obtained about Lancaster. Burt only had a one play to his credit before he was screen tested and chosen for The Killers. Instant star. In ‘Criss Cross’ Lancaster to an active role in the film, questioning every scene. Siodmak was kind and gentle with him and a good mentor…

    • Ohhh, I like the use of mirrors (both versions at the diner), I like the slanted perspective of the feet walking away of one of the killers with the can of tunafish on the floor. The close up of the eyes. And the whistling to be quite good. Thanks, Bill!

  12. on a side note were it not for ava gardner, we may never have had the option of overdubbing vocals or instruments in a musical recording. union laws prohibited a vocalist from singing over a preciously recorded track. if a mistake was made in the studio, they would have to start over. when frank sinatra returned from africa, where he was experiencing traumatic conflics in his relationship with ava gardner, he was a drunken messm unable to function well in the recording session session to which he was contracted. his vocals were a horrile, drunken mess. so he sobered up and snuck into the studios with an engineer and redid them to the existing tracks ..totally illegal by union law, but somehow he got away with it. ourself with the dead horse in the bed from the godfather and you will remember that sinatra was a well connected mobster who alwas got his way..anyway, the precedent was set, and from that point on, musicians laid down their tracks and were gone. vocals ad additional instruments could be added later without having to pay the band again.

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