The Killers (1946 film)

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The Killers
The Killers (1946 film poster).jpg
The Killers Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Siodmak
Produced byMark Hellinger
Screenplay byRichard Brooks
Anthony Veiller
John Huston
Based on"The Killers"
1927 short story in Scribners Magazine
by Ernest Hemingway
StarringBurt Lancaster
Ava Gardner
Edmond O'Brien
Sam Levene
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyWoody Bredell
Edited byArthur Hilton
Color processBlack and white
Production
company
Mark Hellinger Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 28, 1946 (1946-08-28) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$2.5 million (US rentals)[1]

The Killers (also known as A Man Alone) is a 1946 American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and based in part on the 1927 short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.[2]

It stars Burt Lancaster in his film debut, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien and Sam Levene.[3] The film also features William Conrad in his first credited role, as one of the killers referred to in the title.[4] An uncredited John Huston and Richard Brooks co-wrote the screenplay, which was credited to Anthony Veiller.

In 2008, The Killers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Hemingway, who was habitually disgusted with how Hollywood distorted his thematic intentions, was a fan of the film, stating that "It is a good picture and the only good picture ever made of a story of mine."[5]

Plot[edit]

Two hitmen, Max and Al, come to a small town, Brentwood, New Jersey, to kill Pete Lund, known as "The Swede". Lund's coworker at a gas station warns him but, strangely, he makes no attempt to flee, and they kill him in his hotel room. The Swede is soon revealed to have really been named Ole Anderson. A life insurance investigator, Jim Reardon, is assigned to find and pay the beneficiary of the Swede's $2,500 policy. Tracking down and interviewing the dead man's friends and associates, Reardon doggedly pieces together his story. Philadelphia police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky, a close, longtime friend of the Swede, is particularly helpful.

Through flashbacks, it is revealed that the Swede was a professional boxer whose career was cut short by an injury to his right hand. Rejecting Lubinsky's suggestion to join the police force, the Swede gets mixed up with a bad crowd, including "Big Jim" Colfax. He drops his girlfriend Lily for the more glamorous Kitty Collins. When Lubinsky catches Kitty wearing stolen jewelry, the Swede "confesses" to the crime and serves three years in prison.

When the Swede gets out, he, "Dum-Dum" Clarke and "Blinky" Franklin are recruited for a payroll robbery in Hackensack, New Jersey, masterminded by Big Jim. Complicating matters is the fact that Kitty is now Big Jim's girl. The robbery nets the gang $254,912. When their rendezvous place (supposedly) burns down, all of the gang members but the Swede are notified of where to meet.

Kitty then informs the Swede that he is being double-crossed. The Swede takes all of the money at gunpoint and flees. Kitty meets him later in Atlantic City, then disappears with the money herself.

Back in the present, Reardon watches the boarding house where the Swede lived. Sure enough, Dum-Dum shows up, searching for a clue as to the whereabouts of the loot. Reardon gets some information from the robber, but Dum-Dum gets away before the police can arrest him.

When Reardon gets confirmation of one particular detail, he is certain he knows what happened. He goes to see Big Jim, now a very successful building contractor in Pittsburgh. Reardon lies, telling Big Jim that he has enough evidence to convict Kitty. He suggests that Kitty contact him.

She agrees to meet him, and they go to a nightclub at her suggestion. However, after she goes to the ladies' room, Max and Al show up and try to kill Reardon. He and Lubinsky are ready for them, and the two hitmen are slain instead.

Reardon and Lubinsky head to Big Jim's mansion, but are too late to stop Dum-Dum and Big Jim from killing each other. Reardon explains that when he discovered that the fire that destroyed the rendezvous point had been set hours after Kitty was sent to notify everyone of the new meeting place, he realized that Kitty and Big Jim, her husband, had been setting up the Swede. Dum-Dum finally figured out the truth, as well.

When Lubinsky asks the dying Big Jim why he had "the Swede" killed, Big Jim tells him he could not take the chance that another member of the gang might find the Swede, as he had. Kitty begs her husband to exonerate her in a deathbed confession, but he dies first.

Cast[edit]

Lilly (Virginia Christine), the Swede (Burt Lancaster) and Kitty (Ava Gardner)

Production[edit]

Trailer for The Killers

The first 20 minutes of the film, showing the arrival of the two contract killers, and the murder of "Swede" Andreson, is a close adaptation of Hemingway's 1927 short story in Scribners Magazine. The rest of the film, showing Reardon's investigation of the murder, is wholly original. According to Hemingway's biographer, Carlos Baker, The Killers "was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire."[6]

Producer Mark Hellinger paid $36,750 for the screen rights to Hemingway's story, his first independent production. The screenplay was written by John Huston (uncredited because of his contract with Warner Bros.) and Richard Brooks.[7] Siodmak later said Hellinger's newspaper background meant he "always insisted on each scene ending with a punchline and every character being over established with a telling remark" which the director fought against.[8] Reportedly, Hellinger was looking to cast two or three unknowns on the theory that the known actors of the time were already so typed that the audience would know the threats instantly which would take away some of the suspense of the story.[9] He also later said that Lancaster was not his first pick for the part of "the Swede", but Warner Bros. would not lend out Wayne Morris for the film.[10] Other actors considered for the part include Van Heflin, Jon Hall, Sonny Tufts, and Edmond O'Brien, who was instead cast in the role of the insurance investigator. Hellinger alleged that he tested so many potential 'Swedes' that if somebody had suggested Garbo, he would have tested her too.[10]:129 Lancaster was under contract to producer Hal Wallis but had not yet appeared in a film. Wallis' assistant Martin Jurow told Hellinger about the then unknown "big brawny bird" who might be suitable for the role and Hellinger set up a meeting. After his screen test, Hellinger signed a contract with Lancaster to do one film year and cast him in the role that would make him a star.[10]:129

In the role of the femme fatale, Hellinger cast Gardner, who had up to then appeared virtually unnoticed in a string of minor films under contract to MGM. Gardner had difficulty achieving the requisite histrionics necessary at the end of the film when Sam Levene memorably tells her "Don't ask a dying man to lie his soul into Hell". Director Siodmak felt she did not have the necessary technique to reach the emotional climax necessary for the scene so he chose to "bully her" into Kitty's fragile emotional state by "barking at her if she did not do the scene right, he would hit her". [11]

The "dum-da-dum-dum" sequence of opening chords of Miklós Rózsa's theme music was later reused for the Dragnet television series.[citation needed]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

When the film was first released, Bosley Crowther gave it a positive review and lauded the acting. He wrote, "With Robert Siodmak's restrained direction, a new actor, Burt Lancaster, gives a lanky and wistful imitation of a nice guy who's wooed to his ruin. And Ava Gardner is sultry and sardonic as the lady who crosses him up. Edmond O'Brien plays the shrewd investigator in the usual cool and clipped detective style, Sam Levene is very good as a policeman and Albert Dekker makes a thoroughly nasty thug. ... The tempo is slow and metronomic, which makes for less excitement than suspense."[12]

In a review of the DVD release, Scott Tobias, while critical of the screenplay, described the drama's noir style, writing, "Lifted note-for-note from the Hemingway story, the classic opening scene of Siodmak's film sings with the high tension, sharp dialogue, and grim humor that's conspicuously absent from the rest of Anthony Veiller's mediocre screenplay. ... A lean block of muscles and little else, Burt Lancaster stars as the hapless victim, an ex-boxer who was unwittingly roped into the criminal underworld and the even more dangerous gaze of Ava Gardner, a memorably sultry and duplicitous femme fatale. ... [Siodmak] sustains a fatalistic tone with the atmospheric touches that define noir, favoring stark lighting effects that throw his post-war world into shadow."[13]

The film was considered a great commercial and critical success[14][15] and launched Lancaster and his co-star Ava Gardner to stardom.[16] It has since come to be regarded as a classic,[17][18] sometimes referred to as the 'Citizen Kane of Noir"[19]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 100% based on 32 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.12/10.[20]

In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.[21]

Accolades[edit]

Wins

Nominations—1947 Academy Awards

American Film Institute Lists

Adaptations[edit]

The Killers was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the June 5, 1949 broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse, starring Burt Lancaster, Shelley Winters and William Conrad.

In 1956, director Andrei Tarkovsky, then a film student, created a 19-minute short based on the story which is featured on the Criterion Collection DVD release.[24]

The film was adapted in 1964, using the same title but an updated plot. Originally intended to be broadcast as a TV-movie, it was directed by Don Siegel, and featured Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and Ronald Reagan, who, as a formidable villain, famously slaps Dickinson across the face. Siegel's film was deemed too violent for the small screen and was released theatrically, first in Europe, then years later in America.[25]

Scenes from The Killers were used in the Carl Reiner film noir spoof Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982).[26] starring Steve Martin.

Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has written a screenplay for a new adaptation of The Killers.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  2. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  3. ^ The Killers at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. ^ William Conrad on IMDb.
  5. ^ Jones, J. R. "How one Hemingway short story became three different movies". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2019-10-29.
  6. ^ Baker, Carlos. Hemingway, Princeton University Press; 4th edition, November 1, 1972.
  7. ^ Lethem, Jonathan. Criterion Collection, "The Killers: Robert Siodmak and Don Siegel", essay. Last accessed: February 25, 2008.
  8. ^ Encounter with Siodmak Taylor, Russell. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 28, Iss. 3, (Summer 1959): 180.
  9. ^ "No Place Like Home". Variety. 1946-06-05. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  10. ^ a b c "The Swede". Photoplay. 1947. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  11. ^ Server, Lee (2007-04-01). Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing". St. Martin's Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-4299-0874-0.
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, August 29, 1946. Last accessed: February 24, 2008
  13. ^ Tobias, Scott. AV Club, film and DVD review, February 26, 2003. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.
  14. ^ "Film reviews". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. August 7, 1946. p. 13 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. January 1, 1947. p. 55 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ "Movieland Applauds". Movieland. Retrieved 2019-11-20. Under Robert Siodmak's sensitive directiorial hand, both Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner achieve stardom as they enact one of the most exicting dramas of the year.
  17. ^ "The Killers". Criterion.com. Retrieved 2019-10-30. Its first screen incarnation came in 1946, when director Robert Siodmak unleashed The Killers, helping to define the film noir style and launching the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in this archetypal masterpiece
  18. ^ "The Killers (1946)". britannica.com. Retrieved 2019-10-30. The film established Lancaster as a major talent, and it helped launch Gardner as one of the screen’s legendary sex symbols. ...The film is regarded as one of the top crime sagas of 1940s cinema
  19. ^ "The Killers: The Citizen Kane of Noir". Criterion.com. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  20. ^ "The Killers (1946)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  21. ^ "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". labiennale.org. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  22. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  23. ^ "AFI.com Error" (PDF). afi.com. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  24. ^ Ubiytsy (The Killers) on IMDb.
  25. ^ The Killers (1964) on IMDb.
  26. ^ Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid on IMDb
  27. ^ McKittrick, Christopher (April 26, 2016). ""My love letter to Los Angeles" – Andrew Kevin Walker on Nerdland". Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved April 26, 2016.

External links[edit]