The Killers (1946) Poster

(1946)

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9/10
Film Noir At Its Very Best.
jpdoherty14 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Universal International's THE KILLERS (1946) is arguably the finest Noir ever to come out of Hollywood. It certainly has the most effective opening scene of anything that was ever seen in a film of this type before or after. Bright street lighting throws long dark shadows on the street that emanate from the two wanton and pernicious hit men of the title as they stealthily walk to a diner in the small town of Brentwood seeking their prey. With stunning monochrome cinematography by Elwood Bredell and underscored by the ominous pulsating music of Miklos Rozsa it is one of the most perfectly conceived sequences ever seen on the screen. From a short story by Ernest Hemingway THE KILLERS was beautifully adapted and written for the screen by Anthony Vieller and bracingly directed by master craftsman Robert Siodmak. This was the second of three high tension crime thrillers produced for the studio by Mark Hellinger - the other two being "Brute Force" (1947) and "Naked City" (1948)

A brooding Burt Lancaster, in his first starring role, plays ex prizefighter Ole Anderson known as the "Swede" who has buried himself in the unknown town of Brentwood where he works at a filling station. But the "Swede" is a man with a past! Years before he was involved in a robbery and after double crossing the gang he absconded with the loot. Now it's payback time and two hit men (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) have been sent to Brentwood to "take him out".("Why do you want to kill the "Swede" asks the barman in the diner "We're killing him for a friend" replies Conrad coldly). But the "Swede" doesn't run and is strangely reticent about his impending fate. Even his friend Nick Adams (Phil Brown) warns him about the two strangers in the diner intending to kill him. "Why do they want to kill you" Nick asks........."I did something wrong ......once" responds a resigned "Swede". Later after the killers fulfil their grisly contract (a brilliantly intense heart stopping scene) an insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) is assigned to find out the whole story about the Swede. And in flashback we see how he fell in love with the beautiful Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) wife of gang boss (Albert Dekker) and the series of events and double crosses that occurred before and after the heist that ultimately led to his killing.

Performances are excellent from all concerned. Lancaster is terrific as the ill-fated "Swede" and Ava Gardner never looked more ravishing than she does here. But superb are those in smaller parts such as gang members Albert Dekker, Jack Lambert, Jeff Corey, Sam Lavene as a cop and not forgetting the perfect casting of William Conrad and the chilling Charles McGraw as the title characters. Carrying the whole thing along is the extraordinary nominated atmospheric score by the great Miklos Rozsa. His raw biting music with terse rhythms and musical hammer blows adds immeasurably to the picture. ( Curiously his motif for the two killers was "stolen" and used without permission as the theme for the long running TV series "Dragnet" in the early fifties.) Rozsa'a music for films came in three distinct phases. The first phase was his writing for fantasy films which included "Thief Of Bagdad" (1940) and "Jungle Book" (1942). THE KILLERS came from the second phase which covered his output for psychological and crime thrillers like "Spellbound" (1946), "Lost Weekend" (1945) and "Brute Force" (1947). Then finally his third phase - for which he is best known - covered his work on historical and epic subjects like "Quo Vadis" (1951), "Ivanhoe" (1952),"Ben Hur" (1959) and "El Cid" (1962).These films all had unequalled rich highly textured vibrant scores.

Rozsa's powerful music is but one aspect alongside editing, cinematography, directing, writing and great performances that makes THE KILLERS an exceptional work of cinematic art. Here is a movie that maintains a palpable dramatic thrust throughout its running time. Few films achieve this. THE KILLERS does ....in spades!
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This is the one --well, one of the ones
Tony4312 September 2005
Along with Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity," this is the one that established what film noir was all about.

Robert Siodmak's classic thriller, along with "Criss Cross" are two of his best pieces of work, proof positive that crime dramas could rise above the mundane and the clichéd.

Based on one of Hemingway's Nick Adams short stories, it tells the intriguing tale of two hit men who show up in a small town (the film moves it from the Midwest to New Jersey), where they take over a diner and tell its terrified occupants they intend to murder a nobody of a gas station attendant when he comes in for dinner. When he doesn't show, they hunt him down at the rooming house where he lives and do the job there. That's where the short story ends, but the script by Anthony Veiller picks it up from there, pursuing the fascinating story of what makes a man give up on life to the point where he passively waits for a pair of gunmen to show up and blow him to smithereens.

The protagonist,called the Swede, is a guy who isn't a criminal by nature, just a guy who fell upon hard times, but sees a way out by committing one more crime. And of course, as in any good film noir, his greed is fueled more by lust than anything else. There's a girl involved and in order to get her, he has to get the loot.

Burt Lancaster, in his first staring role, comes off very well here, as does Ava Gardner, also top billed for the first time. Strong supporting performances by the great Albert Dekker as the top hood and Sam Levine as a cop with a heart of gold. And we cannot forget Charles McGraw and William Conrad as two of the most frightening cold blooded killers in film history.

Siodmak does a great job in the director's chair in this Mark Hellinger (The Roaring Twenties) produced drama, but it is cinematographer Woody Bredell who steals the show. His use of lighting goes beyond spectacular. All of the clichés we think of in film noir lighting spring from this one film, where they were done right. And watch for one of the longest tracking shots in film history, as Nick Adams flees the diner and races to the Swede's rooming house to warn him. It's an amazing, unbroken shot that runs more than a minute.

Watch, too, for the brilliant shoot 'em up scene in a restaurant at the end of the movie when the two gunmen reappear. It is just a textbook blend of all the movies are supposed to be about, great acting, camera movement that means something, and brilliantly layered music by Miklos Rozsa. Film-making doesn't get any better than this.

A four star film and one of the godfathers of the genre. Don't miss this one.
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10/10
Fantasia On a Theme By Ernest Hemingway
telegonus6 October 2002
This is a beautifully made improvisation on a Hemingway story that screenwriters Tony Veiller, John Huston and Richard Brooks, along with director Robert Siodmak, have somehow turned into baroque film noir. The movie starts out with a couple of hired gunmen looking for a character named Swede in a small New Jersey town. They tie up some people they encounter in a diner where they expect the Swede to be, then go and look for him, as he has not turned up at his usual time. A young man they tied up breaks loose and goes and warns the Swede, who thanks him but does nothing, remaining in bed, smoking a cigarette, waiting for the killers to show, which in time they do. The rest of the movie is an exploration, conducted by an insurance investigator, into the murky issue of why the Swede allowed himself to be murdered, and who ordered the killing in the first place.

I can't say the movie's exploration of the Swede's character runs deep, or even that it's satisfactory in its psychology. It works so well because it's excellently written, photographed (by Woody Bredell), and acted (by Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien and Albert Dekker, among many others), and consists of flashbacks, and in some cases flashbacks within flashbacks, as its labyrinthine plot, full of double crosses and unexpected turns, drives the film with a relentless urgency that in the end has less to do with psychology than the workings of fate. There is an overwhelming feeling in this film that people behave the way they do because they are driven by forces they cannot understand. In this sense the story in itself is, as presented, shallow and depressing, and yet the movie is so well-crafted, with the action at times seeming to be choreographed, that the end result is akin to an existential roller-coaster ride, if not much to think about.
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9/10
Has aged unbelievably well.
cebudden-111 November 2004
Maybe I've just seen too many old movies, but for me, other than the period fedoras and suits, nothing about this movie would really give away that it's almost 60 years old.

The plot is solid and keeps you guessing until the end, with many twists and turns along the way, and is told asynchronously (perhaps necessary for today's audiences, which may be why it holds up so well). The acting is great, quite realistic, and for the most part avoids the maudlin sentiment and overacting that characterizes some older films.

The Killers is an incredibly enjoyable crime film, perhaps the perfect crime film. I haven't seen the remake, so I can't comment on that, but I hold this film in high regard.
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9/10
Expanding A Hemingway Classic
bkoganbing15 April 2007
The Killers is an expansion of a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The first ten minutes of this film is pure Hemingway with two contract gunman occupying and terrorizing a greasy spoon diner. Two of the most malevolent character actors around, Charles McGraw and William Conrad are the hit men.

They're there to kill Burt Lancaster, known to the town as just a simple garage mechanic. Because he left a small insurance policy, his death was investigated by insurance cop Edmond O'Brien. Naturally Lancaster was no simple garage mechanic by any means. O'Brien comes up with Burt's real identity and the reason why a few people wanted him dead.

The Killers was a big break film for Burt Lancaster. He had only done one previous film and that was Desert Fury for Paramount studios which had signed him. Because Universal was looking for an unknown to play the victim, Lancaster's agent was able to land him the part. And because Desert Fury was held up, The Killers became his debut film and he was a star from his first film.

This was also a milestone film for Ava Gardner as well. After The Killers, Louis B. Mayer was most reluctant to lend her out any longer due to the notice that she got.

The plot of The Killers is very similar to that of Out of the Past with Lancaster in the luckless Robert Mitchum role. As for Ava Gardner in her portrayal, she's taking a couple of pages from the Mary Astor school of double crossing, two timing dames. At least Mary had Sam Spade's promise he'd wait for her.

The Killers is a must for Burt Lancaster fans who want to see the film that launched his career.
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9/10
First rate film noir
perfectbond14 November 2003
I absolutely love this film! It's in my favorite genre, film noir, and it ranks among my favorites in that genre along with Out of the Past and Double Indemnity to name a few. Although there are a series of coincidences in the plot that stretch credibility, I believe they were necessary to maintain the pathos. In his first star turn, Burt Lancaster was excellent as the naive hood and Edmond O'Brien is likewise in his portrayal of the insurance investigator. He is almost always in a supporting role but that in no way diminishes his talent. But this movie is really Ava Gardner's. She never again had a role that fully realized her talents as much as Kitty Collins. Her portrayal of the manipulative and seductive but not altogether unsympathetic mistress is one the greatest of its kind. The last scene with her and Colfax shows this type of character in its most ignominous glory. Highest recommendation, 9/10.
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dignity in the face of death - textbook noir!
stephen-35725 January 2005
Using Ernest Hemingway's short story as the foundation for the film, Siodmak and cinematographer Elwood Bredell create a dark, brooding and brilliant looking character study of Ole "The Swede" Andersen (Burt Lancaster), a quiet unassuming man who is hunted and shot by two killers who enter the small town he inhabits. Indeed, the opening shots are textbook examples of how to use shadows and light effectively in film. The central idea behind the short story and Siodmak's film, is the very masculine concept of dignity in the face of death. The fact that "the Swede" apparently knew of his fate but did not try to flee puzzles the insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) assigned to the case. He becomes obsessed with resolving this mystery, and through the testimony of people that had various associations with the dead man, facts start illuminating the gray areas but ultimately end up darkening the reality. Lancaster plays the proud, tough, handsome but intellectually limited Olle "the Swede" Anderson convincingly, and Ava Gardner as the sultry femme fatal never looked better.
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10/10
Siodmak, Lancaster's first pairing is one of noir's central masterpieces
bmacv4 January 2002
The Killers marked Burt Lancaster's screen debut, establishing the stoic persona that would sustain his long and luminous career. Along with Criss Cross (also starring Lancaster), The Killers also records the high-water mark of Robert Siodmak's work in film noir.

Starting with a Hemingway short story (the retelling of which constitutes only the prologue to the film), The Killers endeavors to fill in the "back story" which Hemingway left to his readers' imaginations. That back story explains why the "Swede" (Lancaster) passively, almost eagerly, awaits the nasty pair of torpedoes (William Conrad, Charles McGraw) who have come to hunt him down. The germ of this recreation is Lancaster's small, solitary bequest -- to a chambermaid in an Atlantic City hotel where he had once stayed. Insurance investigator Edmond O'Brien catches the scent of something unusual and can't let it go. His investigations, helped by an old buddy of Lancaster's who is now a police lieutenant (Sam Levene), uncover a botched stint as a prizefighter; a smouldering yet duplicitous temptress (Ava Gardner), and a payroll heist that ended in an elaborate double cross.

Siodmak, having disposed of the end right at the outset, takes a circuitous route through his telling by using a fragmented series of flashbacks. Paradoxically -- much as the false starts and averted climaxes in a Bruckner symphony pay off handsomely in the end -- the story thus gains depth and momentum. Woody Bredell's dark and meticulous cinematography fulfills Siodmak's vision, resulting in one of the central masterpieces of the noir cycle.
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8/10
You're a pretty bright boy ain't ya?
Danny-Rodriguez31 January 2006
"It's a really a good yarn." That's what President Ronald Regan said about Tom Clancy's book "The Hunt for Red October". The same thing can be said about this movie. It's like a big yarn. And in the end you're still not quite sure who screwed who. Two men walks in to a diner. It becomes clear that what they're after isn't eggs and bacon but a man. A man named Swede. Swede has done something. A long time ago and now it's catching up to him.

Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers" is a good film noir. It's based on a short story and the only connection between it and this movie is the opening scene. The rest is written by various other writers. The film was entertaining. Drawn out at times but entertaining none the same. Humor combined with drama like the dialogue in the opening scene makes you think about it later on and it doesn't just leave your mind three minutes later.

The gritty film noir style and filming is quite clear in this movie. Especially in the opening scene which remains as my favorite part in the film. The use of shadow and light is wonderful. As for the rest of the movie, it was good and even a bit thrilling at times. This is definitely recommended to people who like good film noir.
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7/10
Good Film Noir Embellishment of Hemingway Short Story
JLRMovieReviews17 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is the definitive version of Ernest Hemingway's short story put to film, some say. A film noir classic, in every sense of the word, some say.

Up front, I will say I wanted to watch the 1964 version first before re-watching this, (I had not seen this in over 10 years) because I was afraid I would not like the 1964 version, if I had seen this first. So, this review is based upon those circumstances.

This is in fact a good film noir. The biggest asset and the main star and attraction of the whole film is its style. It reeks of atmosphere and shadows and everything a great film noir should look like and feel like. But its main weakness is the lack of development in the characters we should be feeling something for. But we are not made to empathize with really anyone. Burt Lancaster is a great actor, but his "Swede" is essentially "walking dead." And, Ava Gardner, while beautiful, gives very little to humanize her character.

(One aside: Every time I have ever seen Burt in a movie, I always think of the word immaculate. His figure is lean and his appearance neat and perfect. No actor is as immaculate as Burt Lancaster.)

Getting back to the film, the only interesting ongoing character is Albert Dekker as the brains behind the heist, as he is actively keeping the momentum going. Another big weakness is the fact that no one in the movie knows what the other one's doing. Burt never knew Dekker had double-crossed him. The others in the heist never knew Dekker double-crossed them. (There was no fun in the climax or denouement. No ah ha moment!) And, too much was relied on the use of flashbacks, I think.

The 1964 version saw these problems and solved them by stressing the action and another point I have not mentioned: the actual killers, played wonderfully by William Conrad and Charles McGraw. There's more entertainment value in their 10 minutes, than the rest of the picture, with their perfect delivery of simple lines. Conrad and McGraw, you are not forgotten.The viewer is captivated by them and wants to see them again. We do, when they get killed themselves. The makers of the 1964 version saw they were the highlight and developed them and in that way made the whole story more interesting.

I know it sounds like I'm blasting it. It should be seen once. But multiple viewings may tend to show its flaws too much. Unless you want to see just the first ten minutes, which is what the short story covered anyway: the diner scene. Just try ordering the dinner! Just try!
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10/10
My favorite film noir picture
MartinHafer30 May 2005
I was surprised when I looked at IMDb's list of highest rated film noir pictures, since this movie was well down the list. This review and my subsequent review for DOA are being made to try to correct this oversight. Also note that there was a re-make of this film in 1964 starring Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan. This review is for the original film only.

This is one of the most stylistic noir pictures made. Like the FANTASTIC opening of Sunset Boulevard, this movie STARTS with the murder of a poor sap and then backtracks to let the viewer slowly understand why this occurred. Surprisingly, the part given to the murder victim in this movie is played by Burt Lancaster in his first picture--what a great first film! Other reasons I liked the film were the cast (I like ugly old Edmund O'Brien--a stand-out noir actor because he is unattractive, beefy and delivers lines like it was from an episode of Dragnet), writing (it keeps you guessing), direction and impressive cinematography.

Do yourself a favor and see it soon.
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10/10
I don't want to give too much away, but this is a brilliant noir...
Jem Odewahn30 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
THE KILLERS is an excellent film noir, , perhaps only bettered by OUT OF THE PAST (1947). To give too much of the plot away would be to spoil the experience for new viewers- I was able to watch it without virtually any prior knowledge of the plot and the film really knocked me for six.

One thing that enormously impressed me about THE KILLERS is how seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly director Robert Siodmak manages to pull off the intricately layered plot, which consists of many (13 in total, I think) flashbacks. The film, like CITIZEN KANE, is told from multiple points of view but Siodmak turns the noir atmosphere up to fever pitch by jumbling the order of the flashbacks. Just as we are lead to believe one thing, another possibility comes out at us. So very noir.

Burt Lancaster made his starring debut in this film and its a very strong performance of a weak character. In the famous opening 12 minutes, two hit men (including a mean Charles McGraw) enter Brentwood, California and gun down Lancaster's character, the "Swede". He doesn't even resist, telling his co-worker "I did something wrong...once". This serves to be the mystery of the film, as we gradually piece together the Swede's life and how he came to such a miserable end. Of course, like most noirs, it has something to do with a beautiful yet deadly femme fatale, played by a scorching Ava Gardner. Kitty Collins has to be one of the sexiest, yet dangerous, women on film. I'll let you uncover why- her final scene is unforgettable.

Lancaster and Gardner, though featuring on most of the publicity posters, do not have as many scenes as the real leading man, dogged insurance man Rearden, Edmomd O'Brien. Rearden gets to live the film noir life when he begins investigating the Swede's death, and you can sense as he is getting sucked further and further into a web of deceit he is enjoying it more and more. Albert Dekker, Sam Levene and Vince Barnett also provide great support. This is a film where every role feels perfectly cast, and there is a never a false moment in it.

Siodmak is a director I have not seen much of, yet I will look out for his work in the future. THE KILLERS still feels very fresh and contemporary, and Siodmak directs in a taut, economical style, making sure every flashback serves its purpose whilst still entertaining the audience. The plot was derived from a short story by Ernest Hemingway, but writer Anthony Veiller really deserves the most praise here, as the film is actually an extrapolation on Hemingway's hit men premise. The screenplay contains many great noir lines and the cinematography is appropriately dark and ominously lit.
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8/10
Flashback-told film noir that aged really well.
Diego_rjc25 January 2010
'The Killers' was released on 1946. Back then, the film-noir genre was really popular. And in my opinion, this one is one of the best of this great cinematic genre, because it's told in a different way than most of its time. This movie is told through really smart flashbacks.

'The Killers' begins with two hit men arriving in a small town with only one objective: kill 'Swede' Anderson (Burt Lancaster). After this, a detective starts to investigate his death, by interviewing the people of the town. This is how he uncovers a murderous plot evolving multiple characters. This is one of those movies that really keeps you interesting and anxious on what's going to happen, ans when the plot reveals itself, it's really awesome how everything is around Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). The story is well-told and aged really well.

The acting here is not superb, but it's not bad also. The movie is important because it's the first major role of Burt Lancaster, and the movie made him a star. It also features the always beautiful and mysterious Ava Gardner and the competent Edward O'Brien, in a interesting role.

I have never watched a Robert Siodmak picture before, and was surprised to see how well he directed this picture. The camera was always at an interesting and different angle, and there's one nice tracking shot in the middle of the movie. Along with the well-made soundtrack by Miklós Rózsa, and the also well-made cinematography by Elwood Bredell the mood in here couldn't be better.

Overral, this is a great film-noir movie, one of the best of its genre. It aged really well, most because of Ernest Hemingway's powerful story. It keeps you interested, with nice acting and directing.

8/10
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Minor noir, but worth watching
tieman6411 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The first 15 minutes of this film are based on Ernest Hemingway's short story, in which 2 killers turn up at a remote town to murder a gas station attendant called The Swede. This section of the film is fabulous. It's direct and snappy (like Hemingways prose) and similar in tone to the introductory scenes in David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence".

The rest of the film is loosely inspired by "Double Indemnity", released a couple years prior. Using flashbacks it provides the back story that leads to the Swede's death and introduces us to an insurance investigator, named Riordan, (Edmund O'Brien) who serves as our narrator.

Like most old noirs, the pace lulls in the middle section. All the noir elements are here - the double crosses, the femme fatale, the gangsters, the smoke filled bars - but it all feels a bit too mechanical, director Robert Siodmak unable to rise above the material.

Still, "The Killers" shut the book on the classic noir cycle's use of flashbacks. Each flashback segment is prompted by Riordan's finding of some clue, as someone begins to tell him about their part in the mess. It's illogical and unlikely that someone would piece together a case in such a way, but cinematically it works.

7.9/10 - Despite a strong opening and brilliant last half hour, this is a minor noir. The dialogue lacks wit and the middle hour lacks bite. Still, it's worth watching if you're a fan of classic noirs.

One more thing. Keep an eye peeled for references to cats:

1. Kitty (Ava Gardner) 2. The Green Cat. (bar) 3. Meow scene 4. Glasses of milk 5. Cat statues

It all makes little sense, until we see Ava Gardner sobbing at the end, her nine lives expired.
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7/10
Cupid's Arrow Was A Bloody Bullet.
Robert J. Maxwell11 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Ernest Hemingway once described the only proper way to do business with Hollywood. You drive up to the California border and stop before you cross it. The producers show up on the other side. You throw them the contract. They throw you the money and you catch it and run away.

Nice typical fifteen-minute noir opening informed by Hemingway's brand of ambiguity. There's a small town in New Jersey. Two malicious-looking mean-talking guys enter the diner and insinuate themselves into a position of command in a few minutes, making an occasional wisecrack. They announce that they've come to town to kill a Swede. After they leave, one of the customers runs to warn the Swede, but the Swede lies there in bed and says, thanks for coming, but there's nothing I can do. End of story.

The rest of the movie owes nothing to Hemingway and has to stand on its own. And it's not bad. Edmond O'Brien enters the story as an insurance investigator determined to find out why the Swede (Lancaster) left his $2500 life insurance to a elderly chambermaid in Atlantic City, whom he'd met six years ago and known for only two days. One tip leads to an implausible other tip and before you know it -- well, within a week anyway -- O'Brien has the case solved and the bad guys all dead and the femme fatale (Ava Gardner) sent to the slams.

If it's above average -- and it is -- it's because it is supertypical, almost an "ideal type" out of Max Weber. Lots of low-key lighting, mostly night shooting, Miklos Roza's ominous score (including a leitmotiv for the two killers that sounds exactly like the theme from "Dragnet"). Everybody double crosses everybody else. Of two childhood pals, one grows up to be a cop and the other a gangster. A beautiful and dangerous woman lies to a gullible but fundamentally decent guy but chooses to follow the money, casting her perils before swains. Sam Levene has a haircut that looks like the prototype for Don King's. A nightclub called the Green Kitty Cat or something, whose piano player launches into a nerve-rattling boogie tune when the two killers come down the stairs looking for O'Brien.

Towards the end it gets a little confusing. Let's see. A quarter of a million dollars is stolen from the Prentiss Hat Factory in Hackensack. At the end, O'Brien seems to have recovered the money -- but I don't know how.

There are some niggling flaws. Lancaster and his cell mate are in stir examining the stars through the bars. The cell mate (Vincent Barnett) has been studying stars for years. So how come he mispronounces "Orion"? And how come he says Orion is also known as The Big Bear? And how come he says Betelgeuse is the brightest star in the heavens? Now that I think about it, this is not a niggling flaw at all. It's deeply disturbing. And I'd feel even worse if I were Orion or Sirius.

The writer did his homework in other ways though. Yes, Chestnut is a prominent street in Philadelphia. And Newark at the time was filled with insurance companies, a poor man's Hartford. And MArket was a real telephone exchange in Newark. The Ledger was the most prominent local paper, and still is, though it's now the Star-Ledger. I'll have to check on those hats in Hackensack.

Final note: It's interesting how Hemingway, through his prose and dialog, almost created his own universe which, once immersed, the viewer comes to take for granted as natural. But Big Ernie's dialog doesn't translate too well to the screen, nor does his writing style. (Name a very good movie made from a Hemingway story.) What looks pungent on the page comes out arch on the screen. Of course there's not a heck of a lot of Hemingway in this movie anyway -- only the opening scene, up to the point at which the Swede dies with grace.
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6/10
An uneven expansion of a Hemingway story
Rick-3430 March 2012
This film seems to get a lot of love, and to extent, it deserves the acclaim. The first 20 minutes of the film is an adaptation of a famous short story of Hemingway. The film starts with two killers taking over a diner, waiting for a local known as "Swede" (played by Burt Lancaster in a breakthrough role) that they've come to kill. When Swede doesn't show, they leave, and Hemingway's ubiquitous protagonist, Nick Adams, races to the Swede's apartment to warn him.

For the first 20 minutes, the writing is excellent, the dialogue terse, and the viewer is left with a grim view of the coldness of life, which provides moments of sudden danger and incomprehensible actions.

And then Hollywood makes its contribution. Around the gem of a short story, the film makers added a backstory explaining the Swede's actions (or lack thereof) including crime, a femme fatale (played by the gorgeous Ava Gardner), a robbery, and a conflict about stolen money. The larger film is far less interesting. Unfortunately, the film spends most of its time following the actions of an insurance investigator played by Edmond O'Brien, who just cannot command the screen as well as Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner can. Perhaps if Lancaster and Garnder had been given more prominent rules and O'Brien had been marginalized, the relative triteness of the larger screenplay could have been overlooked.

I give this film a 6. The first 20 minutes are epic, but the rest isn't.
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9/10
The Dark Road To Brentwood
seymourblack-113 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Siodmak's best known movie is an excellent thriller which marked the debut of screen legend Burt Lancaster and also launched the career of Ava Gardner. It was a great box office success, drew positive reviews from the critics and was also nominated for four Academy Awards.

Lancaster plays the role of Ole "The Swede" Andersen, a professional boxer who had to retire because of a serious hand injury. Having been used to high financial rewards in his boxing career, he couldn't contemplate the more modest levels of income offered by conventional jobs and so went into the numbers racket before spending a period of time in prison and then going on to take part in a payroll robbery.

At the beginning of the movie, two contract killers arrive at Brentwood N.J. and after visiting a diner, go to The Swede's boarding house room and shoot him. Later, Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) an insurance investigator becomes involved when it emerges that The Swede had a policy with the Atlantic Insurance Company. As there are no apparent reasons why The Swede had been killed or why his beneficiary is a chambermaid in Atlantic City, Reardon's interest becomes aroused and he goes on to interview a whole series of characters who are each able to contribute various pieces of information which, when put together, enable him to establish the background to the incident at Brentwood.

During his investigation, Reardon discovers that The Swede had fallen under the spell of Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) and had, in fact, served a prison sentence for a crime she committed. Despite this personal sacrifice, Kitty never either visited or wrote to him during all the time that he was incarcerated. On being released from prison, The Swede went on to become a member of a gang led by Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker). Kitty was in a relationship with Colfax, but The Swede's obsession with her remained undiminished. The gang went on to carry out a payroll heist and complications later arose in making arrangements to share the proceeds. His role in this, led to him being duped and betrayed in a way which left him a fugitive from the other gang members and without any personal profit from the robbery.

"The Killers" is a movie that stands up well to repeat viewings and the device of unveiling the plot through such a large number of flashbacks seems very authentic and is used so expertly that the end result never loses pace or becomes disjointed. The movie looks really good and some of the sequences, such as the one between the arrival of the hit men in Brentwood and the murder of The Swede, are like a masterclass in how to establish atmosphere and mood through the medium of light and shadow. Miklos Rozsa's score, (now more widely known as the "Dragnet" music) sounds sombre and threatening and fits the mood of the piece perfectly.

Lancaster gives a strong performance as a man who is the victim of his own obsessive attraction to someone who exploits him mercilessly and it's interesting to see his demeanour change as he goes from being the courageous boxer fighting with a painful injury, to the swaggering operator in the numbers racket, a helpless fall guy and eventually a haunted, humble attendant in the filling station in Brentwood. Don Siegel's 1964 remake is more perfunctory in both style and content and compares unfavourably to the Siodmak version.
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9/10
The swede story unravels in noir classic.
Spikeopath4 March 2008
You can scan thru many publications and they will tell you that Robert Siodmark's adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's story The Killers is quintessential noir, and whilst I haven't seen enough of the perceived classics to make a sound judgement, I do understand why this one ranks so high.

Perfectly directed by Siodmark because it is washed with a moody ambiance that befits the script, the main players in the piece are bang on form to realise the mood and sombre tempo that makes the film a winner. The story basically revolves around Burt Lancaster's Swede Anderson who upon learning that hired killers are out to fulfil a contract on him, promptly stays horizontal on his bed and awaits his fate. We then follow Edmond O'Brien's insurance investigator Jim Reardon as (thru a series of flashbacks) he reconstructs Swede's life and what caused his demise.

The story encompasses one of film noir's most well known femme fatales in Ava Gardner's foxy Kitty Collins, and it's certainly the film's driving force as we observe her part in Swede's life, for better or worse as it were, but ultimately it's the classy framing of the film that marks it out as essential viewing. It's oppressive, it's almost stifling, and it's certainly story telling of the highest order, but mainly it just looks so fecking gorgeous you feel privileged to have been part of it. 9/10
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8/10
"How well did you know the Swede?"
elvircorhodzic1 August 2016
Incredibly an exciting beginning of a movie. The murderers who kill without explanation and victim calmly awaits death. THE KILLERS is out of sync movie, which does not affect much on a very good story and a solid noir atmosphere. Flashbacks are chronologically nonlinear, are manifold, but are quite clear. Most attract attention, because the reconstruction of the victim's life. Looking at the other side, they are only an attempt to illuminate the case in which the robbed factory. The heart of the story is certainly not an insurance investigator. He is only an intermediary.

The story is quite complicated and tense. Therefore, conclusions can be multiple. Why man quietly waiting for its own liquidation? For love or fraud. The victim of femme fatale or just a criminal who fell in love with the wrong woman.

One of the protagonists patiently solve the mystery. He waits until all the attributes are not in his hands.

Burt Lancaster as Pete Lund/Ole "Swede" Andreson is handsome and muscular actor who in all solid pace. For the first important role quite decent. Although I think it director spared some embarrassment. Several times he was close. Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins was prickly as a femme fatale. The lady who cut the flow of the story. Although I was fascinated by her beauty, I have not regretted the fate of her character at the end of the film. Edmond O'Brien as Jim Reardon is cunning, cold and relentless investigator in the style of a real detective. On one side is a bad copy of the Bogart, on the other hand the result of the popularity of such characters in film noir.

The film has a slow tempo with a lot of uncertainty and tension. The sharp dialogues, gloomy atmosphere and fatalistic tone determined work on which the movie is based.
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10/10
Quintessential film noir, and one of the best film adaptations of Hemingway's work
TheLittleSongbird7 November 2015
Regarding the latter, that is saying quite a lot seeing as Ernest Hemingway's work is very difficult to adapt and has met very mixed success on film. What is remarkable about The Killers is how it takes a very good and remarkably powerful short story and expands further on it, one of the few Hemingway adaptations to be just as good as its source material and at times be even better than it.

This said it is a fabulous film too on its own terms, and is quintessential film noir, audacious, taut, exciting and suspenseful when it could have been overblown, overwrought or dull if done wrongly. And as much as I did like the 1964 remake, mostly because of Lee Marvin, the 1946 original is the far superior film, with an obvious difference for the better being the production values. The remake was hurt by its rather rushed and cheap made-for-TV look, whereas the production values is one of the strongest things about this version, with its crisp photography, brilliantly atmosphere production design influenced by Edward Hopper and shadowy lighting, that bring such an effective noir-ish atmosphere, the opening scene is particularly striking in this regard.

Miklos Rozsa's music here is one of his most ominous and stirringly orchestrated, used sparingly but with palpable effect, really allowing the atmosphere to speak and enhancing it even further when it features. So good in fact, that it was used again for the TV series Dragnet. Robert Siodmak's expertly direction, which maintains a powerfully bleak tone throughout, and a cracking screenplay are further great things, as is a story that is tightly paced and excitingly taut with tons of suspense and intrigue and intricately done and never confusing flashbacks, not getting dull for a minute. This viewer for one was riveted throughout and never found herself confused.

Strong acting also helps, with Burt Lancaster thoroughly convincing in his first starring role, his best moments in fact are stunning, and Ava Gardner in the femme fatale role is wonderfully beautiful, classy and mysterious. Albert Dekker and Edmund O' Brien are the standouts in support, Dekker is splendidly larcenous and O'Brien drives the investigation with such taut aplomb. Charles McGraw and William Conrad are chilling too, and you wish the film developed their characters just a little more. While the characters are not the most well-developed, they are still interesting and carry the narrative without any annoyances or irrelevance.

All in all, superior version and quintessential film noir in its own right. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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7/10
Not Super But Notable For A Few Things
ccthemovieman-124 March 2006
I always thought the best part of this film was the opening scene in the diner with two of the toughest guys in the film noir genre: Charles McGraw and William Conrad. After that, it went downhill but is still quite passable as a film noir.

It's also nice to see Ava Gardner in her prime. Take a look: there is a woman with some true sex appeal! Also fun to admire was the cinematography, which usually is good in film noirs.

This was Burt Lancaster's first major role and he looks and sounds different from the Lancaster most of us know through his great films of the 50s on up.

Most of the story is told in flashback as an insurance salesman (Edmund O'Brien), who is the real star of the film turns detective in trying to find out why "Swede Anderson" (Lancaster) had been murdered. The story is okay, not super but worth watching for the Ava and the photography.
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6/10
killing off Burt strips some tension away
SnoopyStyle11 February 2015
Hit men Max and Al come to Brentwood, New Jersey and kill Ole "the Swede" Andreson (Burt Lancaster). Life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) tracks down the beneficiary of the policy. He is helped by the Swede's friend police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene). The Swede was a washed up boxer who got mixed up with some bad people and Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner).

Killing off Burt Lancaster right at the start takes away some of the tension. The movie stalls a little bit after a really compelling start. It would have been much better to have him live and he could hunt down for those responsible. Watching the flashbacks in this movie, the fact that he's already dead is always at the back of my mind. I love the start but the structure isn't as compelling.
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7/10
Flashback after flashback, but interwoven with precision and dark beauty
secondtake4 September 2010
The Killers (1946)

This first version of "The Killers" is even more legendary than the Hemingway story it is based on, and director Robert Siodmak keeps the complex plot graphic and engrossing step by step. It's a gritty hunt for the bad guys through a lot of terrific sets, from city inside and out to some country scenes, all really authentic.

It's flashback heaven, which is fascinating but also fragmenting. It's a choppy ride, so if you love aspects of the movie, you'll never get drawn into the flow of it in the usual way because it keeps bouncing between the present and the next flashback, and the flashbacks are told from a whole slew of perspectives, including a man who dies while telling it.

This might be recommended in some ways. The methodical steps end up mimicking an actual investigator's progress, hearing the stories of different witnesses or people who knew the victim. And so the story gets pieced together by necessity. It's tightly woven, and of course photographed in that fabulous late 1940s black and white exaggeration that defines the look of film noir. Flashbacks are of course a staple of the genre, and even the idea of having a main character dead in the first few minutes is something noirs have played with all along (from "D.O.A." to "Sunset Blvd." to name just two). John Huston, of proto-noir "Maltese Falcon" fame, helped write the screenplay, though the best writing seems to come from the first half hour, which is the only real Hemingway part.

We rarely see Burt Lancaster, the headliner, but are glad when we do. We catch more of the plodding insurance investigator, a kind of Bogart wannabe, Edmond O'Brien, who is exactly the needle we need to thread all these pieces together. And if Ava Gardner makes a famous appearance now and then as a mysterious woman mixed up in a crime ring, she is as fleeting as Lancaster. This is a group effort, and you can picture it being filmed in discrete sections with particular actors only needed for small parts of the whole.

Eventually the pieces become clear to the investigator, and to us, and if there is some surprise (and satisfaction) by then, there was much more satisfaction getting there, step by step. A great but in some ways middle of the road noir.
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10/10
Robert Siodmak's American Masterpiece
Eumenides_017 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Killers is a masterpiece of the film noir genre. I watched this movie several years ago and never forgot it. Sure, some details have slipped away from memory, but I always kept an impression that it was a very good movie, one of those rare instances in which everything comes together to make the best work possible.

It starts with Anthony Veiller's screenplay, based on an Ernest Hemingway short-story. Based is perhaps too great a word for Veiller's work. The short-story only makes up the first ten minutes of the movie, right up to the moment the Swede is warned that two men are after him to kill him, and Swede just lies in bed waiting. Veiller in fact invented an entire back story to explain the murder, and credit must go to his inventive mind.

The story moves thanks to the efforts of Jim Reardon, an insurance investigator following the case (an insurance investigator instead of a cop or a private eye; Veiller sure wasn't following the formula here), and through a series of flashbacks we get to piece together the events that led to Swede's murder.

A teacher once told me that The Killers was like the Citizen Kane of film noir because of its complex structure and use of flashbacks. I'll agree that it's a step forward in the genre, if we only think of John Huston's simple narrative in The Maltese Falcon. It's not just that the movie uses flashbacks, but each one is, like Citizen Kane, started by a different character telling his memories. If all art is theft, Siodmak and Veiller knew to steal from the best.

I don't remember the visuals very much, but I remember that the use of darkness and shadows, the play with, impressed me very much. A good deal of film noir is knowing how to set a mood, an atmosphere, and this movie achieved that very well.

What I definitely remember and love is Miklos Rozsa's score (I listen to it all the time), whose main theme is so popular I understand it became the main theme of a show called Dragnet. The theme playing whenever the killers show up (at the start and at the end) is unforgettable, heavy with menace and violence. I've heard several scores by him and I consider this one of his best, up there with his Oscar-winning scores for Spellbound and Ben Hur.

The Killers is an exciting, fast-paced movie that explored the seedier aspects of human existence: the greed and the will to power; and like the best noirs, it portrays a fatalistic view of mankind, of the past as something that we can't run away from; a feeling pervades that everyone gets what they deserve and truly there are no winners in this movie. Not even Reardon, for all his efforts, gets anything in return. This, with Jacques Torneur's Out of the Past, is the most depressing noir ever made, and perhaps for that reason also it's one of the best.

Robert Siodmak isn't very famous today. Perhaps it's because he choose to return to Germany after the war, where he created masterpieces. Perhaps if he had remained in Hollywood he'd be as famous as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and others. But in spite of the fame he has today, he was a film artist and this is certainly his American masterpiece.
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8/10
"If there's one thing in this world I hate, it's a double-crossing dame"
ackstasis6 July 2009
Some intrepid critics have categorised 'Citizen Kane (1941)' as an early example of film noir, owing largely to its influential cinematography and flashback narrative structure. As though consciously in support of this assertion, Robert Siodmak's 'The Killers (1946)' – expanded from a 1927 short story by Ernest Hermingway – plays out precisely like a noirish retelling of Welles' film. After enigmatic ex-boxer Swede Andersen (Burt Lancaster) is gunned down by hired assassins in a small American town, insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) decides to piece together the man's past using fragmented testimony from those who once knew him. In doing so, he hopes to uncover the meaning behind the dead man's final words, "I did something wrong once." The life that Reardon discovers is one tinged with tragedy, regret and betrayal, revealing details of an audacious factory heist, a treacherous dame, and a double-cross to end all double-crosses. An archetypal noir, 'The Killers' caps an excellent year for Siodmak, who also released the Freudian psycho-thriller 'The Dark Mirror (1946).'

'The Killers' opens with a thrilling prologue that sees two hired thugs (William Conrad and B-noir stalwart Charles McGraw) harass the patrons at a small-town diner on their way to assassinate Swede Andersen. The characters' quickfire exchange of dialogue resembles something that Tarantino or the Coen brothers would have written decades later, only better, because screenwriter Anthony Veiller (with Richard Brooks and John Huston) reproduces the conversation from Hemingway's short story almost verbatim. After Andersen is unresistingly gunned down in his bed, the screenplay then expands upon the foundations laid down by the source material, using flashbacks to fill in the empty spaces at which Hemingway had only hinted. Veiller, whose work before WWII was dominated by romantic dramas, comedies and light mysteries like 'The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936),' appears to have been hardened by his work on Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" propaganda series, and the dark, cynical post-War tone he brings to Swede's tragic story is an ideal representation of the noir spirit.

Burt Lancaster shows promise in his screen debut, though the film's narrative structure does keep the audience distant from his character, an issue that Welles somehow avoided in 'Citizen Kane.' As the resident femme fatale, Ava Gardner never quite inspires the collective hatred garnered by Barbara Stanwyck in 'Double Indemnity (1944)' or Jane Greer in 'Out of the Past (1947),' but perhaps that speaks to her charms – that, despite her betrayal, we're still unwilling to treat her with due contempt. Good-guy Edmond O'Brien cheerfully and voyeuristically experiences the wretched life of a gangster through the intermediary flashback device – he ends the film with a cocky grin, like an audience-member emerging from a screening of the latest gangster thriller. Throughout this review, I've been making allusions to 'Citizen Kane,' but there's a very important difference between the two main characters: Charles Foster Kane had all the money in the world and got nothing out of it. Swede Andersen wasn't even that lucky; he didn't even get the money.
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