Hit men kill an unresisting victim, and investigator Reardon uncovers his past involvement with beautiful, deadly Kitty Collins.Hit men kill an unresisting victim, and investigator Reardon uncovers his past involvement with beautiful, deadly Kitty Collins.Hit men kill an unresisting victim, and investigator Reardon uncovers his past involvement with beautiful, deadly Kitty Collins.
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.
- Sep 12, 2005