The Killers (1946)

The Killerskillers poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Written by Anthony Veiller from a story by Ernest Hemingway
Mark Hellinger Productions/Universal Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#198 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jim Reardon: She took a powder. The dough went with her.

This classic is everything a film noir should be from its doomed hero and femme fatale to its fabulous chiaroscuro cinematography and hard-bitten dialogue.

A couple of thugs (William Conrad and Charles McGraw) invade a small town diner and terrorize its occupants, announcing that they are waiting to kill “The Swede” (Burt Lancaster), an attendant at the local gas station.  When he does not show up for dinner, they release their hostages and customer Nick Adams runs out to warn his friend of the killers’ arrival.  But he is content to patiently wait out his demise as if he deserved it, saying only that he “did something wrong – once”, a phrase that could be the motto for many a noir hero with a Past.

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Insurance man Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) comes to town to investigate the circumstances of death in connection with the Swede’s life insurance policy and is intrigued by the story.  He probes further and we slowly learn through flashbacks connected to the people he interviews just how the Swede was double-crossed by the lady he loved, one Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner).  Reardon is allowed to stay on the case when he finds that the Swede’s sad story may lead him to the $250,000 proceeds of a payroll robbery.  With Albert Dekker as the ringleader of the robbers and Sam Levene as a police detective.

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Anyone who wanted a lesson in film noir style could start with a triple bill of Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, and this film, all of which are must-see viewing.  I am particularly fond of the opening diner scene in this movie. That dialogue seems to be lifted intact from the Hemingway story and could not be bettered.

The Killers was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories: Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklós Rósza).  How it missed out on Best Cinematography, Black and White is beyond me.

Trailer – cinematography by Elwood Bredell



2 thoughts on “The Killers (1946)

  1. I suppose The Killers greatest problem at the Academy Awards was that 46 was a great movie year. It is a truly excellent movie, but in almost all categories there was something better. It was interesting to see Burt Lancaster in his young days, but the real hero here was the cinematographer.

    • I don’t think the cinematography awards were anything special that year, though! Maybe the nominators liked more traditional lighting.

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