Home / The Killers (1946)

The Killers (1946)

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

The Killers opens with two hitmen (Charles McGraw, William Conrad) entering a diner, looking for somebody named “The Swede” (Burt Lancaster). Although minor characters, the hitmen remind us of how guys used to be tough without resorting to obsenities or violence. Call it the lost art of intimidation (something Lee Marvin perfected in the otherwise inferior remake).

When Ole “The Swede” Andersen is finally tracked down, he makes no attempt to escape. For the rest of the film, Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) tries to piece together Andersen’s story, not just to recover money from a old robbery, but to try and understand why the man didn’t try to save himself.

Although Lancaster gets top billing, it’s really O’Brien who carries the film. But, while certainly a capable actor, he doesn’t exactly heat up the screen. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that, at the time at least, O’Brien had twice the talent as Lancaster and half the charisma.

It’s a somewhat run-of-the-mill movie, but there are two things that stand out about The Killers:

1) Jim Reardon is actually an insurance investigator. He gets involved because he has to make sure Andersen’s estate (all 2500 dollars of it) gets passed on to his beneficiary, a hotel maid who hardly knew him. Both the main character and the beneficiary angle that gets the story moving are original, refreshing changes from the usual police/detective storylines.

2) Like the reporter in Citizen Kane, Reardon pieces together a man’s life based on the testimony of others. Though not as complex as Kane, The Killers does involve a number of flashbacks told out of chronological order. It makes for a more interesting story structure, though I’ve found flashbacks to have a distancing effect, as they often feel more like interruptions.

The Killers falls in the Film Noir category, with its use of shadows and nighttime scenes, its cynical deals and double-crosses, and its femme fatale (Ava Gardner), but such labels add little to the movie. It’s just as productive to simply call it “average”.

Shameless self-promotion: Martian War Machine

Powered by

About Paul De Angelis

  • I have to disagree with your assessment of this film as merely average Paul–although I’m ready to admit that it probably means more to those of us who are obsessed with noir than to the casual fan…

    I do salute you for highlighting the opening scene–the only part of the film that has anything to do with Hemingway’s magnificent short story (McGraw and Conrad’s dialogue is practically a verbatim transcription… in the Hemingway text, these two are likened to a vaudeville act, and I think that comes across perfectly in the film; their “toughness” has real bite, but it’s also just as clearly an “act” of sorts, impossible without an audience full of “bright boys” to interact with…)

    what else distinguishes this film from its peers?

    well, the flashback structure, which you mention, is extremely complex and well thought-out. It is obviously indebted to Citizen Kane (or, perhaps, to carry the debt further back, to The Power & The Glory (1933), an inspiration for Welles and his collaborators…), but there are a few things that hadn’t been done before, like the extended, silent “Prentiss Hat Factory” heist, narrated by Reardon’s boss, who’s reading the account from an old newspaper. Also there’s the interesting fact that we (I mean the viewers) often learn a great deal more from the flashbacks than Reardon does, because while he only hears the stories, we actually see them enacted… I’m not sure what to make of this right now, but it’s fascinating, and very unusual–the flashbacks are not presented “subjectively”… They have a kind of solidity (a “you are HERE” quality) that they don’t usually have in noir films…or in any films that use flashbacks, for that matter…I guess you could say that every flashback is like the shot in Citizen Kane (meant for no one but ourselves) that reveals the burning sled as “Rosebud”.

    Also–can you honestly say that Ava Gardner’s Kitty is just another femme fatale? For my money she’s the finest pure exemplar (I don’t count Mary Astor in Maltese Falcon as a pure femme fatale, because we are meant to empathize with her, at least to some extent) of this dubious character type in the history of film!