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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Killers

The acting debut of Burt Lancaster and one of the quintessential film noirs of the 1940s, The Killers is partially based on the short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. The film was directed by Robert Siodmak (director of quite a few great noirs as well Criss Cross and The Crimson Pirate, both starring Lancaster) and stars Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien and Sam Levene alongside the young Lancaster. The screenplay was attributed to Anthony Veiller although it was actually co-written by John Huston and Richard Brooks and the film almost didn't feature Burt Lancaster as Universal was unable to secure their first pick for the role, Wayne Morris, when Warner Brothers would not lend him to them.
The film starts off when two hired guns arrive in a small town at night searching for Ole "The Swede" Anderson (Lancaster). After getting information from some locals, they track him down and kill him, despite the fact that the Swede was warned but made no attempt to escape or change his fate. An insurance investigator (O'Brien) is sent in to examine the case and find the beneficiary of Anderson's policy and from there on in the film tells its story via a complex set of flashbacks in which it is revealed that Anderson once participated in a huge payroll robbery after his boxing career was cut short due to injury. The main reason for Anderson's descent into crime was Kitty Collins (Gardner), the femme fatale he fell in love with but who married crime boss"Big Jim" Colfax whilst Anderson did a short stint in jail, and we come to learn how it was her involvement in a web of crime, lies and deceit that ultimately led to Anderson's willing acceptance of his faith.
One of the truly great film noirs, The Killers features all the genre staples including voice-over narration, a complex flashback structure, a femme fatale, stark black and white photography, a crime gone awry and a downbeat ending. Additionally, the film's night-for-night opening scene is truly classic, not only for its true night setting but also for setting up the story in a truly intriguing fashion as Lancaster laconically accepts his own murder. The screenplay is strong and complex, the cinematography stylish and the film made an almost instantaneous star out of Lancaster whilst also doing wonders for the career of Ava Gardner, who became a genuine sex symbol as a result of her role as the sultry Kitty Collins. The Killers received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Screenplay, whilst it won Best Film at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards. A truly essential film noir.

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