Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster star in THE KILLERS, directed by Robert Siodmak for Universal Pictures.

The Killers (1946, Robert Siodmak)

When it comes to film noir, more than any other genre, I always wonder how some of these films got their sterling reputations….

The Killers isn’t too bad. It never gets as good as the opening, the adaptation of Hemingway’s actual story (it was a Nick Adams story in fact). The rest, with insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien explaining the killing, well… O’Brien is really good and so’s Sam Levene. It’s nice to see Levene in a full role, even if it is a sidekick role, it’s a central sidekick role. There’s a nice relationship between O’Brien and Levene and it makes the film seem a lot more innovative than it really is. Well, maybe innovative isn’t the right word. Special might be. Their relationship makes the film seem special. And the film isn’t special.

The failing is the concentration on one deception that has nothing to do with why Burt Lancaster accepts death in the beginning of the film. Oh, did I spoil it? I shouldn’t have, it’s kind of famous. There’s no pay-off with Lancaster. He’s around, but his character doesn’t do much. It’s impossible to feel anything for him, because we don’t get to see this man’s real struggle. The real struggle isn’t in the film, it’s in a five-year stretch the film ignores.

To some extent, I’m being harder on The Killers than it deserves. If I’d paid any attention to Movielens, I would have seen it didn’t predict a super-rating for the film, but The Killers is one of those films from my period of blind film snobbery. When it aired on TV, I knew someone recording it for three or four people. It was a big deal. Incidentally, Criterion’s release isn’t very good. I know it’s an older release, but film restoration–just the garden variety digital kinds–really makes it look terrible in comparison to current releases. I wanted The Killers to be good. Instead, it was a really, really long a hundred minutes. Really long. LONG.

But the Hemingway stuff… Great stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Anthony Veiller, based on a story by Ernest Hemingway; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Mark Hellinger; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Swede Andersen), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), Edmond O’Brien (Jim Reardon), Albert Dekker (Big Jim Colfax), Sam Levene (Lt. Sam Lubinsky), Vince Barnett (Charleston), Virginia Christine (Lilly Harmon Lubinsky), Charles D. Brown (Packy Robinson), Jack Lambert (Dum-Dum Clarke), Donald MacBride (R.S. Kenyon), Charles McGraw (Al), William Conrad (Max), Phil Brown (Nick Adams), Queenie Smith (Mary Ellen Daugherty), Jeff Corey (Blinky Franklin), Harry Hayden (George) and Bill Walker (Sam).


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