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USA 1946
Directed by
Robert Siodmak
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Killers, The (1946)

Robert Siodmak's schooling in German "expressionist" cinema of the 1930s is put to striking effect in this film noir adapted from Ernest Hemingway's short story (the script is credited to Anthony Veiller although apparently both John Huston and Richard Brooks worked on it).

The film opens with the gangland killing of Ole "The Swede" Anderson (Burt Lancaster in his film debut) by two hitmen, (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) and then proceeds to unfold the story behind the event in  a series of flashbacks. This opening sequence, which closely follows the novel, provides a superb play of light and dark, raking camera angles and melodramatic poses but the film does not sustain its promise switching to a more conventionally realised effort with the arrival of Jim Reardon, the insurance agent investigating the case because The Swede had a small policy with his company. and who progressively unwinds a dark story of love and betrayal.

Reardon is played by Edmond O'Brien an actor to whom, with the exception if The Wild Bunch (1969), I've never warmed (I've never forgiven him for taking down Cody Jarrett in White Heat,1949). Although his role here is similar to Edward G. Robinson's in Double Indemnity (1944) his characteristic performance as compliant minion of law and order is the righteously dull centre of what otherwise is great roster of seedy characters.

The script follows the narrative style of switching back and forth between present and past as each character that Reardon meets recounts their involvement with The Swede and so helps to put together the explanation of his execution. This jerky approach not only inhibits emotional involvement, forcing one to concentrate on who is doing what to who, but becomes increasingly tenuous as the puzzle too-neatly comes together, most notably when in true B-grade fashion, The Swede's colleague in crime, "Blinky" Franklin (Jeff Corey) whilst in a death-bed fever rehearses their robbery for the convenience of Reardon and the police, then promptly expires. The introduction of Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene) as The Swede's old school-buddy-turned-cop also introduces a jaunty tone which jars with the true noir mood, leaving a palpable split between the often-perfunctory dramatics and Siodmak's melodramatic stylisation of them. That style does however stand for quite a deal and putting the icing and the cherry on the cake there's Ava Gardner as one helluva femme fatale (even though she is way too classy for such a low rent crowd). Lancaster, as he would prove to be so consistently, is compelling in his relatively small role.

FYI: Miklos Rozsa's musical score was later used by the hit TV show Dragnet.




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