• The Killers is known as the film that launched the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. It is also remembered as one of the best Ernest Hemingway adaptations (Hemingway’s name appears above the title). It is also considered the sort of Citizen Kane of film noir with its splintered flashback storytelling structure.

It opens like its in the middle of the story with two killers (the titular killers) walking into a diner. There is a strong frame (here) right off the bat of the streetlight and the diner- this is the strongest work of German-born Richard Siodmak (who also made Phantom Lady in 1944 and The Spiral Staircase in 1946 so this is a nice stretch for him). The two killers harass  the cook, owner, and patron at the diner- a sensational opening.

  • Not to take anything away from the great Burt Lancaster, but half the credit here goes to whomever decided to give him this spectacular role. Lancaster plays “Swede” Anderson. This is Lancaster’s true debut, and he gets top billing, frankly an awesome character to play, in all in a Hemingway adaptation no less- wow.  Lancaster is 33 in 1946- a big, imposing physical (perfect as ex-boxer) figure. The first shot of him is laying in bed with shadows bouncing off the wall. This is noir’s cool fatalism. Siodmak comes in to give Lancaster a close-up as the Swede accepts his doomed fate and decides not to run.
  • The story then gets handed to Edmond O’Brien as the insurance policy agent Jim Reardon. This is another insurance investigator noir (like Double Indemnity from 1944) and this is the first film of a one-two punch that makes O’Brien noir royalty (D.O.A in 1949 is also on his resume). Reardon is investigating the death of the Swede- a flashback but no voiceover. Reardon interviews secondary characters who provide the narrative varying splices of the narrative via different flashbacks- first the filling station coworker, then the neighbor. Next is the police officer who arrested him, the Swede’s ex-girlfriend (and current wife of the policeman), his prison cell roommate and then his co-conspirators in a crime- Blinky (on his death bed) and Dum Dum under the point of Reardon’s gun. Ava Gardner (breathtaking) is Kitty Collins- the femme fatale Judas character—this narrative behemoth warrants the Kane comparisons.

the scene when Lancaster’s Swede meets Gardner’s Kitty Collins. Lancaster moves to the foreground with his old girlfriend hovering in the background- a sublime scene of obvious attraction

At the 36-minute mark Lancaster is headed for a tunnel and Siodmak captures a great monochrome cinematic painting as he walks away from the camera towards the light.

  • It is 38-minutes before Gardner shows up- “She’s beautiful” in the text- and Lancaster’s Swede is hypnotized (and fated). Gardner is not in more than a few minutes of the film (though it seems like more with her presence and the fact that she is talked about so often during the film by other characters) until she takes the baton as the storyteller in the final flashback thread.

The funeral composition at the 47-minute mark is masterful- five fields of depth on display all perfectly arranged.

  • The various aspects of the big caper take up most of the last 45-minutes.
  • The Prentiss Hat payroll robbery (the newspaper is sort of the narrator during this section as Reardon investigates) is shot in a long take. The camera follows the four thieves- it tracks or “saunters” via crane and then drifts up to the paymaster on the second floor as the robbery is shown through the glass window. The camera holds (all of this during one shot mind you) and the crane moves back down from the second floor and back into the street with the thieves again when it is over. This is a three-minute jaw-dropper of a shot.
  • John Huston reportedly had a hand (though uncredited) helping the screenplay.
  • Ends with the same two killers that start the film walking into the dinner
  • A Must-See/ Masterpiece border film