Killers, The (1946)
“I did something wrong once.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that Lancaster is “somewhat stiff but okay in his movie debut”, though I actually find him perfectly suited for his cipher-role as a duped noir chump who we learn about exclusively through the memories of those who knew him — including his policeman-friend (Sam Levene), his former girlfriend (Virginia Christine), and a crook named Dum Dum (Jack Lambert).
Gardner is sexy and charismatic, but primarily a noir icon rather than a fully-fledged character — at least until her “final, loopy moments on the screen” when she shows evidence of “strong dramatic acting”.
O’Brien is really the film’s primary protagonist: despite being given multiple gentle warnings by his boss (Donald MacBridge) to stop wasting time on the case, he persists out of sheer determination, ensuring we learn the truth about the Swede!
However, it’s Elwood Bredell’s atmospherically noir-ish cinematography that remains the film’s true stand-out, with many visually memorable scenes — including the highly tense opening sequence in the diner. The 1964 remake by Don Siegel is also worthy viewing; both films are enjoyable in different ways.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
One thought on “Killers, The (1946)”
Agreed, a must – for its place in cinema history as a well-made genre flick.
As for Peary’s remark about the storyline being “dated”…it sort of bothers me when the nuance of that word is ignored. In essence, ‘dated’ means that ‘it no longer applies, in a way that we can no longer relate’. The story would, in fact, have to feel strange to us, so far are we removed from what it’s comprised of.
But, in fact, the storyline of ‘The Killers’ is not dated: people still double-cross and kill people in situations like that…and probably always will. The territory of the film is not foreign to us, even now.
I’m a huge fan of Siodmak’s work – and it’s largely what he and his DP bring to this film that I like most. (I’m not that familiar with Bredell’s name – but have just noted that he was not connected with a large number of high-profile films.) Overall, ‘The Killers’ is a movie I admire more than find to my personal taste. By that, I mean it’s not a film I feel the need to return to much. (This may only be my 3rd viewing.)
That may be because of the villains in the piece, who I don’t find all that interesting as characters – outside of Conrad and McGraw, who really make an impression in the opening sequence (the heart of Hemingway’s original piece). I do, however, have feeling for the decent characters played by O’Brien, Levene and Christine…even if I feel they’re also a bit serviceable, as presented.
With this film, it feels like the mechanics of the plot are more important than the people who fill it. And I’m usually more drawn to character as an audience member.
That said, the film deserves its reputation as a respected classic.