Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Killers (1946) Jersey Noir

Directed by Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady 1944), Christmas Holiday (1944), The Dark Mirror (1946), Cry of the City (1948), Criss Cross (1949), 
The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)). The screenplay was written by Anthony Veiller and was based on an Ernest Hemingway short story.

The Cinematography was by Elwood "Woody" Bredell (Phantom Lady(1944), Christmas Holiday (1944), Lady on a Train (1945), The Unsuspected (1947), Female Jungle (1956)) and the music was by Miklós Rózsa (Double Indemnity (1944)).

The film stars a venerable plethora of Classic Noir stars, Burt Lancaster (nine Classic Noir), Ava Gardner (two Classic Noir), Edmond O'Brien (twelve Classic Noir), Charles McGraw (eleven Classic Noir), William Conrad (four Classic Noir), Jack Lambert (nine Classic Noir), Virginia Christine (four Classic Noir), Albert Dekker (six Classic Noir), and Sam Levene (seven Classic Noir).

Al (McGraw) and Max (Conrad) rt.
The film opens with a through the windshield shot of a winding two lane highway lit by headlights, we next see a street flooded by an off screen streetlight that provides an eerie pool of light. We are immediately transported into Noirsville. Two dark figures approach a closed Tri-State filling station, they turn and head across the street to the Henry Diner/lunch counter each going in opposite entrances. 

George: What'll it be, gentlemen?
Max: I don't know. Whatta you want to eat, Al?
Al: I don't know what I want to eat.
Max: I'll have the roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.
George: That's not ready yet.
Max: Then what's it on the card for?
George: Well, that's on the dinner. You can have that at six o'clock. That clock is ten minutes fast. The dinner isn't ready yet.
Max: Never mind the clock. What have you got to eat?
George: Well, I can give you any kind of sandwiches: bacon and eggs, liver and bacon, ham and eggs, steak...
Al: I'll have the chicken croquettes with the cream sauce and the green peas and the mashed potatoes.
George: That's on the dinner too.
Al: [with nasty edge to his voice] Everything we want's on the dinner. That's the way want's on the dinner - that's the way you work it, huh?
George: I can give you ham and eggs, bacon and eggs...
Al: I'll take ham and eggs.
Max: Give me bacon and eggs.
George: [through the service window into the kitchen] One ham and, bacon and.
Sam: [loudly] Comin' up!

So begins Ernest Hemingway's The Killers directed by Robert Siodmak. After Al and Max pick on customer Nick Adams for a while they turn their attention back to George.

Al: You got anything to drink?
George: I can give you soda, beer, ginger ale...
Al: I said, 'You got anything to drink?'
George: [intimidated] No.
Al: This is a hot town. Whatta ya call it?
George: Brentwood.
Al: Did you ever hear of Brentwood?
Max: [Max shakes his head, no]
Al: Whatta ya do here nights?
Max: [sarcastically] They eat the dinner. They all come here and eat the big dinner.
George: [showing fear] That's right.
Al: [condescendingly] You're a pretty bright boy, aren't you?
George: [intimidated] Sure.
Max: [contemptuously] Well you're NOT!
Max: [to Al] Is he Al?
Al: He's dumb!

Al and Max order Nick behind the counter and tell George to have Sam the cook come out. Al goes behind the counter and orders Sam and Nick back in the kitchen. George asks Max what's it all about?

Max: I'll tell ya what's gonna happen. We're gonna kill the Swede. You know big Swede that works over at the filling station?
George: You mean Pete Lunn?
Max: If that's what he calls himself. Comes in every night at six o'clock, don't he?
George: Yes, if he comes.
Al: We know all about that.
George: What are you gonna kill him for? What did Pete Lunn ever do to you?
Max: He never had a chance to do anything to us. He never even seen us.
Al: He's only gonna see us once.
George: What you gonna kill him for?
Max: We're killin' him for a friend...

The storyline is told mostly in flashback. Two hit men (McGraw & Conrad) gun down the Swede (Lancaster) in Brentwood NJ, the Swede, who even though warned of his impending peril makes no effort to flee, he is resigned to his fate. The Swede leaves a $2500 life insurance policy with the name of a Atlantic City hotel cleaning lady as the beneficiary. Insurance investigator Riordan (O'Brien) curious to the facts of the Swede's death, tracks her down and through questioning eventually arrives in Philadelphia with the Swede's real name and meets his boyhood buddy police Lt. Lubinsky (Levene) and discovers that the Swede was an ex-prize fighter turned small time numbers racketeer.

The Swede (Lancaster)

Muzzle flashes light up Max and Al
Lubinsky and his wife (Christine) who was an old flame of the Swede's fills in the details of his pre Brentwood NJ life. The Swede went seriously off the tracks when he ran into a devious femme fatale, Kitty (Gardner) who he fell head over heals over at a party thrown by gangster Big Jim Colfax, (Decker). Colfax plans a payroll robbery of The Prentiss Hat Company in Hackensack, and a double cross and the Swede is the fall guy.

Lt. Lubinsky (Levine) and Riordan (O'Brien)


first view Kitty Collins (Gardner)

The Swede "dumbstruck" by vivacious Kitty she's got him hooked and is playing him.


Atlantic City Hotel
The Swede and Nick Adams (Phil Brown)

Big Jim Colfax (Decker)

The Swede with Charleston (Vince Barnett)

Lt to rt. Dum Dum, Colfax, Charleston, and Blinky

Dum Dum (Lambert)

From IMDb 

 noir's central masterpieces, 4 January 2002

Author: bmacv from Western New York

The Killers marked Burt Lancaster's screen debut, establishing the stoic persona that would sustain his long and luminous career. Along with Criss Cross (also starring Lancaster), The Killers also records the high-water mark of Robert Siodmak's work in film noir.

Starting with a Hemingway short story (the retelling of which constitutes only the prologue to the film), The Killers endeavors to fill in the "back story" which Hemingway left to his readers' imaginations. That back story explains why the "Swede" (Lancaster) passively, almost eagerly, awaits the nasty pair of torpedoes (William Conrad, Charles McGraw) who have come to hunt him down. The germ of this recreation is Lancaster's small, solitary bequest -- to a chambermaid in an Atlantic City hotel where he had once stayed. Insurance investigator Edmond O'Brien catches the scent of something unusual and can't let it go. His investigations, helped by an old buddy of Lancaster's who is now a police lieutenant (Sam Levene), uncover a botched stint as a prizefighter; a smouldering yet duplicitous temptress (Ava Gardner), and a payroll heist that ended in an elaborate double cross.

Siodmak, having disposed of the end right at the outset, takes a circuitous route through his telling by using a fragmented series of flashbacks. Paradoxically -- much as the false starts and averted climaxes in a Bruckner symphony pay off handsomely in the end -- the story thus gains depth and momentum. Woody Bredell's dark and meticulous cinematography fulfills Siodmak's vision, resulting in one of the central masterpieces of the noir cycle.

The Criterion DVD box includes the bonus DVD 1964 remake by Don Don Siegel, and so far I've watched a commentary extras by Stuart Kaminsky who provided dialog for OUTIA, and a reading of Hemingway's short story The Killers.

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