The Killers (1946 film)

The Killers (1946 film)

name = The Killers

image_size =
caption = Theatrical poster
director = Robert Siodmak
writer = Story:
Ernest Hemingway Screenplay: Anthony Veiller Richard Brooks Uncredited:
John Huston
producer = Mark Hellinger
starring = Burt Lancaster Ava Gardner Edmond O'Brien Sam Levene
music = Miklós Rózsa
cinematography = Elwood Bredell
editing = Arthur Hilton
distributor = Universal Pictures
released = August 28 1946
runtime = 103 minutes
country = United States
language = English
amg_id = 1:120013
imdb_id = 0038669|

"The Killers" (1946) is an American film noir about the investigation of a mob murder. It is based in part on the short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. The film was directed by Robert Siodmak and features Burt Lancaster in his screen debut, as well as Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Sam Levene, among others. [imdb title|id=0038669|title=The Killers.] An uncredited John Huston co-wrote the screenplay.


The story is about two hit men assigned to find and kill a man, Ole Anderson aka "the Swede" (Burt Lancaster), at a small-town diner. Impatient for his arrival, they kill him instead at a boarding house where, resigned to his fate, he awaits their arrival.

Because Anderson's life was insured, Investigator Jim Reardon (Edmund O'Brien) is assigned to look into the murder for his company. Interviewing several people from Anderson's past, Reardon develops the theory that Anderson's murder stemmed from an unsolved payroll robbery years earlier.

Working with a police detective (Sam Levene), who was a boyhood friend of Anderson's, Reardon sets a plan in motion to trap the hired killers, and the man who hired them.


The first twenty minutes of the film, showing the arrival of the two contract killers, and the murder of "Swede" Anderson, is a close adaptation of Hemingway's short story. The rest of the film, showing Reardon's investigation of the murder, is wholly original. "The Killers" was the first, and to date the only, adaptation of a Hemingway work to leave successfully intact the author's laconic dialogue. According to Hemingway's biographer, Carlos Baker, "The Killers" "was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire." [Baker, Carlos. "Hemingway," Princeton University Press; 4th edition, November 1, 1972.]

Producer Mark Hellinger paid $36,750 for the screen rights to Hemingway's story, his first independent production. The screenplay was written by John Huston, uncredited due to his contract with Warner Bros., and Richard Brooks. [ [ Lethem, Jonathan] . Criterion Collection, "The Killers": Robert Siodmak and Don Siegel," essay. Last accessed: February 25 2008.]

Lancaster wasn't his first pick for the part of "the Swede," but Warner Brothers wouldn't lend out actor Wayne Morris for the film. Other actors considered for the part include: Van Heflin, Jon Hall, Sonny Tufts, and Edmund O'Brien, who was instead cast in the role of the insurance investigator. In the role of the "femme fatale", Kitty Collins, Hellinger cast Ava Gardner, who had appeared virtually unnoticed in a string of minor films.

The opening chords of Miklós Rózsa's theme music was later reused for the "Dragnet" television series.

"The Killers" is used as an example of "noir" cinematography in the documentary "Visions of Light" (1992). [imdb title|id=0105764|title=Visions of Light.]


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

Critical reception

When the film was first released, Bosley Crowther gave the film a positive review and lauded the acting in the drama. He wrote, " [In] a film called "The Killers," which was the title of the Hemingway piece, Mark Hellinger and Anthony Veiller are filling out the plot. That is, they are cleverly explaining, through a flashback reconstruction of the life of that man who lay sweating in his bedroom, why the gunmen were after him. And although it may not be precisely what Hemingway had in mind, it makes a taut and absorbing explanation... [w] ith Robert Siodmak's restrained direction, a new actor, Burt Lancaster, gives a lanky and wistful imitation of a nice guy who's wooed to his ruin. And Ava Gardner is sultry and sardonic as the lady who crosses him up. Edmond O'Brien plays the shrewd investigator in the usual cool and clipped detective style, Sam Levene is very good as a policeman and Albert Dekker makes a thoroughly nasty thug. Several other characters are sharply and colorfully played. The tempo is slow and metronomic, which makes for less excitement than suspense." [ [ Crowther, Bosley] . "The New York Times," film review, August 29 1946. Last accessed: February 24 2008]

In a review of the DVD release, Scott Tobias, while critical of the screenplay, described the drama's "noir" style, writing, "Lifted note-for-note from the Hemingway story, the classic opening scene of Siodmak's film sings with the high tension, sharp dialogue, and grim humor that's conspicuously absent from the rest of Anthony Veiller's mediocre screenplay. Taking a page out of the "Double Indemnity" playbook, Veiller has insurance adjuster Edmond O'Brien investigate after the murder takes place, but it's never really clear why he's so passionate about the case. A lean block of muscles and little else, Burt Lancaster stars as the hapless victim, an ex-boxer who was unwittingly roped into the criminal underworld and the even more dangerous gaze of Ava Gardner, a memorably sultry and duplicitous "femme fatale." The story plays strictly by the crime-genre rules, including a $250,000 payroll caper, but Siodmak ("Criss Cross," "The Spiral Staircase"), a director from the German Expressionist school, sustains a fatalistic tone with the atmospheric touches that define "noir," favoring stark lighting effects that throw his post-war world into shadow." [ [ Tobias, Scott] . "AV Club," film and DVD review, February 26 2003. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twenty-nine reviews." [ [ "The Killers"] at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: June 9, 2008.]


In 1958, director Andrei Tarkovsky, then a film student, created a 19-minute short based on the story which is featured on the Criterion Collection DVD release. [imdb title|id=0052330|title=Ubiytsy (The Killers).]

The film was adapted in 1964 using the same title (see: "The Killers"), but an updated plot. It was directed by Don Siegel, and featured Lee Marvin and a villainous Ronald Reagan in his last motion picture. The film was originally made for television around the time of Kennedy's assassination. Siegel's film was deemed too violent for the small screen and was released theatrically, first in Europe, then years later in America. [imdb title|id=0058262|title=The Killers (1964).]

Scenes from "The Killers" were used in the Steve Martin film noir spoof "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982). [imdb title|id=0083798|title=Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.]


* Edgar Award: Edgar; from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture, Anthony Veiller (writer), Mark Hellinger (producer), and Robert Siodmak (director); 1947.

Nominations -- 1947 Academy Awards
* Best Director: Robert Siodmak.
* Best Film Editing: Arthur Hilton.
* Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture: Miklós Rózsa.
* Best Adapted Screenplay: Anthony Veiller.

ee also

* "The Killers (short story)" (1927) by Ernest Hemingway.



External links

* [ "The Killers"] at DVD Beaver (includes images)
* [ "The Killers"] at Film Noir of the Week by "noir" historian Bill Hare (includes trailer).
* [ "The Killers"] at Film Site by Tom Dirks
* [ "The Killers"] essay at the Criterion Collection by Jonathan Lethem
* [ "The Killers"] film clip at You Tube

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