There are a few films that critics and film fans agree are classics in every sense of the word. THE KILLERS (1946) is one of these. An oft neglected, but extremely powerful film noir, it was directed by Robert Siodmak with a screenplay by Anthony Veiller from a short story by Ernest Hemmingway. Starring Burt Lancaster in his film debut, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien as Insurance Investigator Jim Reardon, THE KILLERS weaves a tale of a man who is passively responsible for his own fate, knowing that his past has finally caught up with him.
View a short clip from this film.
The hard-edged film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Music. It’s a shame that Woody Bredell’s stylish cinematography wasn’t acknowledged, because it really does stand out.
What truly sets this film apart from others, and makes it as poignant today as it was then, is its structure and themes. The films plot and themes are fleshed out through a series of 11 non-sequential flashbacks. It is how the information is related to us as Insurance Investigator Reardon conducts interviews, finds the money and solves the crime. By presenting the film with a demanding narrative construction, and resisting the temptation to provide us a more conventional linear structure, Siodmak and Veiller have provided the viewer with a more impactful experience.
According to TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz artist Edward Hopper’s biographer Gail Levin confirms Hopper admired Ernest Hemmingway’s short story “The Killers” and drew inspiration from it when he painted Nighthawks in 1942. When Director Siodmak made the feature film based on Hemmingway’s short story he in turn was inspired by the painting and paid homage to it in the films style and cinematography. It is perhaps the first time that art imitated art imitating art.
In 2008, THE KILLERS was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because it’s “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” I urge you to check the film out when you have a chance.