Monday, 4 November 2013

The Killers (1946)

Burt Lancaster made his screen debut in this fantastic film noir, and it's easy to see why he went on over the next couple of decades to become such a major star. Even in his first movie role he has a presence and charisma that's hard to beat. It helps that he's surrounded by a great cast, but there's no doubt that his performance in the lead role is a big plus for the film.

Lancaster plays Ole 'Swede' Andreson, a man who is, at the very beginning of the movie, killed by the killers of the title. Just who killed him, and why? That's what insurance investigator Jim Riordan (Edmond O'Brien) wants to find out when he is given the task of finding the man's beneficiary and paying her a lump sum. As he uncovers the story leading up to the killing he starts along a path that may just lead him back to a major, unsolved crime from a number of years ago.

Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers was adapted for the screen by Anthony Veiller and directed by Robert Siodmak. From beginning to end, it's a great mix of grim moments and surprisingly deft humour that makes the runtime just fly by.

Ava Gardner is the other main draw, and she's fantastic as the potentially dangerous Kitty Collins. Lancaster and O'Brien are both great, and Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, Vince Barnett and Jack Lambert portray a number of very memorable supporting characters, with Lambert particularly memorable as the gruff 'Dum-Dum' Clarke.

Finding out the events that led up to the opening killing is a very interesting and entertaining journey. The twists and turns may not be entirely unpredictable, especially nowadays, but the whole thing is tightly put together and never feels implausible or illogical.

Lancaster may seem to be a bit too much of a schmuck at times, but the world of film noir is full of schmucks, proving time and time again that there's a sucker born every minute. But, then again, who wouldn't risk being a sucker to stay in the good favour of the gorgeous Ava Gardner?


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