Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Killers (1946)

***** out of 5

"I'll tell you what's gonna happen- we're gonna kill the Swede."

Now THIS is a noir with not just pedigree, but power.  You can run a check-list of noir elements, but they're so well-integrated into the engrossing story that you don't pause to think, "Ah, she's a femme fatale," or "Oh, it's being told in flashback," or "yup here's the relentless investigator." You just sit back enthralled in the tale.

From the first notes of the Miklos Rozsa score to the final screams of Ava Gardner pleading with a dead man, this movie plays like a punch to the gut.  It's got a killer script with really cracking dialogue that is read by the actors so that every word cuts like a dagger.  This cast comprises one of the best collections of hard-boiled lowlifes I've ever enjoyed-  from the hitman tag team of Charles McGraw and William Conrad, to the hiest team headed by a deadly Albert Dekker as Big Jim Colfax, and including thugs with names like "Dum-Dum" (Jack Lambert) and "Blinky" (Jeff Corey), as well as the two leads, Burt Lancaster as "The Swede" and Ava Gardner as the wiley femme fatale "Kitty" Collins. 

Tracking down the crooks with a dogged determination is an insurance investigator played by Edmond O'Brien, Incidentally, there sure are a lot of these types in noir- as part of last year's Noirvember, I took in three different films that included insurance investigators in various pivotal roles - Roadblock (1951),  Man in the Dark (1953), and Loophole (1954).  He is assisted in his search by Sam Levine as the ex-police lieutenant Lubinsky, who happened to be an old friend of the murdered Swede.  

The plot here is familiar to any noir fans-  a man gets involved in crime, led astray by his desire for the wrong kind of woman, and fate makes him pay the ultimate price.  The simplicity of such a summary does not do it justice; the greatness of this film is not in the uniqueness of the plot, but in the art of the telling, and this film is a masterwork with several notable signatures in the lower righthand corner of the canvas.  It is adapted from an Ernest Hemingway story by Anthony Veiller with uncredited assistance by John Huston and Richard Brooks, and brought to the screen with fervid potency by Robert Siodmak.

No comments:

Post a Comment