“The Killers (1946)” Review

We’re gonna kill the Swede.

Why did I watch it?

Long ago I bought a box set of film noir because it had my second favourite adaptations of Raymond Chandler (Murder My Sweet) and Graham Greene (This Gun for Hire). The Killers was among a few films I knew nothing of. The blurb says it’s based on a Hemingway short which I’ve not read.

Did it meet expectations?

The titular killers turn up in the first scene, threatening staff in a diner and looking for ‘the Swede’. It’s a compelling set up. None of these characters are central to the film, which begins to unfold in non-linear flashbacks. Gradually a picture builds up, and the key characters emerge.

It’s fantastically shot; as dark and dramatically lit as it ought to be in this genre; it’s a very solidly plotted story and each character is clearly defined even with only the most minimal dialogue. It’s Burt Lancaster’s first film, and he’s great; Sam Levene is fantastic as his friend – now a police lieutenant and sidekick to the nearest thing we have to a hero in Edmond O’Brien. Vince Barnett drunkenly looks back on a sober and rather sweet friendship with his cellmate he taught about the stars. I was left wanting more of the sparky interplay between O’Brien and his office researcher played by Ann Staunton. Ava Gardener is a suitably fatal femme fatale.

Top notch; almost as good as my second favourite Chandler and Greene.

You should watch it if…

  • You enjoy a good film noir

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • There’s nothing you hate more than a double-crossing dame

Up next: Doctor Strangelove (1964)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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