Dir.: Robert Siodmak
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, William Conrad, Charles McGraw
USA 1946, 102 min.
Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, THE KILLERS was one of many classic film noirs by the German born director Robert Siodmak (1900-1973). He was one of the team of filmmakers of “Menschen am Sonntag” (1929); his fellow creators and emigrants Edgar G. Ulmer and Billie Wilder would, like him, excel in directing noir-movies in Hollywood, as well as another couple of ex-UFA directors: Fritz Lang and John Brahm. Robert’s brother, Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), also became a busy Hollywood script-writer in Hollywood involved in noir-films so clearly all these emigrant directors transferred the traumatic displacement they had suffered in Nazi-Germany to their new environment creating films in which everything, from the role of capitalism to gender roles, became questionable.
Robert Siodmak’s list of noir films he directed between 1941 and 1949 is quiet staggering: Flight by Night; Conflict; Phantom Lady; The Suspect; The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror; Cry of the City; Criss Cross and Thelma Jordan. Apart from being aesthetically original, these productions were often great successes at the box office and Siodmak had enough clout with the studio bosses to cast an unknown debutant in the leading role for THE KILLERS: Burt Lancaster.
The film opens with two psychotic killers Max (Conrad) and Al (McGraw) entering the small town of Brentwood in New Jersey at night, where they start at the local diner enquiring about Pete Lunn, called “The Swede”. They get a dusty answer and terrorise the owner and staff in frustration before turning their enquiries elsewhere. Finally, they track down Lunn’s (Lancaster) boarding house and shoot him in cold blood. Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance inspector investigating a life-insurance claim (Lunn had a life-insurance policy, a motel maid in Atlantic City being named the beneficiary), is puzzled as to why Lunn never ran away, despite being warned by one of the guests in the diner about the arrival of the killers. With the help of police detective Sam Lubinsky (Levene), who knew Lunn when he was a young boxer (putting him away in jail after Lunn took the rap for a jewel theft for his secret love Kitty Collins), Reardon tries to uncover the truth behind Lunn’s suicidal behaviour. But the more Reardon learns, the less sense it all makes…
The narrative is told at first as a series of flashbacks portraying Lunn’s life before the two killers from the opening sequence make another appearance, this time trying to get rid off Lubinsky and Reardon, setting in motion a series of shootouts. The acting is near perfect: Lancaster’s “Swede” is a naïve, emotionally immature man who does not even know that Lilly is in love with him – she promptly marries Lubinsky – whilst Lunn obsesses about the unobtainable Kitty from afar, only confronting the rough Colfax once before the heist. When Lunn meets Gardner, she is “the little girl lost” in the company of gangsters, begging Lunn to save her, and Lunn is only too happy to oblige, even if it costs him three years of his life. Their meeting in Atlantic City, when Kitty tells him of Colfax treachery, is the high point of the film: one literally feels the burning lust. Dekker’s Colfax is steely and arrogant – Ronald Reagan would play him in Don Siegel’s remake of 1956 – and Conrad and McGraw are truly frightening in their unrestrained violence. DOP Elwood Bredell plays it masterly with shadows and light, creating an atmosphere of violence and repressed lust. The male protagonists are all severely damaged, even Lubinsky is just shown as a cop who easily sells his friend Lunn out, even though he had the chance to save him. Reardon is just a stupid insurance agent who risks his life to maximise the profits of his company. Siodmak creates a totally corrupt and amoral world in this near perfect cult classic. AS
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OUT ON 8TH DECEMBER ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM
Original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 audio
Isolated Music & Effects soundtrack to highlight Miklós Rózsa’s famous score
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
Frank Krutnik on The Killers, a video piece by the author of In a Lonely Street, which introduces the film and offers a detailed commentary on four key scenes
Heroic Fatalism, a video essay adapted from Philip Booth’s comparative study of multiple versions of The Killers (Hemingway, Siodmak, Tarkovsky, Siegel)
Three archive radio pieces inspired by The Killers: the 1949 Screen Director’s Playhouse adaptation with Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters; a 1946 Jack Benny spoof; the 1958 Suspense episode ‘Two for the Road’ which reunited original killers William Conrad and Charles McGraw
Stills and posters gallery
Trailers for The Killers, Brute Force, The Naked City and Rififi
Reversible sleeve featuring one of the original posters and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Sergio Angelini and archive interviews with director Robert Siodmak, producer Mark Hellinger and cinematographer Woody Bredell, illustrated with original production stills.
AVAILABLE FROM MONDAY 8TH DECEMBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS