BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE KILLERS (1946) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ROBERT SIODMAK / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD BROOKS, ANTHONY VEILLER. JOHN HUSTON / STARRING: BURT LANCASTER, AVA GARDNER, SAM LEVENE, CHARLES MCGRAW, WILLIAM CONRAD, ALBERT DEKKER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Film noir can trace its roots right back to German expressionism and the silent days of cinema. It’s still around today and science fiction has memorably embraced its tropes in the likes of Blade Runner (1982), Twelve Monkeys (1995) and a host of other not-so-cheery visions of the future. But the genre’s golden age was indisputably the 1940s when Hollywood knocked a shed-load of stylish crime dramas featuring fatalistic heroes and devilish femme fatales set against the murkiest visions of the human psyche. There are quite a few that are rightly regarded as absolute classics of cinema and The Killers is one of them.
Ole “the Swede” Anderson (Lancaster in his screen debut) is our doomed hero; we know he’s doomed as he gets bumped off in the first twenty minutes (a common occurrence in film noir). But he doesn’t care; he did something wrong a long time ago (so he tells us) and he’s just going to be as fatalistic as any film noir hero can be about it. From then on we’re in flashback mode as insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) pieces together exactly how this sorry state of affairs came to pass; there’s a prematurely finished boxing career (there often is); a slide into crime; the falling out of thieves; and, of course, a very bad girl in the form of Ava Gardner. Just why is something so depressing so entertaining?
Well, like we say so many times about great movies, it’s a good yarn well-told. The flashback structure, while occasionally confusing, keeps you paying attention. It’s a series of vignettes as Reardon pieces together the facts to get to the bottom of this Hollywood version of a Greek tragedy and, in their own way, each is as satisfying as the last; be it Anderson’s first encounter with the woman-that-will-be-his-downfall or his final boxing match (and we don’t even like boxing). But there’s an intensity to it all that makes it seem so modern no better illustrated than in those opening twenty minutes. Curiously, Ernest Hemmingway’s short story that acts as the source material provided only that opening: two contract killers (not only do they provide the title, they also include another screen debut: William Conrad for anyone who remembers TV’s Frank Cannon) enter a diner and order food. But they’re not interested in food, they’re after the “Swede” and are at least as scary as Pulp Fiction’s (1994) Vincent and Jules. Tarantino’s hitmen owe an awful lot to these two.
Like most film noir,The Killers is beautiful and moody, and Blu-ray always does a good job of black and white movies. So all in all, you’ll be wanting this one.
Special Features: Two documentaries / Three archive radio pieces inspired by The Killers / Trailers
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