Friday, March 18, 2011

The Killers - Is it Ava Gardner's Looks or the Hitmen?

Not to be confused with the rock band, The Killers is a 1946 film noir directed by Robert Siodmak. The story follows insurance investigator Jim Reardon (played by Edmond O'Brien) as he is researching the murder of Ole Anderson, also known as "The Swede" (played by Burt Lancaster). Finding it perplexing Swede made his beneficiary a random hotel maid, Reardon pieces together a mystery through a series of interviews. Upon his discoveries, Reardon determines Swede's murder is linked to an unsolved robbery. Things start to get dangerous when Reardon is introduced to the beautiful femme fatale Kitty Collins (played by Ava Gardner) and crime boss Big Jim Colfax (played by Albert Dekker). As Reardon starts to correlate a streak of double crosses, can he survive the men who killed Swede?

As another movie I can check off my film noir journey, this is a solid film adapted from the short story by Ernest Hemingway. This film allows the audience to piece together the mystery along with Reardon. As he interviews people, the movie shows their stories through flashback sequences. Each flashback has strong noir elements, some including:
  • A Boxing Fight - The Swede was a boxer who ended his career after breaking his hand during his last fight. After Swede leaves the ring, he doesn't turn back and enters the underworld of crime.
  • The Hideouts - When segments are shown of the gangsters planning their heist, the crew are typically seen playing cards and smoking cigars in small rundown places.
  • The Heist - When the payroll robbery takes place, each man puts a scarf around their face as a disguise. When they leave with the money, the crew fights their way out with firearms and escape in a classic getaway car.
The strongest noir element featured in this film is the femme fatale. Kitty Collins is a very enticing woman who is able to manipulate men to do whatever she wants. Not only did she make The Swede cross his crew, but she double crossed him by taking his money and breaking his heart. After she left Swede, he no longer valued life and put up no fight when the hitmen came to kill him. Although she deceived Swede, Kitty was loyal to her original man, Big Jim Colfax. She was the tool Jim used to get all the stolen money solely for himself. This is my first exposure to her, but Ava Gardner definitely plays her role well. Armed with her good looks, Ava is a woman men will fall head over heels for, as she has been married to real life celebrities like Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra.

Finally, we have to talk about the subject of the movie's title - The Killers. Although they make very little appearance, the two hitmen are bookends of the film. One being tall and strong, the other short and stocky, they both carry a demeanor of intimidation. When they make a presence on screen, they are cued with the same brassy musical tones which eventually become the theme music for Dragnet. When The Killers make their first appearance, they take hostage of a diner and demand to know where The Swede can be found. They are violent, rude, and not to be questioned. When they make their second appearance at the end of the film, even though they are killed, they still command the situation. Although they are not as charismatic as Jules and Vincent of Pulp Fiction, they are men to be feared. If I were to watch this film again, I'm sure The Killers will send shivers up my spine.

So on Death List Five, The Killers ranks #3

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