Seven Shadows – Day Four: THE KILLERS by Andrew D.

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Robert Siodmak
Written By: Anthony Weller, from story by Ernest Hemingway
Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene

For those of you who may be new to my writings, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and of course, thank Karen for allowing my words to appear on her blog. Today we continue with “Seven Shadows” and take a look at a movie inspired by the writing of Ernest Hemingway – The Killers.

The film opens with two very shady men driving along at night. The headlights and their silhouettes are all we can make out. When they arrive at their destination; a small town diner, they lurk in the shadows for a bit (to establish they’re the bad guys) and then enter. It doesn’t take long for their intentions to be made clear – they plan to kill “The Swede” a.k.a. Pete Lund a.k.a. Ole Andreson (Lancaster). Apparently he eats at the diner every night, but on this night he stayed home. However, the killers find out where he lives, go to his place and riddle him with bullets. From there, the movie gets underway as life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien) is introduced. It seems that Swede had a $2500 policy with Reardon’s company and it’s his job to track down the beneficiary. Reardon uses leads to track down and interview many of Swede’s associates, acquaintances, friends and co-workers in hopes of piecing together the puzzle of Swede’s death. The story is told in flashbacks via stories from the people that Reardon interviews, ala Citizen Kane and Reardon uncovers the story of Ole “Swede” Andreson, a boxer who had to retire from fighting due to a busted up right hand, who got mixed up with a vicious dame (Gardner), a payroll heist and a few too many sleazy characters.

I have some major bones to pick with The Killers, so let’s talk about what I liked first and get that out of the way. Well, first and foremost, the opening sequence in the diner was one of the greatest opening sequences I’ve ever seen. William Conrad and Charles McGraw (the killers) were spot on here, especially Conrad who just nailed it! He was fantastic. This film is pure film noir, no doubt about it. In fact, if you looked up the term film noir, they could easily include a still from this movie beside the definition, as it really takes you into that criminal underbelly, using shadowy figures, crooked dames, heists, guns, trench coats and fedoras to their fullest potential. I also liked the way the story was told, using the template of Citizen Kane to have one main character interview many supporting characters to try and piece together this guy’s life. I also liked that it wasn’t told chronologically, but rather mixed up so that we too, the audience, got to do a little puzzle solving ourselves.

However, you CANNOT give me an opening as good as the one in The Killers and then follow it up with a movie that just isn’t as good. I had no expectations going into The Killers, but once that opening scene played out, with McGraw and Conrad and that sleepy little diner, my expectations shot sky high. Then, what followed was a slightly above average movie, at best. Add to that the fact that Conrad and McGraw (two that I absolutely loved in a matter of minutes) were then yanked from the film altogether, not to reappear until the end of the film and only then for a few seconds. The film just didn’t do anything for me plot wise. For me it just wasn’t that special type of story that just yearned to be told, with a weak plot to boot. First you have Reardon, an insurance investigator with the assignment to hunt down Swede’s beneficiary. He finds the beneficiary within the first thirty minutes and then, for some reason, he’s the guy we’re following for the rest of the film, as he searches for even more answers. They could have just as easily made our main character Sam Levene, a friend of Swede’s and a cop who wanted justice for the murder of his friend. That would have kept things much simpler and we could have left out all the insurance investigator mumbo jumbo.

SPOILER ALERT!

Then we find out that the reason Swede was killed had something to do with a payroll robbery, where $250,000 was stolen by four men, one of whom was Swede. Turns out that Swede double crossed his partners and made off with all the dough, failing to divvy it up. Okay, that makes sense; that’s a good reason for the character of Ole Andreson to be bumped off. But no, that’s not why he was murdered. Turns out that “Big Jim” Colfax, the mastermind behind the payroll heist, actually ended up getting the dough back when his girl Kitty Collins took it back from Swede. You see, he was in love with Kitty, but really, she didn’t care too much for him. She was with “Big Jim” and she got their dough back. However, when “Big Jim” got the loot back, he decided that he wasn’t going to share it either, so he decided that he’d kill “Swede” so that the other heist partners never found out that “Big Jim” actually got the money back. My goodness, that’s complicated and just a goofy piece of logic to hinge a plot on. Couldn’t they have just as easily explained Swede’s killing by saying that he made off with the money and moved to this sleepy little nothing town and now he was being murdered for it? I mean, Hemingway’s story is just the diner sequence, everything else was made up anyway, so it’s not like you’re bound to this piece of writing that you have to follow verbatim. Once you get the diner scene in, the rest is yours to do with as you please.

Or maybe I’m just bitter because they took Max and Al away and followed up that scorching hot opening scene with a movie that was barely lukewarm. The plot was just too hectic and complicated and it really didn’t need to be. They had a pretty basic plan in place; a man is murdered because he decided to get greedy when it came to the payoff of a robbery. It’s so simple and it could have been gold! Murder, My Sweet got a little too confusing too, but at least it wasn’t unwarranted confusion. In that film, they had a path they wanted to take and that path had a lot of key points and players so, of course, it’s going to get a little muddled. In The Killers it was just unnecessary, if you ask me. I mean, when one of your main characters isn’t even really needed (I’m talking about O’Brien), that’s a problem. I’ll leave it at that. Remember gang, this is just my personal opinion and fortunately, opinions are like noses; everybody’s got one.

RATING: 6/10 Let me reiterate that this isn’t an awful film. It’s a classic example of film noir and I’m sure a lot of you who haven’t seen it are going to love it. It just personally irked me…just a little bit.

(The Killers is the 190th entry in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book.)

Click here to visit Andrew’s site for my take on The Killers, and tune in tomorrow for Day Five of Seven Shadows, when our movie of the day will be Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. New posts will be here and at 1001 Movies I [Apparently] MUST See Before I Die starting at 12 noon! KH

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 4, 2012.

4 Responses to “Seven Shadows – Day Four: THE KILLERS by Andrew D.”

  1. Ever since I first saw this movie I was hooked on it. But I have to admit that I agree with Andrew in that it didn’t need Reardon’s character. I guess they stuck him in in order to have the movie be a little different than your standard cop movie.
    For me, I had to see it a couple of times before I understood it completely. The ending is a bit confusing because I never really got why Ava Gardner came to the Swede’s room to warn him that he was being double-crossed. Just to turn around and steal the money back to Big Jim. Okay, so I guess in order to get ALL the money he had to make the other guys in the heist believe that Swede took it. Then Ava could turn around and bring it back to him without the others being suspicious. Okay now I get it!!
    I love this movie but it’s too complicated. If you can rewind it while you watch it, that would be my suggestion to folks who haven’t seen it yet.
    One last thing that I’m confused about is the end when Big Jim is about to die..Why does Ava want him to save her? She didn’t have anything to do with killing the Swede, did she?

    Overall, it’s a good Film Noir movie!!! I give it a 9!

  2. You were spot on regarding the opening: perhaps the best film noir opening ever. But I cannot fathom nitpicking “The Killers,” no. 6 on my list of the top 10 films noir.

  3. I actually am a big fan of The Killers. You explained the plot more than I had previously understood it. But frankly I fon’t care much about the plot. Perhaps because I am always swept away by a good film noir’s atmosphere, the lighting, the almost dream/like state that it places you in. You also fail to mention another compelling aspect of the film- as riveting as the opening-and that is the supremely sultry Ava Gardner whom I had the privilege of directing. There are few women as gorgeous as Ava was and she was at her best in The Killers. Ava Gardner alone is the reason to watch the movie!

  4. I like this movie. Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster have extreme chemistry in this, which makes her devious betrayal all the more worse. You are right about how great the opening is, though.

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