Day 11 of Noirvember: Top 5 Things I Love About The Killers (1946)
Based in part on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers is about a former boxer known as “The Swede” (Burt Lancaster) who is murdered by two hitmen because, in his words, he “did something once.” The rest of the film shows the efforts of an insurance investigator to unearth the circumstances that led to the Swede’s death.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that, while I’ve included The Killers on past lists of my top film noir features, it’s actually not one of the movies that come immediately to mind when I think of my favorite noirs. I think it’s probably because, for me, the individual parts of The Killers are greater than the whole (if you know what I mean). But that doesn’t make me love the movie any less – after all, it’s got some pretty awesome parts! So, for today’s Noirvember post, I’m offering up the top five things I love about The Killers.
- The strains of music that accompany the opening credits serve as a strident announcement to the viewer that something bad is about to happen. The music is immediate and chaotic, even frightening.
- The appearance of “the killers” of the film’s title underneath the opening credits. It’s a really distinctive entrance, especially since they don’t appear until about 35 seconds after the credits begin. If you’re not looking carefully, you may not even notice at first that they have entered the screen and are walking toward you.
- The tender way that Swede’s longtime friend – a police lieutenant named Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene – cares for him after his career-ending boxing match. He fetches the doctor, stands by as Swede takes his shower, tapes his cuts, helps him to dress. And when he breaks the news to the Swede about his broken hand, Sam doesn’t sugarcoat the reality, but he does offer a ray of optimism when he tells him, “If you want my opinion, it’s a lucky thing. You aren’t punchy – yet. Suppose it was your brains that were scrambled instead of your hand.”
- The scene where the Swede is gunned down is pure noir. The Swede lies motionless in his bed, listening to the approach of the men who have come to take his life. The camera switches back and forth, from Swede, to the men, to the closed door, and then the men enter the Swede’s room, guns blazing. The rapid reports from the firing guns illuminate the darkened room, just enough so that we can see the Swede’s hand gripping his bedpost as he dies. Tres noir.
- The film’s plot masterfully unfurls through a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks are told from the point of view of numerous characters, including the Swede’s first girl, his boyhood friend, his former prison cellmate, and the beneficiary of the Swede’s insurance policy. One flashback is even narrated by an insusrance company exec as he reads aloud from a newspaper account of a payroll robbery, and another is told through the delirious ramblings of a fatally wounded gang member. It’s an unusual and altogether creative method of piecing together the Swede’s story.
Join me tomorrow for Day 12 of Noirvember!