Saturday Night Cinema: The Killers (1946)


Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is “one of the great films of disenchantment,” The Killers, starring two of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actors,  Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster.

“Ava Gardner is sultry and sardonic as the lady who crossed [the Swede].”

“She’s a match for any mobster!”

“Taken from Ernest Hemingway’s story of the same title, picture is a hard-hitting example of forthright melodrama in the best Hemingway style. Performances without exception are top quality.”

Movie Review

The Killers (1946)

Published: August 29, 1946

Back in the gangster-glutted Twenties, Ernest Hemingway wrote a morbid tale about two gunmen waiting in a lunchroom for a man they were hired to kill. And while they relentlessly waited, the victim lay sweating in his room, knowing the gunmen were after him but too weary and resigned to move. That’s all the story told you—that a man was going to be killed. What for was deliberately unstated. Quite a fearful and fatalistic tale.

Now, in a film called “The Killers,” which was the title of the Hemingway piece, Mark Hellinger and Anthony Veiller are filling out the plot. That is, they are cleverly explaining, through a flashback reconstruction of the life of that man who lay sweating in his bedroom, why the gunmen were after him. And although it may not be precisely what Hemingway had in mind, it makes a taut and absorbing explanation as unreeled on the Winter Garden’s screen.

For the producer and writer have concocted a pretty cruel and complicated plot in which a youthful but broken-down prize-fighter treds a perilous path to ruin. Mobsters and big-time stick-up workers get a hold on him, and a siren of no mean proportions completely befouls his career. In the end, we perceive that the poor fellow—who is bumped off in the first reel, by the way—was the victim of love misdirected and a beautiful double-cross.

This doesn’t prove very much, obviously, and it certainly does not enhance the literary distinction of Hemingway’s classic bit. But, as mere movie melodrama, pieced out as a mystery which is patiently unfolded by a sleuthing insurance man, it makes a diverting picture—diverting, that is, if you enjoy the unraveling of crime enigmas involving pernicious folks.

With Robert Siodmak’s restrained direction, a new actor, Burt Lancaster, gives a lanky and wistful imitation of a nice guy who’s wooed to his ruin. And Ava Gardner is sultry and sardonic as the lady who crosses him up. Edmond O’Brien plays the shrewd investigator in the usual cool and clipped detective style, Sam Levene is very good as a policeman and Albert Dekker makes a thoroughly nasty thug. Several other characters are sharply and colorfully played. The tempo is slow and metronomic, which makes for less excitement than suspense.

‘The Killers’
THE KILLERS, screen play by Anthony Veiller, based on a story by Ernest Hemingway; directed by Robert Siodmak; produced by Mark Hellinger for Universal. At the Winter Garden.
Swede . . . . . Burt Lancaster
Kitty Collins . . . . . Ava Gardner
Riordan . . . . . Edmond O’Brien
Colfax . . . . . Albert Dekker
Lieut. Lubinsky . . . . . Sam Levene
Dum Dum . . . . . Jack Lambert
Blinky . . . . . Jeff Corey
Kenyon . . . . . Donald McBride
Charleston . . . . . Vince Barnett
Packy . . . . . Charles D. Brown
Lilly . . . . . Virginia Christine
Nick Adams . . . . . Phil Brown
Jake . . . . . John Miljan
Queenie . . . . . Queenie Smith
Joe . . . . . Garry Owen
George . . . . . Harry Hayden
Sam . . . . . Bill Walker
The Killer . . . . . Charles McGraw
The Killer . . . . . William Conrad

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