August 18 - The Killers
Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.
Ernest Hemingway and director Howard Hawks were good friends. Both were
men of action yet had a deep understanding for what was right on both a literary
and cinematic sense.
Thus, one day when Hawks said to Papa Hemingway, “ I can make a good film
out of your worst story”, Hemingway said “Here it is, go ahead”.
The story was “To Have and Have Not” and not only was it a great film, it was the
beginning of one of the most famous and successful marriages in Hollywood,
that of it’s co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (in her screen debut).
That being said, two years later, screenwriter Anthony Veiller, with some uncredited help from his
friend director John Huston took on the task of making Hemingway’s shortest story into a successful
And thus is the genesis of “The Killers”.
While "The Killers" is not a true sports film, the protagonist is a boxer, and director Robert Siodmak
has fashioned some dandy fight scenes in the early part of the film.
Hemingway’s story only runs 11 pages. Two professional killers arrive in a small town. They take
three people hostage in a diner waiting for their victim. When he doesn’t show up, they go to his
house and kill him.
That is the only part of the film that is Hemingway
What comes next is the story of greed, robbery, and eventually murder, expertly told in means of
various means of flashback, and solved by a dogged insurance investigator.
Burt Lancaster made his first screen appearance as” The Swede", a basically
honest boxer turned crook by (what else) a beautiful woman. This was not
Lancaster’s first film though. He had made the awful “Desert Fury” for Hal
Wallis who shelved it, then added more scenes for Lancaster when he was
praised for this role.
Lancaster was given a great supporting cast. Ava Gardner, who was
languishing in MGM’s stable of beautiful women who were never given a
chance, got one here (this was a Universal Picture) and proved she could act.
Edmond O’Brien played the investigator, Sam Levine the cop, Albert Dekker
was villainous as the leader of the crooks. Other members of the gang were
played by Jeff Corey and (yes, another sports connotation) Jack Lambert.
The real stars are the title characters. William Conrad (TV’s Cannon) and Charles McGraw are "The
Killers”. Though they both have limited screen time, their images leave an indelible mark on the
viewer. These men ARE professional killers and it is scary how real they are, especially in the
Hemingway portion of the film.
Robert Siodmak, already established as a film noir master (thanks to “Phantom Lady”), creates the
perfect mood of what was to be the “double cross to end all double crosses”. And if the music
sounds familiar, it is, with Miklos Rosza’s “dum da dum dum” predating Walter Schuman’s “Dragnet”
Theme by 3 years (and when the series was revived by Dick Wolfe, music credit was given to both
Schuman and Rosza).
And former New York newspaperman Mark Hellinger, who would later go on to produce “The Naked
City” and would die so prematurely at age 44, really had a firm grip on both the characters and the
story in his first producing venture.
Forget about the Don Seigel 1964 version (Ronald Reagan’s last film). While this also has a sports
analogy (the protagonist is a race car driver), the 1946 version is the definitive one.