[Last Films I Watched] The Killers (1946) and (1964)

The Killers 1946 poster.jpg

Title: The Killers
Year: 1946
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Drama
Director: Robert Siodmak
Writers:
Anthony Veiller
John Huston
from the story of Ernest Hemingway
Music: Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography: Elwood Bredell
Cast:
Burt Lancaster
Edmond O’Brien
Ava Gardner
Albert Dekker
Sam Levene
Vince Barnett
Virginia Christine
William Conrad
Charles McGraw
Donald MacBride
Jack Lambert
Phil Brown
Harry Hayden
Queenie Smith
Jeff Corey
Rating: 7.4/10

The Killers 1964 poster

Title: The Killers
Year: 1964
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director: Don Siegel
Writer: Gene L. Coon
from the story of Ernest Hemingway
Music: John Williams
Cinematography: Richard L. Rawlings
Cast:
Lee Marvin
Angie Dickinson
John Cassavetes
Clu Gulager
Ronald Reagan
Virginia Christine
Claude Akins
Norman Fell
Robert Phillips
Seymour Cassel
Don Haggerty
Rating: 5.3/10

The Killers 1946

A double-bill of THE KILLERS, two film adaptations of Hemingway’s short story, or at least, inspired by. The first one is made in 1946 by Robert Siodmak, it features the aerobatic performer turned late-bloomer Burt Lancaster in his film debut at the age of 33 (already first-billed), he plays Ole “The Swede” Andreson, an unforthcoming man lies low in a provincial rustic town. When 2 contract killers are hired to dispose of him, he is unfazed, shows no desire of taking flight. During the first twenty minutes (imbued with beguiling noir-luster and pulsating menace), the film depicts the nocturnal assassination fairly faithfully to Hemingway’s story (meanwhile, the rest is all fabricated by screenwriters, including an uncredited John Huston), which triggers a hounding question: why a man chooses to face his demise dejectedly but willingly and what is the motive behind the wayward killing?

And it obfuscates the life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (O’Brien, commits himself with the mannerism of a poor man’s Bogart), and he is bent on mapping out a dead man’s past through his métier, from one tiny lead to another among sundry characters (whose life paths once criss-cross with Ole’s), rendered with chunks of flashback (much owe to a cracking editing job from Arthur Hilton), Ole’s backstory starts to take shape, a former practitioner in pugilism, Ole is infatuated with a glamorous femme-fatale, Kitty Collins (Gardner, sizzling, aloof and delectably unrepentant), he takes the rap for her and spends 3 years in the can, and by the time of his release, she has already cozied up to the criminal mind “Big Jim” Colfax (Dekker, carries a suave bearing and doggedly keeps his cool).

The ensuing story turns to be, as Reardon recaps in the end, a double-cross on top of another double-cross. After we are given the final piece of the puzzle as we look back at Ole’s life, he gets neither the dole nor the girl, taedium vitae hits him hard after falling prey of the wicked and the Janus-faced, which is the fundamental leitmotif of film-noir, of whose ladder Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS is deservedly enshrined in the high rung.

The Killers 1964

18 years later, Don Siegel cobbles together a remake, an inevitable transposition from monochrome to color could mostly do disservice to a film of this kind. Sadly, the first sign betrays its slipshod production arrives quickly in the beginning, two killers Charlie (Marvin) and Lee (Gulager) arrive at a school for the blind to assassinate one of the teachers, Johnny North (Cassavetes), after being shot, Johnny plunges back and what we see right before our eyes is Cassavetes literally smudges some blood on his face during the action, see, that would never be a problem in Black & White.

In this iteration, the script opts for a different approach, taking the vantage point from the two killers, who are bemused by Johnny’s fearless perversity, again, this important scene is shot without any flair, so they embark on a series of terrorizations to milk the truth out of those who are involved in a million-dollar robbery four years ago, which also involves Johnny. Clearly, screenwriter Gene L. Coon carefully prunes the script to be consonant with Siegel’s taut and rough-hewn MO, truncates secondary players and aggrandizes the role of its femme-fatale, Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson, braving being slapped, hung topsy-turvy out of a hotel window, in sharp contrast with Ava, the estimation for actresses are seriously on the skids then), who proactively sets her eyes on Johnny, a champion racer and takes it upon herself to make sure her spell is validated on him, but somehow, Cassavetes possesses no such physical prowess and emotional fervor of Mr. Lanchester, conversely, he habitually sends out a saturnine mien, which not only discredits him as an old-hand driver (he is a far cry from the jock type and not photogenic in that unflattering goggle at all), but also wreak havoc on the credibility of their romance, no matter how many kissing scenes are brought into action to flog that death horse.

It seems all the budget are thrown into the racing set pieces (although those rear projections are too blatant to turn a blind eye on) in order to ensnare petrolheads, which leaves the million-dollar robbery set-up looks utterly cockamamie, $1 million worth of bank notes in that two mangy sacks casually slopped inside a ridiculously shabby mail truck? The devil is in the details, but evidently it is not Mr. Siegel’s strongest suit, no wonder the future American President Mr. Reagan is visibly peevish in his uncomfortable villain turn, maybe he is asking the same question as we wonder “why on earth I would choose this dud to bookend my (none-too-illustrious) acting career?”.

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3 thoughts on “[Last Films I Watched] The Killers (1946) and (1964)

  1. I’ve read the short story, but I haven’t seen either film version yet.

    You are a very talented and intelligent writer. Love the covers.

    Minor suggestion: In paragraph four, the first sentence is 162 words long. Paragraph 5 is only one sentence. This makes for difficult reading with no time to breathe. I would suggest breaking paragraphs into a mixture of short, medium, and long sentences to create better flow.

  2. Thanks Chris, for your feedback and appreciation, which exhorts me to keep perfecting my English writing! Hugs!

  3. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] People on Sunday (1930) – Cinema Omnivore

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