|Directed by||Robert Siodmak|
|Screenplay by||Anthony Veiller [lower-roman 1]|
|Based on||"The Killers"|
by Ernest Hemingway
|Produced by||Mark Hellinger|
|Edited by||Arthur Hilton|
|Music by||Miklós Rózsa|
|Color process||Black and white|
Mark Hellinger Productions
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$2.5 million (US rentals) |
The Killers is a 1946 American film noir starring Burt Lancaster (in his film debut), Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien and Sam Levene. Based in part on the 1927 short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway,  it focuses on an insurance detective's investigation into the execution by two professional killers of a former boxer who was unresistant to his own murder. Directed by Robert Siodmak, it featured an uncredited John Huston and Richard Brooks co-writing the screenplay, which was credited to Anthony Veiller. As in many films noir, it is mostly told in flashback.
Released in August 1946, The Killers was a critical success, earning four Academy Award nominations, including for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
Hemingway, who was habitually disgusted with how Hollywood distorted his thematic intentions, was an open admirer of the film.
In 2008, The Killers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Two hitmen, Max and Al, arrive in Brentwood, New Jersey, to kill Pete Lund, a former boxer known as "The Swede". After being confronted by the pair in a diner Lund's coworker, Nick Adams, warns him. Strangely, Lund makes no attempt to flee, and he is shot dead in his room.
"The Swede" is soon revealed to have really been named Ole Anderson. A life insurance investigator, Jim Reardon, is assigned to find and pay the beneficiary of the Swede's $2,500 policy. Tracking down and interviewing the dead man's friends and associates, Reardon doggedly pieces together his story. Philadelphia police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky, a longtime friend of the Swede, is particularly helpful.
In flashback it is revealed that the Swede's boxing career was cut short by a hand injury. Rejecting Lubinsky's suggestion to join the police force, the Swede becomes mixed up with crime boss "Big Jim" Colfax, and drops his girlfriend Lilly for the more glamorous Kitty Collins. When Lubinsky catches Kitty wearing stolen jewelry, the Swede confesses to the crime and serves three years in prison.
After completing his sentence, the Swede, "Dum-Dum" Clarke, and "Blinky" Franklin are recruited for a payroll robbery in Hackensack, New Jersey, masterminded by Colfax. Complicating matters is the fact that Kitty is now with Colfax. The robbery nets the gang $254,912. When their boarding house allegedly burns down, all of the gang members but the Swede are notified of a new rendezvous place. Kitty tells the Swede that he is being double-crossed by his associates, inciting him to take all of the money at gunpoint and flee. Kitty meets with him later in Atlantic City, then disappears with the money herself.
In the present, Reardon stakes out the hotel where the Swede was killed. He witnesses Dum-Dum sneaking into the building, searching for a clue that might lead him to the loot. Reardon confronts him, but he flees before he can be arrested. Reardon subsequently receives confirmation that the safe house fire occurred hours later than it was alleged to have. With this piece of information, Reardon becomes convinced that Colfax and Kitty set the Swede up from the beginning and were responsible for his murder.
Reardon goes to visit Colfax, now a successful building contractor in Pittsburgh. When confronted Colfax claims no knowledge of Kitty's whereabouts. Reardon lies, claiming he has enough evidence to convict Kitty. A short time later Reardon receives a phone call from Kitty, who suggests they meet at a nightclub called The Green Cat. Once there they order food, and Kitty claims she convinced the Swede that the others were double-crossing him so he would take her away from Colfax. She then admits having taken the money after her meeting with the Swede in Atlantic City and agrees to offer Colfax as a fall guy to save herself, believing Reardon's revelation that he has evidence against her. While Kitty goes to the ladies' room to "powder her nose", Max and Al arrive at the nightclub and try to kill Reardon. Anticipating such a confrontation, Reardon and Lubinsky manage to slay both hitmen instead. When Reardon goes to get Kitty he discovers she has escaped through the bathroom window.
Reardon and Lubinsky depart the nightclub and head to Colfax's mansion. When they arrive they find that Dum-Dum and Colfax have mortally wounded each other in a violent shootout only moments before. Lubinsky asks Colfax, barely hanging on, why he had the Swede killed. Colfax finally admits to the contract, saying he feared other gang members would locate the Swede and realize that Colfax and Kitty had double-crossed them all and absconded with the money. Kitty, kneeling beside her husband, begs him to exonerate her in a deathbed confession, but he dies first.
The first 20 minutes of the film, showing the arrival of the two contract killers and the murder of "Swede" Anderson, is a close adaptation of Hemingway's 1927 short story in Scribner's Magazine . The rest of the film, showing Reardon's investigation of the murder, is wholly original.
Producer Mark Hellinger paid $36,750 for the screen rights to Hemingway's story, his first independent production. The screenplay was written by John Huston (uncredited because of his contract with Warner Bros.) and Richard Brooks. Siodmak later said Hellinger's newspaper background meant he "always insisted on each scene ending with a punchline and every character being over established with a telling remark" which the director fought against. 
Reportedly, Hellinger was looking to cast two or three unknowns on the theory that the known actors of the time were already so typed that the audience would know the threats instantly which would take away some of the suspense of the story.  He later said that Lancaster was not his first pick for the part of the Swede, but Warner Bros. would not lend Wayne Morris for the film.  Other actors considered for the part include Van Heflin, Jon Hall, Sonny Tufts, and Edmond O'Brien, who was cast in the role of the insurance investigator. Hellinger alleged that he tested so many potential 'Swedes' that if somebody had suggested Garbo, he would have tested her too.  : 129 Lancaster was under contract to producer Hal Wallis but had not yet appeared in a film. Wallis' assistant Martin Jurow told Hellinger about the then unknown "big brawny bird" who might be suitable for the rolem and Hellinger set up a meeting. After his screen test, Hellinger signed a contract with Lancaster to do one film per year and cast him in the role that made him a star.  : 129
In the role of the femme fatale, Hellinger cast Gardner, who had appeared virtually unnoticed in a string of minor films under contract to MGM. Gardner had difficulty achieving the requisite histrionics necessary at the end of the film when Sam Levene memorably tells her "Don't ask a dying man to lie his soul into Hell." Director Siodmak felt she did not have the necessary technique to reach the emotional climax necessary for the scene so he chose to "bully her" into Kitty's fragile emotional state by "barking at her if she did not do the scene right, he would hit her." 
When the film was first released, Bosley Crowther gave it a positive review and lauded the acting. He wrote "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...The tempo is slow and metronomic, which makes for less excitement than suspense." 
In a review of the DVD release, Scott Tobias, while critical of the screenplay, described the noir style, writing "Lifted note-for-note from the Hemingway story, the classic opening scene of Siodmak's film sings with the high tension, sharp dialogue, and grim humor that's conspicuously absent from the rest of Anthony Veiller's mediocre screenplay...A lean block of muscles and little else, Burt Lancaster stars as the hapless victim, an ex-boxer who was unwittingly roped into the criminal underworld and the even more dangerous gaze of Ava Gardner, a memorably sultry and duplicitous femme fatale...[Siodmak] sustains a fatalistic tone with the atmospheric touches that define noir, favoring stark lighting effects that throw his post-war world into shadow." 
The film was considered a great commercial and critical success   and launched Lancaster and his co-star Ava Gardner to stardom. 
Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 100%, based on 32 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.12/10. 
Nominations—1947 Academy Awards
American Film Institute Lists
The Killers was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the June 5, 1949, broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse, starring Burt Lancaster, Shelley Winters and William Conrad.
In 1956, director Andrei Tarkovsky, then a film student, created a 19-minute short based on the story which is featured on the Criterion Collection's release of the DVD. 
The film was adapted in 1964, using the same title but an updated plot. Intended to be broadcast as a television film, it was directed by Don Siegel, and featured Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, and Ronald Reagan, who, as a formidable villain, famously slaps Dickinson across the face. Siegel's film was deemed too violent for the small screen and was released theatrically, first in Europe, then years later in America. 
Scenes from The Killers were used in the Carl Reiner spoof Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)  starring Steve Martin.
Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has written a screenplay for a new adaptation of The Killers. 
The Killers has come to be regarded as a classic in the years since its release,   and in 2008, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."   Critic Jonathan Lethem described the film in a 2003 essay as the " Citizen Kane of [film] noir." 
According to Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker, The Killers "was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire."  Commenting on the film, Hemingway said: "It is a good picture and the only good picture ever made of a story of mine." 
In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. 
Burton Stephen Lancaster was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing tough guys with a tender heart, he went on to achieve success with more complex, and challenging roles over a 45-year career in films and television series. He was a four-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and he also won two BAFTA Awards and one Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actor. The American Film Institute ranks Lancaster as #19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
Robert Siodmak was a German film director who also worked in the United States. He is best remembered as a thriller specialist and for a series of films noirs he made in the 1940s, such as The Killers (1946).
Ava Lavinia Gardner was an American actress. She first signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew critics' attention in 1946 with her performance in Robert Siodmak's film noir The Killers. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in John Ford's Mogambo (1953), and for best actress for both a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for her performance in John Huston's The Night of the Iguana (1964). She was a part of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid is a 1982 American neo-noir mystery comedy film directed, co-written by, and co-starring Carl Reiner and co-written by and starring Steve Martin. Co-starring Rachel Ward, the film is both a parody of and a homage to film noir and the pulp detective films of the 1940s. The title refers to Martin's character telling a story about a woman obsessed with plaid in a scene that was ultimately cut from the film.
"The Killers" is a short story by Ernest Hemingway, published in Scribner's Magazine in 1927. After its appearance in Scribner's, the story was published in Men Without Women,Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Nick Adams Stories. The writer's depiction of the human experience, his use of satire, and the everlasting themes of death, friendship, and the purpose of life have contributed to make "The Killers" one of Hemingway's most famous and frequently anthologized short stories.
Criss Cross is a 1949 American film noir crime film directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea, from Don Tracy's novel of the same name. This black-and-white film was shot partly on location in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. The film was written by Daniel Fuchs. Miklós Rózsa scored the film's soundtrack. It was remade as The Underneath in 1995.
Sam Levene was a Russian Empire–born American Broadway, films, radio, and television actor and director. In a career spanning over five decades, he appeared in over 50 comedy and drama theatrical stage productions. He also acted in over 50 films across the United States and abroad.
Brute Force is a 1947 American crime film noir directed by Jules Dassin, from a screenplay by Richard Brooks with cinematography by William H. Daniels. It stars Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford and Yvonne De Carlo.
Virginia Christine was an American stage, radio, film, television, and voice actress. Though Christine had a long career as a character actress in film and television, she is probably best remembered as "Mrs. Olson" in a string of television commercials for Folgers Coffee during the 1960s and 1970s.
Whistle Stop is a 1946 American film noir crime film directed by Léonide Moguy and starring George Raft, Ava Gardner, Victor McLaglen, and Tom Conway. The screenplay was written by Philip Yordan, based on a novel by Maritta M. Wolff.
Mark John Hellinger was an American journalist, theatre columnist and film producer.
The Crimson Pirate is a 1952 British-American international co-production Technicolor tongue-in-cheek comedy-adventure film from Warner Bros. produced by Norman Deming and Harold Hecht, directed by Robert Siodmak, and starring Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced with Deming and Hecht. Co-starring in the film are Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok, Leslie Bradley, Torin Thatcher, and James Hayter. The film was shot in Ischia, the Bay of Naples and Teddington Studios. It makes the most of Lancaster's skills as a professional acrobat and his lifelong partnership with Cravat. Critics compared Lancaster favorably with Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is a 1948 American noir-thriller film directed by Norman Foster. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Gerald Butler, it stars Joan Fontaine, Burt Lancaster and Robert Newton. The film faced minor opposition from fundamentalist groups in the United States and the Commonwealth, with regards to its gory title. In some markets, the film was released under the alternate title The Unafraid or Blood on My Hands.
I Walk Alone is a 1947 film noir directed by Byron Haskin and starring Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott, with a supporting cast featuring Wendell Corey and Kirk Douglas.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a 1952 American Technicolor romantic adventure film directed by Henry King from a screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the 1936 short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. It stars Gregory Peck as Harry Street, Susan Hayward as Helen, and Ava Gardner as Cynthia Green. The film's ending does not mirror that of the short story.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was an American novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.
Anthony Veiller was an American screenwriter and film producer. He wrote for 41 films between 1934 and 1964.
Eight Iron Men is a 1952 American World War II drama film directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Kramer. It stars Bonar Colleano, Arthur Franz, Lee Marvin, Richard Kiley and Mary Castle. Lee Marvin's powerful performance as the squad's leader ratchets up the suspense along with Dmytryk's noir style direction and J. Roy Hunt's deft cinematography. The screenplay by Harry Brown was based on his 1945 play A Sound of Hunting, which had featured Sam Levene, Frank Lovejoy and Burt Lancaster during its short run on Broadway.
Burton Stephen Lancaster was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing tough guys with a tender heart, he went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles over a 45-year career in film and, later, television. He was a four-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and he also won two BAFTA Awards and one Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actor. The American Film Institute ranks Lancaster as #19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
The Killers are an American rock band from Las Vegas.
Under Robert Siodmak's sensitive directiorial hand, both Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner achieve stardom as they enact one of the most exciting dramas of the year.