Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Noir Watch: The Killers (1946)

Back in January in San Francisco I watched 1960's version of The Killers starring the lovely Angie Dickinson.

It had been a long time since I'd seen the 1946 version of The Killers, and maybe even longer since I read (and re-read and re-re-read) the Hemingway short story upon which both films are ostensibly based.

I bought the DVD of the film probably around 2004, and I've seen it a couple of times.  I still think large parts of it are phenomenal, even if watching it now, I realize how many amazing coincidences occur to help along Edmond O'Brien's good-natured insurance company gumshoe, Riordan, as he tries to find out what happened to Ole "Swede" Andreson (played by Burt Lancaster).

JeniferSF would be thrilled to see that one of the first characters on screen (one of our titular killers) is played by William Conrad playing William Conrad.

The beginning of the movie follows the Hemingway short story fairly tightly, something the 1960's version chose not to do.  Within minutes of the film's opening, we've burned through the material of the short story, we've got a dead Swede on our hands, and Riordan is now on the case, looking into what happened to the dead service station attendant, and why he would have left his $2500 policy to a chambermaid in an Atlantic City hotel who had met him over just one short period of two days years before.

From there, the story of Ole Andreson, washed up boxer who becomes a criminal, unfolds.  With all the flashbacks, the dangerous dame, double crosses with double crosses, boxing as a career... its all so...  noir, you kind of have to chew on it a bit.  But you can't say that the story Riordan unpacks isn't interesting.

While all are well known, this one of the few movies I've seen starring Edmond O'Brien, Burt Lancaster, Sam Levene and the fascinating Ava Gardner (who I know about much more thanks to her marriage to Frank Sinatra).

In the 1960's version Angie Dickinson may have a bit of a meatier role, but here Gardner really lighta up the screen and is understandably the fulcrum to the story as Andreson obsesses over Kitty Collins, the gangsters girlfriend who seems like she just might want to jump ship and find a better life away from Colfax.

As she drifts in and out of the timeline of the film, the plot gels well and the heist, the mistakes made, all work pretty well, even in comparison to something like The Killing or The Asphalt Jungle, but perhaps the hopelessness unraveling instead of a foregone conclusion makes for more dramatic tension in the other films.

At any rate, its worth a watch, especially for the the scenes both at the start and end of the film, with The Killers hitting town and Kitty Collins' final lines of dialog.  Pretty good stuff.

No comments: