The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946)


Burt Lancaster (Ole ‘Swede’ Andreson), Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins), Edmond O’Brien (Jim Reardon). Screenplay by Anthony Veiller. Directed by Robert Siodmak. Running time: 103 minutes.

The Killers is textbook noir: murder, mystery and dark motives, all playing out around a glamorous temptress lurking in the background who goes by the name of Kitty Collins. She’s better known to us as Ava Gardner, and she’s bloody gorgeous and she stirs the pot – or perhaps the plot – no end: inducing possibly fatal infatuation, coldly deceiving those besotted by her, conniving to escape with a fortune, and all seemingly of her own initiative. Perhaps that latter property – her individuality – was ultimately too much to ask for from a film made in the 40s. It’s a shame, for we’re surely eternally plagued by guilt for enjoying the ever-reliable role of the femme fatale, predictable in its status as anathema to feminism, never apparently failing to show women as evil slaves to ingenious men. It’s still shamefully thrilling to witness, but The Killers would have been even more enjoyable if it had been bold enough to buck that trend so early on as it oh so nearly does. As it happens, we’re served a plate we’ve seen ample times before, but it’s a meal that never gets old. A small-town worker at a fill-up station is murdered by professional travelling killers. Flashbacks slowly expose why. We sit obsessed with the style and the twists and turns, and the result is a solid constituent of Hollywood’s most revered period and genre.

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