Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source The Criterion Collection DVD
Robert Siodmak is a German import, and like his contemporaries Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger has a successful entry in film noir.
Siodmak’s The Killers opens as the source story with two bullying, loquacious hitmen entering a diner. There is a pervasive expectation for violence throughout the film, though, as in this first scene, The Killers highlights the talk that precedes gunfire.
Hemingway’s short story is a setup in this outing, and its literal adherence is abandoned shortly into the film. The Swede is killed as planned. His lack of retaliation is a persistent clue in the interest of an insurance claims investigator. Himself a noir icon, the investigator has genuine interest, for the revelation of truth and not for personal gain. Life is corrupted by greed and the possibility of riches; for the detective, only the desire for final truth supplies personal impetus.
In traditional fashion the men are capable and strong, and the women (used sparingly in noir) are smarter and more often conniving. Men politicize with weapons, women with manipulation. Here, Ava Gardner, in a distinctive role, has eyelashes that echo the tempting threat of a Venus flytrap.
In a popular element of the genre the characters embody distinct sexual roles: the men are generally dull and hostile, the women are intelligent, and all will fall prey to their greed — it is the most incriminating trait one may have.
Siodmak favors the night, dense shadows in the aftermath of rain. There is a heightened contrast in every scene, differentiating the characters’ iconically understood roles: the femme fatale is a brunette with dark lipstick, and notice how the Swede’s attire is different between his days in crime and in a respectable occupation. The central crime is seen in a remarkable longshot that finds a gang of thieves entering a factory and exiting it with the desired loot.
In respect to its source The Killers unfolds with meticulous patience, exposing a crime of interconnections and dense corruption. Hemingway’s short only hints at a complexity (in it the Swede’s relation to his killers is unknown), and the film does well to manifest such a depth.
Finally, there is little to complain in the film’s brief and anticlimactic resolution; it is a single misstep in an archetypal film.