The Killers – what a great title. This classic 1946 movie showcases all the characteristics of film noir: the dark and gloomy themes, the low-key black-and-white visual style, with the anti-hero, the femme fatale, and the non-linear storylines.
Best of Film Noir – A Boxer as the Noir Hero
I’m partial to Humphrey Bogart (and so is the detective in my Reed Ferguson mystery series – Reed, of course :)) but a young 32-year-old Burt Lancaster in his acting debut as Ole Swede Anderson is quite the noir hero. Swede is a professional boxer whose career was ended by an injury and he gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. I won’t reveal the details of the story but Swede is the ultimate noir hero, down on his luck, drawn to the wrong kind of dame, involved in a scheme that gets him into trouble, and eventually killed. That’s about as noir and dark as it gets.
Best of Film Noir – Ooo La La the Femme Fatale
We have a wonderful film noir female in the beautiful Ava Gardner. Up until this point, 23-year-old Gardner was not that well known…I’ll bet people remembered her after her performance as Kitty Collins. As the femme fatale, Collins is sexy, sultry, unsympathetic and not to be trusted.
Best of Film Noir – A Famous Opening
Did I say famous opening? For you writers out there, pay attention. I’m not giving anything away by telling the beginning of the story for The Killers because it’s probably the most famous film noir opening in history. In the thirteen minute sequence, two men visit a small town. The ominous way this is portrayed is awesome, setting the stage for the entire film. We then find out these two men are the killers sent to Swede. Cut to Swede, lying on his bed. He awaits his fate and he does not resist. This is a brilliant way to open a story because the viewer (or reader) wonders why Swede doesn’t try to escape. Great movies and novels capture our attention immediately. Then the back story is doled out carefully as the action ensues and we understand what events led to that opening scene. In The Killers this is achieved through a series of flashbacks.
Best of Film Noir – A Story From a Master
That amazing opening was penned by none other than Ernest Hemingway, who wrote a short story that is the opening scene of The Killers. The supremely talented John Huston helped write the screenplay but he was not credited for this. What is so noir about this opening is that Swede is so aware of his shortcomings and what he’s done wrong, thus leading to his decision not to try to escape his fate. The movie has plenty of twists and turns on the road to a dark ending, but one that will leave any film noir fan satisfied.
And here are a couple of pieces of trivia. The Killers won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and some scenes from the film were used in the wonderfully amusing spoof of film noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin.
Is your popcorn ready? Then sit back, relax and enjoy The Killers.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor