The Killers (1946)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 12/7/14
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, cameo by William Conrad

Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, "The Killers" is about an insurance agent named Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) who is investigating the murder of a man known as "The Swede" (Burt Lancaster). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Swede used to be a professional boxer, who later became a petty thief and went to prison for three years in order to protect the beautiful and venomous Kitty Collins (deliciously wicked Ava Gardner). There's reason to believe that Swede was responsible for running off with $250,000 from an old payroll heist, but Reardon is wiser and forces the various players out into the open to get at the truth.

It's a good looking and well made piece of film noir, but I have to admit that I had a really hard time following it. I actually had to read a summary of the film afterwards in order to figure out what happened, and I'm still not entirely sure how all of the pieces fit. I think my difficulties had to do with men wearing hats. My ability for character and facial recognition drops dramatically when people start putting on and taking off hats, and pretty soon everyone looked the same to me. For a starring role, Burt Lancaster has precious little screen time, and only comes across as a sweaty, quick-tempered thug. Ava Gardner's sensual portrayal of the dangerously seductive and duplicitous Kitty Collins was a breakout role for her, and demands the viewer's attention. A young William Conrad also makes a wonderful appearance as an intimidating hitman, which he does splendidly. The pacing is a tad sluggish and it's hard to keep track of who's who and what's going on, but the road to self destruction is an entertaining ride throughout.