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:: The Killers (2-DVD Collectors Edition)

Here we have a double dose of film noir - two pictures from different eras adapted from the same Ernest Hemingway short story The Killers. It's a one-act bit of anguish where a pair of hitmen terrorise a lunch counter before rubbing out their appointed victim. Each film expands the chilling fragments into a dark thriller told in retrospective flashbacks, and together they chart the evolution of film noir.

1946
Robert Siodmak and Mark Hellinger put together a terrific story in The Killers, introducing both Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in starring roles, and redefining the new, dark style of Hollywood thriller. To the Hemingway pedigree was added a flashback structure, telling the story of a crime through multiple character testimony.

in this story, the protagonist is already dead, which lends a poignant aspect to his love for Kitty Collins, and a pallor of doom overall. Like Kane, the investigator Reardon interviews witnesses and slowly pieces the story together. The testimony cues for us a number of deeply felt scenes

pairing of Lancaster and Gardner generated real sparks, as beefy Burt's attraction for Ava's toxic beauty comes right through the screen.

1964
The 1964 version was very much a product of the giddy new television age. Cheap and flashy, this Killers was actually supposed to be the first made-for-TV movie but was deemed too violent in the post JFK assassination era and released theatrically instead.

The remake by Don Siegel builds another whole world around Hemingway's narrow if intense premise. The two assassins of Siegel's film (Clu Gulager, Lee Marvin) go in search of their intended victim - a teacher (John Cassavetes) at a school for the blind - and find that he not only recognises his fate when they show up, but seems entirely resigned to it.

Curiosity leads the killers to seek out the party who hired them and discover why Cassavetes's character didn't run or fight. Soon the facts tumble into place: the dead man had once been a top-drawer racer who fell for a glamorous woman (Angie Dickinson), the latter gradually pulling him into the orbit of a criminal villain (a convincingly evil Ronald Reagan). Once Gulager and Marvin's characters realise there is an unrecovered amount of money to be found, the film becomes increasingly dark and dangerous.

The extras are worth viewing as there is further insight into the man behind Ernest Hemingway. Overall, it is a fascinating double DVD collection.

DVD Extras

  • Ernest Hemingway Wrestling with Life: documentary on the life of Ernest Heminway (approx 100min)
  • Audio commentary by film critic Paul Harris
  • “The Killers” short story by Ernest Hemingway
  • Theatrical trailers