Sunday, June 19, 2011

"The Killers" An Excellent Example of Murder Mystery Noir Style

To those who read this blog (and I hope somebody does) you know by now that I'm a fan of the dark, Noir-style film, especially those made in the 1940s and 1950s. What I love about them is the writing. The dialogue, plots and characters are complex. But that's only half of what makes a good film. The other half of that equation is the actor chosen to play their respective role. This film from 1946 has both. The writing and the actors delivering those lines are both excellent in this story of mystery and murder.

At the onset of the film, two professional killers come to a small town, and kill the local gas station attendant, Ole "Swede" Anderson, played by the excellent Burt Lancaster. Enter insurance agent Jim Reardon, played by Edmond O'Brien. He takes the case in order to find the beneficiary of Anderson's insurance policy, against the advice of his boss, who believes the case is irrelevant. Reardon takes the case, and he begins to delve into Anderson's past, which becomes apparent through Reardon's interviews, aided by flashbacks. With the help of Anderson's childhood friend, Sam Lubinsky, now a police lieutenant, Reardon begins to collect all of the loose ends of Anderson's past. Reardon suspects that all of Anderson's past dealings, and perhaps, the reason he was killed, can be traced back to a beautiful, suspected femme-fatale, Kitty Collins, played by Ava Gardner. Several stories, told by the various people interviewed by Reardon and Lubinsky, are intertwined and linked back to Anderson's story. Telling a multilayer-ed story such as this can be dangerous, because when it's done poorly, when there's a loose end that's not addressed, the viewer knows it, and that's all they can focus on. Therefore, the film has failed. But this film succeeds in that respect. There are no loose ends left.

It's worth noting that this was Lancaster's first screen role. In total, he's not in the film more than twenty minutes or so, but the entire film revolves around Anderson's death. We see him briefly at the beginning of the film, which begins with his death, and through back tracking and flashback, as Anderson's story unfolds, the viewer sees Lancaster, and the great acting ability he had, for the first time. He hardly had to act. It seems like he merely spoke his lines as if he were speaking to a close friend or family member, and they put him on film and called him an actor. Edmond O'Brien, perhaps most famous for his pairing with James Cagney in several films, was an equally important part of the film, but you could tell he was an actor. The way his lines were delivered seemed very natural within the context of the film, but at the same time, you know that this isn't the way he would have spoken to a friend when the camera was off. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the writing of this film was excellent as well. Very rarely does this film seem like it's too complicated, with too many plots at play at one time. It is guilty of being a little complex at times, but ultimately, the film culminates with the mystery of Anderson's death no longer a mystery, and each of the different plots are brought together in a clean and succinct resolution by films' end.

This film was a pleasure to watch. There was enough mystery and suspense to keep the viewer interested, the acting was excellent, and not at all over the top (as some film's of the era were guilty of) and the writing was well thought out and executed. I'd highly recommend this one.

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