The Love Of A Femme Fatale
This 1946 film, loosely based on a story by Hemingway, is a noir tale of deception, crime, and doomed love. Robert Slodmak directed "The Killers" which stars a young Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. The film is rightly regarded as a classic as evidenced by its inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
The film is set in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The action centers around a $250,000 payroll heist of a manufacturing company in New Jersey and with the events leading to and following the heist. The film begins with an unforgettable scene as two thugs murder a gas station attendant, the Swede (Lancaster), in his bed in a quiet New Jersey town after a tense scene set in a diner. An insurance claims adjuster becomes involved because the Swede has left the benefits of a life insurance policy to a chambermaid in a hotel.
The story is told by means of flashbacks and of clues provided by a series of colorful characters, including the chambermaid, a Philadelphia police lieutenant, and a former small time criminal.. The film moves from Swede's early life in the Philadelphia slums and his failed career as a boxer. He loses a lovely young woman when he becomes infatuated with Kitty (Ava Gardner) the singer and moll who ruins his life. In her role, Gardner sings a torch song, "the more I know of love" which captures the Swede's heart. Kitty ultimately lures the Swede to take the rap for her in a three year prison sentence for theft and to become involved in the hat factory "caper". As the film develops, the unfortunate Swede is double and triple crossed, leading to his demise.
The story itself is difficult to follow. The impact of the move comes from its noir characterizations of lonely, failed, and dangerous people and places, including the boxing ring, nightclubs, prison, small sad towns and diners, unscrupulous criminals, rooming houses, and the irresistible femme fatale.
The cinematography by Elwood Bredell defines the noir genre with its light and dark shading and angular visions. Miklos Rosza wrote the dramatic musical score, including Kitty's song.
As does much film noir, "The Killers" is a story of passion and of the dangers and allure of sexuality, all too often ignored or pushed to the side in modern life.
Lovers of film noir will want to see "The Killers" together with a follow-up film directed by Slodmak and starring Burt Lancaster: the lesser-known noir masterwork of 1948, "Criss Cross".