Film noir is one of the greatest genres if done well. The smokey detective stories that are stylish, flirtatious and cynical, with a puff of criminality in the shape of curves and femme fatales. Though they have been adapted in modern culture with films such as Brick or Memento, the term is often related to the black and white films of the 1940s and 1950s. There is a whole heap of films that work around film noir: The Maltese Falcon, Sunset Boulevard and Strangers on a Train to name but a few. But one of the most alluring pieces of films noir is Robert Siodmak’s The Killers.
This is the perfect example of how to unravel a tale in both its aesthetic and script. Steeped in film noir connotations whilst still keeping it completely enthralling. The flip between different narratives, the flashbacks that tell the story and the investigating insurance worker all lead us down a winding path that is both tense and laden with intrigue. The brimming underbelly of the crime that bounces between different perspectives is greatly admired, showcasing a brilliant (and very replicated) way of delving into the past by unravelling the present. The Killers is a tantalising slowburn that relies on the great performances and frayed alibis.
On this note, the acting is stellar. Ava Gardener delights as Kitty, who seduces Old Swede and exploits his faith in her. She captures this silhouette of a dangerous woman, abusing the fools who fall in love with her. And on that list is Lancaster’s Lund, who is willing to commit abhorrent crimes for her and takes his fate when she ultimately betrays him. Lancaster is brilliant as this complex hero whose willingness to fall in love places him deeper into the underbelly mirrored by Reardon’s journey to find the sole beneficiary. But the stand out here is Albert Dekker’s Big Jim. Cold and calculated, sublimely terrifying, and whose final moments are unjustly cruel.
A brilliant development on Ernest Hemingway’s short story (and told to be the only one that the author actually appreciated), some may look at The Killers and see it a little dated with time. But looking beneath the film is a great and captivating thriller.
The Killers is now available on Blu-Ray.