March 28, 2007

The Killers

The Killers is a film made by Robert Siodmak from an Ernest Hemingway short story. Siodmak begins his film using the scenario bequeathed to him by Hemingway's story- the explanation of how we got there though is all Siodmak's. Basically the film begins as two men walk into a bar, after beating up the bar staff and mocking the other customers, they reveal themselves to be in search for a third man, called 'Swede' Anderson. His co-worker goes across to warn him but 'Swede' rather than run decides to wait for his murderers, just lying listless waiting for the fate that will come and inevitably get him. They turn up and pump his body full of bullets. The rest of the film constitutes the investigation of who sent the killers, why they were sent and what Anderson was mixed up in. An investigation which is prosecuted by an insurance investigator on behalf of his company and which turns up the entire story behind Anderson's decline and dismal fall.

So much so film noir and within the killers you find the stereotypical characters- the hoodlums, the gangsters, the old hands who know what darkness looks like when they see it, the insipid heroes who excitement is that they are mixed in with the darkness and the women who offer nothing but innocence as attraction. You also find the femme fatale- around whom the hero and most of the men in the picture twist in the wind, played superbly by a young Ava Gardner, Kitty Collins is the nemesis of our Swede and also of any man who she comes into contact with, until that is she herself right at the end of the film faces the chair. These stock characters circle though a main character played by Burt Lancaster, 'Swede' Anderson, a boxer who is unable to fight any more and who turns to crime to fund him in the way that being a celebrity boxing once did. A man besotted with Gardner who ends the film, his face blasted with bullets and emblazoned with guilt and a lack of innocence. For the Swede himself has ended up conniving in robbery, has ended up taking the rap for a girl who didn't deserve it but more than that has ended up as a cog in the machine that the desperadoes and the femme fatales put together. The darkness literally swallows everything but his pathetic hand clawing the side of his bed as he dies but that's because he himself and his entire life has been swallowed by darkness, from the days of his boxing career's demise onwards he is a crook and he dies because of it.

This film though casts a sharp light on investigators and upon the innocent suburbia of America. Gardner by the end of the film seems to have redeemed herself, but of course she hasn't and at the end her and her husband's suburban relationship is merely a mask for their criminality, the table cloth that hides the grime beneath. Her emblematic moment is when she appeals to a dead body, crying tell them I'm innocent, tell them I'm innocent. Screaming out her innocence she is dragged to the chair that she well deserves. Her guilt reveals that her suburban lifestyle is built on criminal theft, her beauty hides the knawing of the worms of conscience and her protestations of innocence hide the knowledge that she has attempted at separate times to kill everyone on the set. Because we see the story of Swede we perceive her as the villain but during this film there are few heroes.

Most of the heroic impetus is provided by ciphers- most prominent of all of these is the investigator: Reardon. He goes around talking to people but like Thompson in Citizen Kane, Reardon doesn't contribute anything to what his witnesses say, his role is to stand as a cipher, the only thing that shows through is his unorthodox professionalism. Reardon is an insurance agent but ultimately the company he is involved with cares nothing for the person who has died: at the end of the film he is told that his successful investigation has resulted in a cut of a tenth of a cent off their premiums for 1947. A man's life is priced accurately at a tenth of a cent cut.

Of course we know and running through it we can see that its the excitement which pulls Lancaster in but the excitement means that Lancaster loses in the end. The tradeoff in the film is Achilles's in the Illiad, you exchange glory and a swift death for monotony and a long life. There is much more than this in this film, and these incoherent ramblings fail to sum up what actually went on. It is a film that's great to watch- a performance from Gardner in particular that stands up there with the best of the great noir femme fatales.