Postmodern Film Approach: The Killers (Part 1)

Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, William Conrad
Robert Siodmak, Mark Hellinger, John Huston and Ernest Hemingway

According to Lee Server’s biography of Ava Gardner, Broadway artist turned Hollywood hotshot Mark Hellinger had a good understanding of the commercial possibilities of Hemingway’s twelve-page tale, The Killers. His judgment turned out to be correct; On reflection, it is easy to wonder: Why would anyone doubt the assessment of a writer who died at age forty-four and yet somehow managed to get a great Broadway theater to bear his name? (Today, the building that was once The Mark Hellinger Theater is The Times Square Church. (Mark Hellinger sounds like a truly fascinating personality; the book that seems to be a primary source of information about him, by Jim Bishop, is not easy to understand.) finds, and when you can find one on, say, eBay, the prices are absurd.)) The server quotes Hellinger: “The holding values ​​are gigantic.”

What he meant was that, from a marketing perspective, the image would have to be accompanied by the Hemingway name. The script adaptation duties were shared by Tony Veiller, an old Hollywood professional, and John Huston, who had to be anonymous and not appear on any paperwork because he was still serving in the military at the time.

Veiller and Huston produced an incredible script, a true black monster with a double and triple cross for all ages. Director Robert Siodmak, talked about in some quarters as the next Hitchcock at the time, is in top form here. This man knows how to make a movie; in particular, he knows how to get performances out of his cast. This movie has numerous minor parts and small parts, and every actor gets it right in almost every case. Virtually no one is wrong. (To the extent that acting may contribute to a movie’s value, it is the supporting parts and supporting parts that make it possible, not the leading roles.)

But I’m not the type of movie buff to judge performances. I would like to be one of the critics Kolker had in mind when he wrote, in A Cinema of Solitude, that “the serious critic can talk about the director, but the critic and the publicist continue to sell the image of the star.” Fortunately, Siodmak is strong in all aspects of management. This movie contains one of the great follow-up shots in film history, in my opinion: the hat company robbery, which we see on screen while listening to the insurance company executive reading a book on the soundtrack. story from an old newspaper.

Thats not all. Siodmak employs a kind of Ophuls lite style at various points in the image. An example is the way the camera watches Nick Adams running through backyards and jumping fences from the Swede’s rented room, then retreats into the bedroom to observe the Swede in bed. This same strategy is in effect when Riordan, the insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien, who is actually the main star of the film despite the third billing) searches for the hotel employee that the Swede has designated as his beneficiary. and she tells him the story of the incident. The night he met the Swede in his room.

Even more, Siodmak has a talent for atmosphere and environment. Witness the statue in the lobby at Atlantic Casualty Company, or the green cat at The Green Cat. Really impressive!

However, here is a major problem of another kind, which is this: The Killers is one of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. It is intended to be a chapter in the general development of young Nick Adams, universally understood as Hemingway’s alter ego, into a mature adult. In the movie it is impossible to have a sense of this at all. This movie doesn’t give a damn about Nick Adams. Nick Adams is a minor, minor character in the drama – he’s there, he fulfills a Hollywood script checklist function (runs up to the Swede to warn him about the killers, thus giving us a chance to see the depth of the Swede’s apathy ), but then disappears. Therefore, the writers are forced to take the image to areas that Hemingway never had the slightest desire to investigate.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me quote Gary Fishgall’s biography of Burt Lancaster: “Screenwriter Anthony Veiller and his unbilled collaborator, director / screenwriter John Huston (who was still in the military and technically couldn’t accept movies), did made The Killers the basis of a classic film noir. ” Hemingway is one of the few authors who has ever had movie star name recognition – everyone else related to the image, as I already noted, was essentially a nameless with the film as a whole that was released from Lancaster to Gardner, Siodmak and Hellinger. So while it was absolutely necessary to have the Hemingway name in there in a big way, the final product doesn’t really have much to do with Hemingway’s story thematically. The story is actually a macguffin, a pretext used to start the movie.

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