Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in director Robert Siodmak's "The Killers"

The Killers (1946) is an American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster in his movie debut and Ava Gardner. The film co-stars Edmond O'Brien, Sam Levine, and Charles McGraw. The film is based on The Killers, a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The cinematography is by Elwood Bredell (The Phantom Lady 1944).

A former boxer known as "The Swede" (Lancaster) is murdered by some criminal associates from his past. Insurance agent Jim Reardon (O'Brien) is assigned to find the beneficiary of the Swede's $2,500 insurance policy. By interviewing people who knew the Swede, Reardon pieces together the tragic events that led to his death. 

What Reardon discovers is that no one's life is as it seems on the surface.

Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster

Robert Siodmak (1900 – 1973) had a very successful career in Hollywood and is best known for his thrillers and films noir. He signed a seven-year contract with Universal and directed The Killers (1946), the film that made Ava Gardner a star. He worked with some of the top movie stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Deanna Durbin, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Yvonne de Carlo, Olivia de Havilland, and Barbara Stanwyck. Often compared to Hitchcock in his prime, he never got the recognition that the Master of Suspense did, but most of his films hold up remarkably well and are worth watching.

Burt Lancaster (1913- 1994) was an American actor and producer. He won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Elmer Gantry (1960). Lancaster made his film debut in The Killers (1946). After the release of that film, he was on his way as a leading man, starring in quick succession Desert Fury (1947), Brute Force (1947), Variety Girl (1947), I Walk Alone (1947), All My Sons (1948), and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Other popular films starring Lancaster include The Flame and the Arrow (1950), Jim Thorpe All-American (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Rose Tattoo (1955), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Ava Gardner (1922 - 1990) was an American actress who signed a film contract with M-G-M in 1941. She played minor roles in a variety of films until her breakout performance in The Killers (1946) on loan to Universal. She hit her stride in the 1950s with films like Mogambo (1953), The Knights of the Round Table (1953), Bhowani Junction (1956), The Sun Also Rises (1957), On the Beach (1959), and 55 Days in Peking (1963). Later in her career, she had a recurring role on the television series Knots Landing (1985). During her prime, Garnder was considered one of the world’s most beautiful women.

The Killers trivia
  • Burt Lancaster was the third choice to play the Swede. Wayne Morris and Sonny Tufts were first and second choices but were unavailable.
  • Ava Gardner was the producer's only choice to play Kitty Collins.
  • The movie ran 24 hours in New York City to accommodate the crowds, breaking previous box office records.
  • Ernest Hemingway was a fan of the film adaptation of his short story.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the conversation on August 22, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions
  1. The Killers made Lancaster a movie star overnight. What did you think of his performance?
  2. Ava Gardner was under contract with MGM since 1941. On loan to Universal, the role of Kitty Collins elevated her to leading-lady status. Was she a convincing femme fatale?
  3. Did you think there was any significance to Kitty's name?
  4. What did you think of the narrative style? Did it remind you of any other movies?
  5. Did anything in this film surprise you?
  6. Would you have waited in line to have seen this film in 1946? Why do you think this movie was such a hit in its day?

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