German-born director Robert Siodmak moved to Hollywood in 1940 and had a bit of a rocky start (“This is not a Siodmak picture - this is Paramount shit!” he allegedly once said in an on-set interview). However, once he moved to Universal he quickly graduated from the routine but atmospheric SON OF DRACULA (1943) to the classic THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945). THE KILLERS (1946) was his next picture after that, and is as classy and accomplished an example of film noir as you can get.
THE KILLERS is adapted from a (very) short story by Ernest Hemingway in which a man sits in a room waiting for the two assassins who are going to do him in. Siodmak’s film starts with the two killers arriving at a diner where their intended hit (Burt Lancaster) eats, but when he doesn’t turn up they progress to his room where they kill him.
The rest of the movie is told in flashback as insurance investigator Edmund O’Brien tries to piece together why Lancaster’s character had a variety of aliases, what his relationship was to a famous robbery conducted six years previously, and what gorgeous femme fatale Ava Gardner has got to do with it all. I won’t say much else because this really is one of the greats and if you’ve not seen it you’ve a treat in store. Everything that makes noir great is here, from the fractured nature of the storytelling to the shady characters, none of whom are entirely trustworthy, to the wonderful atmospheric lighting that makes you want to freeze frame on every other scene.
The robbery is a masterpiece of single take cinema, even if you can see the camera crew in the windscreen of a lorry at one point. And of course Ava Gardner, who gets the kind of intro and lighting every Hollywood actress would have been willing to kill for. Siodmak was obviously on a roll as he went from this to THE DARK MIRROR (1947) with Olivia de Havilland which is a cracker as well.
Arrow have done their usual top notch job with THE KILLERS, with a sparkling black and white transfer that shows minimal evidence of print damage. Extras include an isolated music and effects track, which lovers of Miklos Rozsa’s work will adore as it give you even more chance to appreciate his work here and how it would influence later scores (there are traces of what would become music for THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES amongst others).
Frank Krutnik gives us a 58 minute walk through of the film, there’s another featurette on the different movie versions of THE KILLERS (including the Don Siegel version I’ve already reviewed on this site), trailers, three archive radio pieces, a stills and poster gallery with some fine shots of Ava, and a booklet and reversible sleeve.
Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS is a classic movie given splendid treatment by Arrow. If they could get the rights to some of his other pictures and release a box set then surely it would assure them the place in Blu-ray heaven that they probably already deserve.
Arrow Academy released Robert Siodmak's THE KILLERS on Blu-ray on 8th December 2014