AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Killers
Alternate Title: Ernest Hemingway's The Killers
Director: Robert Siodmak (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Aug 1946
Production Date:   29 Apr--late Jun 1946
Duration (in mins):   102-103 or 105
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Cast:   Burt Lancaster (Ole "Swede" Anderson, also known as Pete Lund)  
    Ava Gardner (Kitty Collins)  
    Edmond O'Brien (James Riordan)  
    Albert Dekker ("Big Jim" Colfax)  
    Sam Levene (Sam Lubinsky)  
    Vince Barnett (Charleston)  
    Virginia Christine (Lilly Harmon Lubinsky)  
    Jack Lambert (Dum Dum)  
    Charles D. Brown (Packy)  
    Donald McBride (Kenyon)  
    Charles McGraw (Al)  
    William Conrad (Max)  
    John Miljan (Jake)  
    Phil Brown (Nick Adams)  
    Queenie Smith (Mary Ellen "Queenie" Doherty)  
    Garry Owen (Joe)  
    Harry Hayden (George)  
    Bill Walker (Sam)  
    Jeff Corey (Blinky Franklin)  
    Wally Scott (Charlie)  
    Gabrielle Windsor (Ginny)  
    Harry Brown (Paymaster)  
    Beatrice Roberts (Nurse)  
    Howard Freeman (Police Chief)  
    John Berkes (Plunther)  
    John Sheehan (Doctor)  
    George Anderson (Doctor)  
    Charles Middleton (Farmer Brown)  
    Al Hill (Customer)  
    Noel Cravat (Lou Tingle)  
    Rev. Neal Dodd (Minister)  
    Vera Lewis (Mrs. Hirsch)  
    Howard Nogley (Policeman)  
    Perc Launders (Policeman)  
    Geoffrey Ingham (Policeman)  
    Milton Wallace (Waiter)  
    Nolan Leary (Waiter)  
    John Trebach (Waiter)  
    Ann Staunton (Stella)  
    William Ruhl (Motorman)  
    Therese Lyon (Housekeeper)  
    Ernie Adams (Little man)  
    Jack Cheatham (Police driver)  
    Ethan Laidlaw (Conductor)  
    Michael Hale (Pete)  
    Wally Rose (Bartender)  
    Audley Anderson (Assistant paymaster)  
    Mike Donovan (Timekeeper)  
    Rex Dale    

Summary: Two hitmen, Al and Max, drive into Brentwood, New Jersey, in search of Pete "Swede" Lund, and stake out a diner he frequents, questioning, among others, customer Nick Adams about Swede's whereabouts. After the men leave, Nick races to Swede's boardinghouse room to warn him and is stunned when Swede seems resigned to his fate. Shortly after Nick's departure, Al and Max find Swede waiting in his room and shoot him to death. When it is discovered Swede had a small life insurance policy with Atlantic Casual, insurance investigator James Riordan begins investigating his murder. Jim first questions Nick, who worked with Swede at a filling station, and Nick recalls that Swede stopped coming to work the week before his murder after waiting on a wealthy, middle-aged stranger at the station. Jim then calls on Swede's beneficiary, Mary Ellen "Queenie" Doherty, a cleaning woman at an Atlantic City hotel. Queenie recalls Swede staying at the hotel some six years earlier, when she stopped him from throwing himself out of the window. Upon returning to his office, Jim learns that Swede was a former boxer, whose real name was Ole Anderson, and that after his fight career ended, he served three years in prison for robbery. Jim visits Swede's arresting officer, police lieutenant Sam Lubinsky, who tells him that he and Swede had grown up together in Philadelphia and that his wife Lilly dated Swede before her marriage. Lilly then recalls her final date with Swede at a party given by Jake "the Rake" in a lavish apartment owned by "Big Jim" Colfax, where they met Blinky Franklin and singer Kitty Collins, to whom Swede is immediately attracted. Then Sam adds that some time later, while working on a jewelry heist, a tip led him to Jake and Kitty, whom he suspected of wearing a piece of the stolen jewelry. When Sam tried to arrest her, Swede intervened and claimed responsibilty for stealing the jewlery, which landed him in prison. Sam asks Jim if he can help with the investigation and later that afternoon, at Swede's burial service, Sam points out Charleston, a small-time hood and acquaintance of Swede's, to Jim, who later questions him. Charleston reveals that he and Swede shared a prison cell together and that Swede referred to Kitty as "his girl," and asked Charleston to visit her upon his release: After Swede is released, Charleston is sent by Colfax to summon him to a meeting with Blinky, another thug, Dum Dum, and a mysterious woman. Colfax has planned a payroll heist at a hat company which promises a $250,000 payoff, but the older Charleston finds the risk too great and withdraws, and never sees Swede again. After leaving Charleston, Jim digs up information that Atlantic Casual insured the hat company and discovers details of the heist. Sam then contacts Jim to inform him that Blinky has been discovered shot and near death. Both men hurry to the hospital, where Blinky, semi-conscious, rambles about the robbery: After the heist, the group was forced to change their meeting place as the scheduled halfway house had burned down unexpectedly. Swede arrives last and after accusing Colfax of trying to cheat him, takes all the money and flees. Back at the hospital after Blinky dies, Jim feels sure the robbery is connected to Swede's murder and stakes out his old room at the boardinghouse. Soon after, Dum Dum rents Swede's old room and begins an elaborate search. Jim breaks in on him and demands to know more details of the robbery, specifically why the meeting place was changed. Dum Dum admits Kitty was the woman involved and that just after midnight the night before the robbery she had told each of them separately about the change, which Swede later claimed he was not told. Jim tells Dum Dum that Swede had run off with Kitty and that later in Atlantic City, Kitty had disappeared with the money. Dum Dum escapes from Jim and despite a police cordon, gets away. Later when Jim receives notification that the halfway house burned down after two a.m., not midnight, he is certain Colfax and Kitty are behind Swede's murder, but Sam insists Colfax has gone straight. Jim goes to the factory Colfax is now managing, but Colfax claims no knowledge of the robbery or Kitty's whereabouts. Later, however, Jim receives a telephone call from Kitty, suggesting they meet. Driving away from their agreed-upon rendezvous spot, Kitty and Jim are unknowingly trailed by Al and Max to a night club. There, Kitty tells Jim that the night before the robbery, she convinced Swede that the others were double-crossing him, so he would agree to take her away from Colfax. She insists that she left Swede in Atlantic City with the money and pleads with Jim not to involve her further as she is now married and has a good home. Jim demands that she give him proof of Colfax's participation and she agrees, but as they prepare to leave the club, she disappears into the ladies room. Meanwhile at the bar, Al and Max begin to move in on Jim, but are cut off and shot by Sam who is also at the bar. Jim realizes Kitty has escaped and, with Sam and a police backup, heads to Colfax's house. They arrive to a series of gunshots and find Dum Dum dead at the bottom of the stairs and Colfax fatally wounded on the landing with Kitty hovering over him. Jim tells Colfax he had discovered Kitty was his wife and could not testify against him. Colfax admits to having Swede killed, in fear that the other gang members would find him and realize that Colfax and Kitty had double-crossed them and kept all the money. Colfax dies as Kitty pleads for him to declare her innocent. 

Production Company: Mark Hellinger Productions, Inc.  
  Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Robert Siodmak (Dir)
  Melville Shyer (Asst dir)
Producer: Mark Hellinger (Prod)
Writer: Anthony Veiller (Scr)
Photography: Woody Bredell (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Jack Otterson (Art dir)
  Martin Obzina (Art dir)
Film Editor: Arthur Hilton (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman (Set dec)
  E. R. Robinson (Set dec)
Costumes: Vera West (Gown supv)
Music: Miklos Rozsa (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Dir of sd)
  William Hedgcock (Tech)
Special Effects: D. S. Horsley (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Jack P. Pierce (Dir of makeup)
  Carmen Dirigo (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Jules Buck (Asst to the prod)
Country: United States

Songs: "The More I Know of Love," music by Miklos Rozsa, lyrics by Jack Brooks.
Composer: Jack Brooks
  Miklos Rozsa
Source Text: Based on the short story "The Killers" by Ernest Hemingway in Scribners Magazine (Mar 1927).
Authors: Ernest Hemingway

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 21/8/1946 dd/mm/yyyy LP514

PCA NO: 11844
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Crime
 
Subjects (Major): Betrayal
  Hired killers
  Insurance--Investigators
  Murder
  Robbery
 
Subjects (Minor): Aliases
  Attempted suicide
  Boxing
  Diners (Restaurants)
  Femmes fatales
  Frame-ups
  Gas stations
  Handkerchiefs
  Life insurance
  Maids
  New Jersey
  Philadelphia (PA)
  Police detectives
  Prisons

Note: The opening title cards read: "Mark Hellinger Productions, Inc. presents Ernest Hemingway's The Killers ." The Killers was the fourth Hemingway work to be adapted to the screen, following A Farewell to Arms (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1275), For Whom the Bell Tolls (see above) and To Have and Have Not (see below). The entire plot of the Hemingway short story occurs in the film's opening sequence; the remainder of the film, written by Anthony Veiller, explains the murder of "Ole (Swede) Anderson." Papers in the Mark Hellinger Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicate that Hellinger paid Hemingway approximately $50,000 for the rights to the story, but that publicity items inflated the figure to $75,000. Richard Brooks stated in a modern interview that he wrote a version of the script; his contribution to the final film is undetermined.
       According to a HR news item, M-G-M agreed to loan Audrey Totter to Universal for the role of "Kitty Collins," but a production reshuffle at M-G-M, brought about by Robert Montgomery's walkout on Desire Me (see above), nullified the agreement. Universal then borrowed Ava Gardner from M-G-M for the role. Other information from the Hellinger Collection notes a clause in Gardner's contract requesting that her singing voice not be dubbed in The Killers . The film marked Hellinger's first producing assignment at Universal and the screen debuts of Burt Lancaster (1913--1994), William Conrad (1920--1994) and African-American character actor William "Bill" Walker (1896--1992). According to contemporary sources, after Lancaster made a notable appearance in the brief Broadway run of the 1945 Harry Brown play A Sound of Hunting , he was brought to Hollywood. HR and NYT praised Lancaster's performance in The Killers and noted his star potential. A HR news item indicates Barbara Powers was cast in the film, but her appearance cannot be confirmed. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Score and Best Screenplay, but lost in all four categories to The Best Years of Our Lives (see above). Composer Miklos Rozsa’s “Danger Ahead” refrain, which is heard in The Killers , later became the inspiration for the highly recognizable Dragnet theme song (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1951-60 ).
       Burt Lancaster recreated the role of "Swede" in a Screen Directors Playhouse radio broadcast on 5 Jun 1949. Shelley Winters co-starred as "Kitty." The Killers was remade by Universal in 1964 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.2593). The remake, which utilized both the Hemingway story and Anthony Veiller's screenplay, was directed by Don Siegel and starred Nick Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan in his last film role. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Dec 46   pp. 436-37, 458.
Box Office   17 Aug 1946.   
Daily Variety   7 Aug 1946   p. 3.
Film Daily   12 Aug 1946   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Apr 1946   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Apr 1946   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 1946   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   27 May 1946   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 1946   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 1946   p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Aug 1946   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Sep 1946   p. 8.
Los Angeles Examiner   29 Oct 1945.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   20 Jun 1946   p. 3055.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   17 Aug 1946   p. 3150.
New York Times   29 Aug 1946   p. 24.
Variety   7 Aug 1946   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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