The Killers: 1946 or 1964?

Thursday, January 14, 2010 12:28 PM By Simon , In




For those of you who don't know, The Killers originated as a short story by Ernest Hemingway back when he was doing those sorts of things. It was about two men who came to town, to kill a Swedish boxer hiding out there. Their reasons aren't specified, but it is assumed that it has something to do with the boxer's refusal to throw a fight. At the time, it was most notable for featuring Nick Adams, a regular character in Hemingway's stories, who enters into his teen years here.

It was adapted several times. The first was feature length and starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, in her breakout role. The second, a short student film by Andrei Tarkovsky, later a renowned Soviet director of such films as the original Solaris. The third was originally intended to be the first made-for-TV movie, but released in theatres because of the violence, stars John Cassavetes (Rosemarry's husband in Rosemary's Baby , and a pioneer in independent cinema), Lee Marvin, and Angie Dickinson.

Alright, enough history. I'm not weighing in on Tarkovsky's version (here), or any of the other short films made in the past two decades based on this story. Just the two features.

PROS AND CONS

1946


STORY: The same as the story up until the death of one "Swede" Anderson, with a Shady Past and a Dark Secret, wherein an investigator for an insurance company investigates the circumstances of his death, and discovers an intricate plot of robbery and betrayel, involving mastermind Colfax (Albert Dekker) and mysterious love of the Dead and Deceased, Kitty (Gardner).

PROS:
Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster. A suspenseful opening scene in the diner the Swede frequents, followed by the iconic frame of Anderson before his death. Good acting from the supporting cast. Black-and-white. A cold, classic-noir atmosphere. Engaging plot, well paced, etc. Soundtrack. Broad-chested policemen chomping cigars and calling everybody 'pal' and 'buddy'.

CONS:
Slow, drags on.

1964:


PLOT: Basically, it's the same, except now the boxer is a racecar driver named Johnny North, now a teacher at a school for the blind. Two hitmen, played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, come in, rough up the secretary of the school and some blind guys (Damn. It.), before storming the class North is teaching. Instead of running or begging for his life, he simply moves away from his students to take the shots. Later, on a train going An-y-where, Charlie, the older and more experienced of the duo, is bothered by Johnny's impassiveness, and he convinces his partner to help him track down those who knew him, and find out why.

PROS:
John Cassavetes. The slow, melodramatic, but brutal violence that the sixties and seventies produced, before all the choreographed PG-13 shit of the eighties kicked in. Higher paced than original. Lee Marvin being badass.

CONS:
Angie Dickinson (I'm not saying she's bad in general, just in this), off-kilter plot, Adaption Distillation, the throttling of blind people (I'm no moral trumpet or anything, but Christ), meh acting.

Oh, and a supporting role by a certain guy who once had a very important job, an economic system named after him, and an extremely specific fanbase. Give up? Why not take a closer look at the pciture of the dude pimp-slapping Ava Gardner up above.

Yeah.

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