Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughts on "The Killers"


This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.


In “The Killers,” (1946) director Robert Siodmak stylistically picks up where “Phantom Lady” left off two years before. This is another noir classic because it possesses all of the previously seen film noir elements and even creates a few new ones.

The film uses flashback, but in a way that we haven’t seen in class. The audience learns only what people recount to insurance man, Jim Reardon. Does the hero in noir have to be a detective or an insurance man? Anyway, this style of flashback gets kind of hokey when the storytellers aren’t quite up to par. For example, when Reardon goes to see “Blinky” Franklin on his deathbed and Franklin starts mumbling, the audience sees a complete flashback, but I doubt very much a dying man’s mumbles were coherent enough to paint such a vivid picture of the events.

There are many examples of shadows being used to convey meaning in this film. For example, when Nick, the guy from the lunch counter, runs over to Oly’s (Burt Lancaster) apartment, Oly’s face is in the shadow to represent his regret and his acceptance of his impending death. Later in the film, Lily is suddenly obscured by shadows after Oly sees Kitty (Ava Gardner) and quite clearly shifts his attention to her. In this case, Lily’s shadow represents her feeling of rejection and is also metaphoric because she has faded from Oly’s mind in addition to fading physically.

The beauty of this film is that Oly, the protagonist, starts off as a loser and really just gets even worse. In his first scene chronologically, he gets the crap beat out of him so bad in a boxing match, that an hour later in the locker room, he doesn’t even know that the fight’s over. During this match, Oly’s hand was hurt so bad, he couldn’t fight anymore. Oly thinks this is the worst his life can ever get, but for the rest of the movie Oly sinks further and further into an abyss caused by the femme fatale, Kitty. At one time, Oly was a good man, but his lust for Kitty becomes his undoing.

This film has some interesting characters, like the two killers at the beginning of the movie. Their disregard of social norms and rapid-fire insults was obviously shocking at the time, but by today’s standards they just seem kind of corny. To paraphrase Gene Hackman in “The Heist,” if you’re really gonna shoot someone, you just shoot them, you don’t talk about it. I loved Oly’s cellmate Charleston, who said he wouldn’t tell Reardon anything. He said, “I‘m the monkey with his hand over his mouth.” Of course he went on and on once he had a few drinks in him. I was impressed because all of the astronomy facts Charleston kept spouting were 100% accurate. I had to laugh at Oly’s trainers who completely abandoned him the second he couldn’t fight anymore, but still had the audacity to show up at his funeral like they were his buddies. However, my favorite character is Blinky’s doctor who confesses that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He says, “Beats me, I don’t know what keeps him going. He’s dead except he’s breathing.”

The one thing I didn’t like about this film is the ending, because it makes no sense. This is mostly because a scene seems to be missing. In this missing scene, Reardon would have enlisted the help of some mysterious underworld figure, Jake the Rake, to help him find Kitty. Because this scene is missing, Jake the Rake takes his place with such great, never seen on screen but constantly talked about, noir characters as Floyd Thursby, from “The Maltese Falcon” and Sean Regan from “The Big Sleep.”