Directed by Robert Siodmak, and starring Burt Lancaster (in his film debut), Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, and Sam Levene. Based in part on the 1927 short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, it focuses on a detective’s investigation into the execution-style killing of a former boxing champion who appears to have been unresistant to his own murder. An uncredited John Huston and Richard Brooks co-wrote the screenplay, which was credited to Anthony Veiller.
Released in August 1946, The Killers was a critical success, earning four Academy Award nominations, including for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
In 2008, The Killers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Hemingway, who was habitually disgusted with how Hollywood distorted his thematic intentions, was an open admirer of the film.
Two hitmen, Max and Al, arrive in Brentwood, New Jersey to kill Pete Lund, a former boxer known as “The Swede”. Lund’s coworker at a gas station warns him but, strangely, he makes no attempt to flee, and they kill him in his room in a hotel. The Swede is soon revealed to have really been named Ole Anderson. A life insurance investigator, Jim Reardon, is assigned to find and pay the beneficiary of the Swede’s $2,500 policy. Tracking down and interviewing the dead man’s friends and associates, Reardon doggedly pieces together his story. Philadelphia police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky, a close, longtime friend of the Swede, is particularly helpful.
Relayed in flashbacks, it is revealed that the Swede’s boxing career was cut short by a hand injury. Rejecting Lubinsky’s suggestion to join the police force, the Swede becomes mixed up with crime boss “Big Jim” Colfax, and drops his girlfriend Lily for the more glamorous Kitty Collins. When Lubinsky catches Kitty wearing stolen jewelry, the Swede confesses to the crime and serves three years in prison. After completing his sentence, the Swede, “Dum-Dum” Clarke, and “Blinky” Franklin are recruited for a payroll robbery in Hackensack, New Jersey, masterminded by Colfax. Complicating matters is the fact that Kitty is now Colfax’s wife. The robbery nets the gang $254,912. When their rendezvous place—a boarding house—allegedly burnt down, all of the gang members but the Swede are notified of a new meeting place. Kitty tells the Swede that he is being double-crossed by his associates, inciting him to take all of the money at gunpoint and flee. Kitty meets with him later in Atlantic City, then disappears with the money herself.
Lilly (Virginia Christine), the Swede (Burt Lancaster) and Kitty (Ava Gardner)
Burt Lancaster as Pete Lund/Ole “Swede” Anderson
Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins
Edmond O’Brien as Jim Reardon
Albert Dekker as “Big Jim” Colfax
Sam Levene as Lt. Sam Lubinsky
Vince Barnett as Charleston, the Swede’s prison cellmate
Virginia Christine as Lilly Harmon Lubinsky, the Swede’s former girlfriend, now Sam Lubinsky’s wife
Charles D. Brown as Packy Robinson, the Swede’s boxing manager
Jack Lambert as “Dum-Dum” Clarke
Donald MacBride as R.S. Kenyon, Reardon’s boss
Charles McGraw as Al
William Conrad as Max