It’s a bit of a movie nerd cliche, but there’s somethingĀ irresistible about indulging in film noir so thick the shadows seem to drip off the screen like treacle. It’s strange that a genre which only lasted less than twenty years before the ubiquity of colour film made it redundant has held such sway in the 50-odd years since it died a death, but there’s just something inherently cinematic about its murky shadows and heightened, filmic atmosphere. You’d be hard-pressed to find a a more archetypical example of it than The Killers, a 1946 thriller that ticks off all the right boxes – doomed hero (Burt Lancaster making his film debut), femme fatale (a sultry, snake-like Ava Gardner) and spiralling, flashback-heavy narrative drenched in long shadows and bitter cynicism.

Very loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway short story (only the first 20 minutes actually, after that it veers off on its own dark course, something Hemingway himself spoke admirably of), this was the followup by director Robert Siodmak (like many film noir adherents, he fled the war in Europe and took its growing darkness onto the screen of American film) to his well-received The Spiral Staircase, and probably his best work. He would revisit similar noir themes and again with Lancaster in Criss Cross three years later, but The Killers has a kind of purity to it – before all the cliches of the genre had become cheesy, it helped lay the foundations of what would later become ubiquitous. Also, theĀ 1964 remake is actually worth a look, if nothing else than for the bizarre experience of seeing future US president Ronald Reagan as a woman-slapping bad guy.

THE KILLERS
Film noir was one of the coolest times in film's short life9
All the cliches of the genre are present and correct here8
All the cliches of the genre are present and correct here4
Film noir works best when you consider the artistic context from which it sprung9
Sadly, they really don't make them like this any more8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can't remember a scene when they talk to each other
8Overall Score

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