Film Highlight: The Killers

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner star in the noir classic, <i>The Killers</i>

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner star in the noir classic, The Killers

This 1946 adaptation of a Hemingway story, which one film critic dubbed the "Citizen Kane of noirs," is indeed a deft example of Hollywood studio tradition cast with a pall of brooding German Expressionism (director Robert Siodmak began and ended his movie career in Germany). Like Kane, it begins with a death—the murder of the Swede, a small-town gas station attendant (Burt Lancaster, looking hot in a career-launching role)—and then unfolds the increasingly complex "double-cross to end all double-crosses" that led up to it. Basically, the Swede's $2,500 life insurance payment leads one Jim Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) to uncover the details of a $250,000 caper years earlier. Yes, words like "caper" and "sing" are used freely here; there are also boxing matches, poker games, boarding houses, and small-time cons named Blinky and Dum-Dum. The big-time con Big Jim Colfax asks for a cigarette with his dying breath, and his dame Kitty (Ava Gardner) croons an impromptu, piano-side torch song—making smitten that lovable lug, the Swede. Such elements have long since been chewed into mealy clichés, but in The Killers they're evergreen. (Part of a Burt Lancaster double feature with Criss Cross.)