The Killers (1946)
This 1946 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story adds well over an hour of new material to the original tale. The reason is, while director Robert Siodmak, star Burt Lancaster, and an outstanding supporting cast are faithful to Hemingway's work, his story only takes up about 15 minutes of screen time. Burt Lancaster plays the doomed man sought by hired guns in a small town. Hemingway's bruisingly concise dialogue makes an early sequence set in a diner quite unnerving, but after the killers dispense with their prey, Siodmak turns to an insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) who looks into the reasons behind the murder. An exemplary film noir (complete with a fickle femme fatale played by Ava Gardner), The Killers
is all mood and fatalism.
The Killers (1964)
The 1964 remake (of sorts) by Don Siegel builds another whole world around Hemingway's narrow, if intense, premise. The two assassins of Siegel's film (Clu Gulager, Lee Marvin) go in search of their intended victim--a teacher (John Cassavetes) at a school for the blind--and find that he not only recognizes his fate when they show up, but seems entirely resigned to it. Curiosity leads the killers to seek out the party who hired them and discover why Cassavetes's character didn't run or fight. Soon the facts tumble into place--the dead man had once been a top-drawer racer who fell for a glamorous woman (Angie Dickinson), the latter gradually pulling him into the orbit of a criminal villain (a convincingly evil Ronald Reagan)--and the film becomes increasingly dark and dangerous. Originally shot for television but rejected for its violence, Siegel's film is a blistering experience of swimming against the currents of fate for one's survival--and losing. --Tom Keogh