Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Killers

Everyone's got a weakness.  Noman's is Film Noir.  Say what you will about the hated "studio system" and dreaded "code," Hollywood made some great films--its greatest, in Noman's opinion--while laboring under those dual constraints on artistic license.  Actors had to act, not just emote, grunt or feign a knowledge of karate.  Writers had to be subtle and nuanced with their obsessions; directors had to be delicate and imaginative about portraying them.  The storyline and acting had to carry the movie in those days before the advent of dolby surround sound and computer generated effects.

All this is by way of introduction to saying that Noman recently had the privilege of seeing "The Killers," a 1946 adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway short story, starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmund O'Brien, Sam Levene, and a host of bit players.  Lancaster is phenomenal as Ole Andersen, a meatball boxer driven out of the ring by a shattered right hand, and into a life of crime.  Ava Gardner is mesmerizing as Kitty Collins, as bad a screen vixen as you'll ever see.  As one online reviewer writes of the scene where they meet, "At about the three-minute mark, Ava sinks her hooks into Burt Lancaster.  And at the four-minute mark, as Ava sings, Lancaster's reaction shot says it all: this man is doomed."

It's not a happy story, even though the bad guys get what's coming to them.  Film Noir never is; that's why its called "black."  But, it's a great who-done-it (or a why-done-it, more accurately, as you know from the beginning who did what).  The moral is clear, as it always is in this genre.  All that remains when the final credits roll is the interior resolution to stay away from double-crossing dames, big time operators, and crime--which never pays.  Oh, and the satisfaction that comes from knowing you've just watched great character acting.  Ole Andersen is one you feel bad for, even if he is stupid.  Kitty Collins, who is only on the screen for a quarter of the movie, is one you won't forget.

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