Before introducing those films, Muller said of his TCM show, “That is Noir Alley, but this is still Noir City!” Currently the Film Noir Foundation operates nine Noir City festivals across the country, but fans constantly contact Muller, pleading with him to add more locations, not only in the U.S., but all around the world. Muller mentioned that one of the reasons the Noir City festivals got started was a direct result of research for his book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998). At the time, DVDs were in their infancy and unless Muller could track down prints of these titles or see them on TV (or on bad VHS transfers), most of the films covered in his book were unavailable. The Film Noir Foundation was formed to find and restore such films.
The Killers double feature provided not only a lot of fun, but also a one-stop comparison of film noir across nearly a 20-year period. While the two films are based on the Ernest Hemingway short story, Hemingway’s material only covers the opening minutes of both movies. In the 1946 version, we see two hired killers (played chillingly by William Conrad and Charles McGraw) on the trail of “Swede” Anderson (Burt Lancaster). We don’t know what Swede’s done to deserve this fate, but a series of flashbacks in the midst of an insurance company investigation slowly reveals how he got himself in this fix.
Produced by Mark Hellinger, the 1946 edition contains (at least) two elements that make it great. First, Hellinger himself assembled a dynamite crew, which included cinematographer Elwood Bredell, composer Miklós Rózsa, and an important contributor who wasn’t even given screen credit: John Huston, who co-wrote the screenplay with the credited Richard Brooks. Second, Hellinger also included a stellar cast including Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, William Conrad, and Charles McGraw. Muller further commented that when people say “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” they should also say that they don’t make people like Lancaster and Gardner anymore!
Don Siegel was originally considered to direct the 1946 version, but Hellinger favored Robert Siodmak. Siegel got his chance in 1964 and delivered an excellent remake that took a different approach from the original: What if the killers themselves investigated what it was that made the man they were hired to kill, Johnny North (John Cassavetes), a non-resisting, almost willing victim. Since the focus is shifted from the original, we come to learn more about the killers in the 1964 edition, providing Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager with opportunities to showcase their talents. This version was intended to be a TV movie, but the studio feared it was too violent, so to the theaters it went. Whereas the 1946 film is all about restraint and seduction, the 1964 movie is more garish (complete with bold colors) showing the killers themselves seeking the truth.
The 1964 version also boasts a fine supporting cast including Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, and Ronald Reagan in his last film before dedicating himself to a career in politics. Muller dedicated this screening to Clu Gulager, who’s still with us at age 89, a man whom Muller called “the world’s biggest movie fan.”
Photos: DVD Beaver