The Killers

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #176: Robert Siodmak’s The Killers; Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Killers; Don Siegal’s The Killers.

Here’s another example where The Criterion folks are in a position to provide a unique cinematic experience. In addition to Robert Siodmak’s classic noir, they’ve also provided Andrei Tarkovsky’s first student film and Don Siegal’s made-for-TV but never aired adaptation; all of the Ernest Hemingway short story The Killers.

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Siodmak’s treatment is still the best of the three. The dialogue is sharper, the production values less over-wrought, the acting of a higher quality than anything Don Siegal might gotten in his remake. Even the non-Hemingway portions of the film [most of it] are held to a higher standard and are a bit more palatable than Siegal’s made-for-TV 60s candy-corn. That’s not to say that Siegal’s version is a complete loss, but without Clu Gulager as a hitman and about two interesting shots it would have been absolutely terrible.

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Tarkovsky’s short is almost word-for-word to the Hemingway story and it has early sparks of his distinct style. The much slower pace of this short gives a much richer taste to the scenario and much more space for thought about the impulses which have made this story so resonant to so many folks. As great as Siodmak’s adaptation is, the post-Hemingway dialogue lacks the punch of the diner’s hitmen jargon. While Siegal’s film is the same in essentials, the different particulars make it a bit more bleak since we follow the action through the subjectivity of the hitmen throughout. Since they’re evil of course they can’t be allowed to make it through the film alive. An inevitability obvious from the start. I haven’t said much about the content of the films themselves, so I’ll just leave it at saying, watch the Siodmak version and if you like Clu Gulager, you’ll probably be able to sit through Siegal’s.

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Criterion Essay by Jonathan Lethem [1946]
The Killers [1946] Film Site review.
YouTube Trailer of The Killers [1946]
Alexander Gordon on The Killers [1958] [He worked on the film as a fellow student with Tarkovsky]
Criterion Essay by Geoffrey O’Brien [1964]
YouTube Trailer of The Killers [1964]
• The Hemingway short story.