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.


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.


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.


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.

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