We're excited to present a great new set of boards to classic movie fans with tons of new features, stability, and performance.

If you’re new to the message boards, please “Register” to get started. If you want to learn more about the new boards, visit our FAQ.


If you're a returning member, start by resetting your password to claim your old display name using your email address.


Thanks for your continued support of the TCM Message Boards.


Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.


Jump to content


Daily Dose of Darkness #10: Nighthawking (A Scene from The Killers)

254 replies to this topic

#21 owene73



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 24 posts

Posted 21 June 2015 - 04:02 AM

 -- What are some of the influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas (such as German expressionism) or other art forms? For example, consider this scene in relation to the work of Fritz Lang (who also worked at UFA).

The compositions and lighting are somewhat reminiscent of Lang. The sense of an inescapable doom that leaves your actions meaningless is also there in a lot of Lang's work (but also a lot of other places of course)

The titling of the sequence as Nighthawking obviously brings to mind Hopper, biographies of Hopper have stated that the picture nighthawks was inspired by the original Hemingway short story The Killers is based on and it seems like Siodmak worked with this in the film adaption.  It being an adaption the hard boiled short story is obviously also an influence here, and the dialogue style comes in large part from Hemingway's original. 



-- How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?

The rush to the swede's room, vaulting the series of white fences that stand out in the blackness and then the turn of a corner up to the window and the room serve to seperate the two locations and add a dream like quality to the journey between them. The movie hinges on just why Lancaster's character is so accepting of his end, what is the one bad thing he did that he feels made his death inevitable, in the swedes room we are confronted with choices and actions that seem totally counter to normal human experience so it makes sense that we encounter them in a context that doesn't feel entirely real.  The shift from realism  allows things like the man and his shadow forming an audience for Lancaster and sets up the idea that we will venture into the past to 'solve' the unreality of lancaster's fatalism.


-- In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style? 

The idea of one bad thing leading to inevitable death however far you run or try to hide. The idea of an untouchable evil intruding into everyday working life. The chaotic shadowed dream state alongside the rational structured world. 

  • SallyRenne and StewartBAM like this

#22 ebegley2



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 12 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 11:30 PM

1. What are some of the influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas (such as German expressionism) or other art forms? For example, consider this scene in relation to the work of Fritz Lang (who also worked at UFA).
Contrasts of light and dark; encroaching, unavoidable fatal fate; close-ups of despair, almost resigned terror fading to a concluding relief.
2. How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?
The diner is lit; the Swede's room is not; we see the faces and reactions of the diner staff but only see cigarette smoke from the Swede. Yet, his voice says it all -- his fate of inevitable doom is upon him and he philosophically accepts that "he made a mistake ... once."
3. In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?
It concretizes the abstractions of random shadows, deadly consequences for incautious choices, visual shadows and ambiguous morality, the underplayed yet intense performances.

#23 mattcorrigan



  • Members
  • Pip
  • 9 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 11:18 PM

Is it as simple as looking for the beginning of the nightmare sequence?  The on/off of realism vs formalism seems to be here and in the other films as when the main character enters a nightmare realm. 

#24 woodmouse



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 12 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 10:12 PM

The opening shot of this scene bears the stamp of Lang--it's a low-level shot with a diagonal composition, the light and dark tones are sharply contrasted, and the camera follows the would-be diner through the door of the lunch counter.  In just a few sentences, the viewer is alerted to the fact that there is something wrong with the situation in keeping with the stylistic tension in the film.


The action in the diner unfolds fairly clearly under its bright flourescent and neon lighting: the threatening men interrogate the server, mentioning two others, then leave.  The server sets the two men in back free, then sends one to alert "the Swede", the target of the two killers.  


As soon as the man from the diner leaves the building, he is covered in shadow, both literally (as the absence of light) and more stylistically when the shrubbery and bushes in silhouette block our view of him as he rushes to aid his friend.  The Swede's room itself is cloaked in deepest shadow, and the Swede never even moves while his friend is warning him--not a normal reaction.  In fact, his entire set of rooms, with its unlocked door and pitch black interior, is as abnormal a situation as the diner would be a normality to the average viewer.  It brings the viewer (and the man from the diner) from the real, everyday world into the nightmare, pathos-laden life of the Swede.

  • StewartBAM likes this

#25 Fmandosa



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 16 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 09:33 PM

I have not seen this film, but I do want to comment on this opening. It's certainly engaging in both tone and visuals. What made an impression on me is that Burt Lancast's face is never seen. He lies there on his back in bed, but all you can see is his body from the neck down (roughly). Where a lot of "classic" Hollywood films would showcase their leading stars as soon as possible in order to hook the audiences, this one relies on substance and style instead in terms of how we are introduced to him. We are not meant to know, I assume, what he did wrong "once," and his completely invisible face symbolically conveys that air of mystery and uncertainty. It reminded me of a shot from Citizen Kane in which Orson Welles is saying that he wants to give his readers "the truth" - and his face is engulfed in blackness. 

  • StewartBAM likes this

#26 a.casey1790



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 22 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 01:45 PM

I have seen this movie and I didn't particularly enjoy it but the opening is the best. We start off in a diner just like the painting of the Nighthawks and yet something is wrong. There are no customers except one man and the manager. In fact, a walk-in customer is thrown out. Odd. The normal scene has undertones of something abnormal going on. The high contrast and use of shadows has Lang written all over it. What was especially interesting is that the character all this action is revolving around (The Swede) is never seen. Even when the boy enters his hotel room, the Swede is lying there completely in shadow (We know later that he is dead). I liked the use of the music. It seemed to follow the boy from the restaurant to the hotel room and it seemed to echo his every step. It heightens until he reaches the room and then stops. 

The scene started with realism. A real diner, shot on location it seems, with natural acting. But as the boy goes to warn the Swede, we see less realism and more formalism, there are more shadows and nighttime. Visible reality is challenged when the boy is talking to the Swede, in shadow, under the impression the man is still alive, yet in reality he is dead. 

#27 madly9



  • Members
  • Pip
  • 9 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 12:49 PM

The scene shifts from realism to formalism when we see Nick jump over the last fence between house. Before, even with music, the scene looked like what'd you see in real life; normal light/dark contrast, eye-level camera angles, and normal speaking voices. When Nick jumps over that last fence, the darkness and mist comes in like a dream, blurring borders and boundaries. The contrast between light and dark is much more pronounced, and the conversation between Nick and the Swede almost feels like a memory, quieted and blurred from time eroding it in the characters' minds.

#28 huttwigley



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 15 posts
  • LocationBoise, Idaho

Posted 20 June 2015 - 12:07 PM

I love the sequence of Nick running to The Swede's apartment. The view from The Swede's window of Nick approaching, then panning the apartment to cover Nick's entry was genius. It really built suspense and was fantastic from a technical standpoint!

#29 TheGirlCan'tHelpIt



  • Members
  • Pip
  • 5 posts

Posted 20 June 2015 - 08:40 AM

It's not often that the bits of film included in the Dose of Darkness capture my attention in quite the way that this bit of The Killers has. It probably has to do with being partially set in a diner - I love a glimpse into a diner in it's heyday… though of course I'm wondering if that was a real diner or one created for the film (realistic or formalistic!?). Having also read the Edward Hopper connection, I definitely approached this brief viewing with great enthusiasm. 


I have to mention that I was heartened to see the kindly old diner man untie the man of color first, and even give him a drink of water, before untying the other guy in the kitchen, who was white. I found this super surprising given the time period, and given the demeaning and small roles relegated to people of color in films of the time (heck, arguably even today). It immediately put me on the side of the diner man, and his crew, pitted against the bad guys who tied them up, even if they are looking for their friend and colleague, the Swede. 


As for the shift in visual design, I think starting in a diner, and moving to a person's bedroom, is a visual representation of going from public to private life. The coworkers of the Swede are starting to learn new things about him… perhaps not so pleasant things. Imagine how much we don't know about a person, even someone we work with daily? For this reason I am sure the diner is well lit and the bedroom is so dark that we cannot even discern the Swede's face. His body language - barely stirring to the young man's entrance and announcement, matches the lifelessness in his words. He's a man who's given up and given in, just waiting on his inevitable punishment for a mysterious crime. 



  • TommyGirl711 likes this

#30 StewartBAM


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 36 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 09:00 PM

This scene from The Killers is such a great example of film noir and its use of strange camera angles and lighting - the contrast between dark and light/good and evil, like in Fritz Lang's M. The killers have come to the diner and their shadows are cast upon the ceiling causing an immediate feeling of fear and dread. The camera angle making the viewer feel unbalanced and out of control. The customer who leaves angry and slams the door behind him contrasted with the feeling of danger that comes from the coolness of the killers and their sarcasm and the fear in the voice of the counterman. The front room has strange shadows casting all around the actors. The sign on the window says "Grilled Ham Cutlet" which makes you feel like whoever they are looking for is one for the slaughter or that the counterman is being "grilled" about the Swede's whereabouts as we watch.

The lighting changes after the killers leave and we are taken via camera to the backroom. All is light there. No shadows. Very realistic, everything illuminated. No secrets here. These are the innocents that have had their quiet diner invaded by the killers who have tied them up.

When the young man runs to warn the Swede, he runs through the back yards and alleyways, jumping many fences, starting out with white picket fences that get less whitewashed as he goes. They are obstacles he must cross as he gets closer to the Swede and his desperate secret. 

When he gets to the Swede, there is no light in the room, only the light coming from the hallway outside as the door stands ajar. The boy's shadow looms over the Swede as they speak, like in M but the boy is offering to help. He is not the fearful character like Peter Lorre played, but he is the harbinger of doom for the Swede. The Swede remains in darkness and makes no move. He lies in the dark with no light, no hope of illumination. Even the light from the hallway does not light up the Swede. He is in darkness as he speaks. He is not going to shed any light about what happened or why the killers are here except for the dim explanation, "I did something wrong...once."

He is the ultimate doomed man.

The sound in the clip is austere - no background music at all. It is very quiet. Not a sound except the voices of the speakers until the killers leave, then the music starts with very deep bass and suspenseful music that gets higher and more sinister and loud as the diner employees decide what to do. The music speeds up as the boy runs to the Swede, almost frantic as he reaches the room and it stops abruptly as the boy bursts through the door. Once again, the starkness of having no background noise of any kind is a shock and unnerving, and it magnifies the quiet statements of the Swede that culminate in the his line, "I did something wrong...once. Thanks for coming."  When the boy leaves, quiet music begins again with strings - sad, melodramatic and lonely.

It all works together for a fantastic scene that if it had been shot straight would have had no real weight or drama. The lighting, camera work, music are all characters themselves pointing us to the inner drama of the characters, the action behind the lack of action onscreen.

  • asimplylucia and Loralee like this

#31 RichardW



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 26 posts
  • LocationPacific Northwest

Posted 19 June 2015 - 06:46 PM

I really liked the opening of this film. Having seen it last month on TCM (and recording on DVR for future entertainment between Doses), I was a bit disappointed that the Dose clip started prior to the gunmen entering the diner. William Conrad, who played many roles earlier on radio (e.g., "Escape", Lux Radio Theater, etc) plays a great role as one of the gunmen. Conrad also played an episode of Marlowe on the radio.

  • huttwigley likes this

#32 Doc755


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 34 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 06:42 PM

I thought the opening of the clip was interesting. It was shot from the outside of the diner while the hungry patron is told to seek food elsewhere. He, and we, are on the "outside" and don't know what is going on inside the diner, ignorant of the dangerous situation that is apparently taking place. Obviously when watched in context of the film, we are aware, but I thought this clip was well picked for starting here. When we do venture inside, with its bright lighting inside we find ourselves a place which many people would find familiar, the safe and comfortable confines of a diner. But we are quick to discover that there is danger in this not-so-safe haven. The employees have been taken into the back and tied up as two strangers wait to ambush a fellow member of the community. Like Lang has done in films like M and Ministry of Fear, Siodmak has taken something everyday and turned it into something sinister and menacing.


Once the titular killers have left the diner and make their way to the Swede's place of employment, the foreboding music begins quite loudly and lowers as the killers move further away from the diner. Once Nick is told to go warn the Swede of the impending danger, the music quickens and rises in volume until it all that can be heard whereas before it was playing more subtly in the background. The frantic pace of the music simulated Nick's mad dash to alert the Swede to the danger he is in. Will he make it in time? Will the Swede be able to escape? Almost completely contrary to that build-up, the Swede barely acknowledges the information he has just been told. Bathed in darkness, with Nick standing in the light, the Swede shows no indication of fear or anxiety as he hears that two killers are making their way to his home. He is resigned to his fate, and illustrated by the darkness which has swallowed up his prone figure, he states that he deserves this fate.


One last completely unrelated point. Having watched this recently and due to the repeated uses of the nickname "The Swede", all I could think of was "The late Thor Gundersen was Norwegian!"

#33 rereverser



  • Members
  • Pip
  • 1 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 06:11 PM

Great, great noir--German expressionism, angles, shadows--and performances!


Speaking of angles, has anyone noticed that in the payroll heist sequence,

the camera operator can be seen sitting on his perch, reflected in the windshield

of the getaway truck? It lasts about 3 seconds only, but it can be seen.

#34 Michael Henry

Michael Henry


  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 14 posts
  • LocationArizona

Posted 19 June 2015 - 06:03 PM

At the start of the scene we see the dinner in an askew angle, as if to warn us that something is just not right. We see the proprietor and another man. The customer asks for something to eat and is told "We're not cooking tonight". What is wrong here?


We then go into the dinner which is brightly lit and the actors are square in the frame. We then go into the back where the cook and another patron are bound and gagged. All of this is shot in a realistic manner.


When the patron leave to tell "The Swede" that there are killers looking for him the scene becomes very dark, the streets are foggy and he has to leap over fences.


We then go into "The Swede's" room. Very dark, shadows do not allow us to see "The Swede's" face.

All of this is shot formalism style.


"The Swede" has accepted his fate, and does not act as one would expect him to. There is no sign of "The Swede" want to save himself, he just lays there, in another world, almost not even acknowledging he may be killed.

#35 pumatamer


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 67 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 05:40 PM

The Swede's face covered under shadow just adds to the mystique of the film but also hints at his despair he is facing. I love how this shot is set up to reveal/cover him. It makes you want to know more. Another aspect of shadows that I love, is the transistion from the diner to the Swede's house. As the man is running to warn the Swede, the framing of the shots becomes tighter and tighter and darker. It is almost as if the shots are warning us that the path will be more difficult and darker for our characters.

#36 Rasulka


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 30 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 01:40 PM

Watching The Killers clip, it must be a definitive work of shifting between cinematic realism and formalism.  I experienced a dissonance in what I was feeling versus what I was seeing or knowing.  


1.  The Diner -  shifting between styles 


The Diner scene – Realism:  Shot on-location, natural lighting, no music, stark, lonely feel.   The Killer’s acting style & dialogue – a mix of realism and formalism.   They move so matter of fact, so comfortable, relaxed and natural.  They deliver their lines in similar fashion.  Yet, the content of the dialogue froze me in a moment of formalistic danger:    

“You wouldn’t fool us, would you? No, he ain’t fooling.  He’d know better than to fool. Come on Al.  What about those two boys back there?  All right? Think so?  Sure. You got a lot of luck bright boy.  That’s the truth.  You ought to play the races.”   In short, realistic dialogue with formalistic style: A succinct, hard hitting statement:  The truth is, You are Lucky. We won't kill  you.  Perhaps, utilizing German expressionism, this is heightened realism utilizing the tool of the chosen “word.”


2. The Musical Stun!

The Diner scene commences in a void of silence.  The Killers exit the diner, the door slams, and the music “stuns!”    It immediately hits you with a visceral mood of impending doom and urgency.   


As Nick deliberates how to proceed, the music lulls back to a hush - bringing us into the secret words and world of Nick.  At the moment he hears:  “Nick you better go tell the Swede first”, the music once again stuns with its volume, mood, and effects.  We are about to enter Nick’s dream world.

As Nick races to Swede’s apartment, the music picks up pace.  It conveys impending doom and nightmarish action along the way.  One imagines all the things racing through Nick’s mind.   As Nick swings open the door, another musical stun via the abrupt musical halt.   As Swede acquiesces to doom, Neal leaves the apartment against the backdrop of another “low stun” of soft, barely detectible, fatalistic music.  



3.   Lighting & “Silhouette Man” 


At the onset of the clip, the potential customer leaves the diner and the door swings closed.
I see what appears to be a black silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders, wearing a fedora.  His image is slanted suggesting the silhouette man is looking to the right. The image spans the wall and the front door.    
Who or what is casting this shadow?    


At the end of the clip, we see Swede lying on his bed.  His head is completely cast in black silhouette. He is facing to the right.   Meaning or connection, I wonder.

  • cinephage likes this

#37 swamptours



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 24 posts

Posted 19 June 2015 - 10:25 AM

From German Expressionism I see the use of shadow and light and also a sense of fatalism.  The music also plays a large part in the film. 


At the diner, everything is portrayed in realistic fashion with no music, realistic lighting and editing.

When it switched to the Swede's room, there is music, moody use of lighting and more editing.


An especially important contribution to the genre is the use of realism.  Also it is yet another film heavily influenced by German Expressionism.


#38 WilliamsonEM6


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 64 posts

Posted 18 June 2015 - 10:13 PM

The first minute is very realistically shot and executed with a dash of gangster film influence as the two heavies intimidate the diner owner, who is attempting to protect the “Swede.” Then the score conveying the darkness and doom that is ahead begins, and it is revealed that the other diner workers have been bound and gagged. Then it steps off the ledge that the second minute teetered on, between realism and formalism. The rest of the clip with the shadow streets, the constant jumping over fences (that all seem to be the same height), and the mounting music builds to the moment we meet our protagonist, who himself is shrouded in shadow. It is all darkness and silence, far more telling than the overtly ominous score.


The chiaroscuro lighting is very German Expressionist, enhanced by the offset angle the scene starts with, and the interaction with two assassins has shades of realism while the run from the diner to Swede’s house is almost dreamlike. The city looks abandoned and foggy as hurries over people’s fences and down an alley. The Swede is uninterested in the man’s news despite the threat to his own life, as though he had been sleeping, half-dreaming of the day he knew would come, when his actions would catch up to him. [Note: Another noir trait, an otherwise average man who makes one poor decision which sends his life into turmoil which can only resolved once the man has confronted the consequence for said decision.


In the larger context of noir, The Killers resides as the perfect example of the shades of gray noir literally represents. There is black and white but the noir world is a gray one, where bad people get worse, worse people seek redemption, and good people make bad choices. The barrier between good and bad is walked closely as the narrative and style balances the actions and consequences of reality and the musings and reality of the fantasy, the unconscious.

  • Michael Henry likes this

#39 athing305


    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 33 posts

Posted 18 June 2015 - 08:13 PM

As mentioned in the Curator’s Note, Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” reeks with prototypical film noir elements.  The tension producing score, the low angle, deeply shadowed, creamy black and white photography and inventive compositions - descendants of the German Expressionists’s work, the Hemingway pulp lit pedigree, characters rooted in action more than talk, and a certain kind of Edward Hopper pessimistic urban loneliness can hardly say “Film Noir” more plainly. 


The influence of postwar photojournalism also seems to break through at times.  The diner scene and the victim’s room are both reminiscent of the New York at night work of WeeGee and the mid-century documentary photographers of his ilk.


The film navigates between the formalism of the diner section, during which the director uses crisp focus and traditional camera shots; static camera placement with few cuts and subtle camera movements, and the realism of the diner worker’s race to warn the Swede of the men who want to kill him.  This takes place as quickly as flipping a light switch.


As soon as the man leaves the back door of the diner the nighttime cloaks him in murky darkness.  The director now uses long tracking shots to follow him over back fences and through backyards.  Near the end of his run Siodmak places the camera in the Swede’s upper story window where it follows the man until he disappears around the corner of the house.  The camera then retreats into the blackened room to show the messenger’s arrival and the conversation with the nearly invisible, almost catatonic Swede.


This sequence synthesizes the disciplines of hard-edged literature, fine art, urban guerilla photography, and a certain kind of guttural acting style that Lancaster, if not a proponent of, at least seems to be familiar enough to use when called upon.  These old and new filmmaking ideas are swirled together in the scene under discussion, opening film noir to other influences, and opening other genres to noir-ic inspiration.

  • Dr. Rich Edwards likes this

#40 BabetteSM



  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 18 posts

Posted 18 June 2015 - 06:17 PM

The opening of the Killers moves so slowly and menacingly. The realism of the set and its surroundings make you feel as if this is occurring right now and could happen anywhere. You do feel as if the employees in the diner are lucky to be alive. When the worker runs to the Swede's apartment we enter a formal set.  Swede is half hidden by a slice of shadow that covers his face.  At first it seems as if the Swede is dead already and the kid leaning over him feels as if someone is looking into a coffin at a dead man. Not being able to see the Swede's face, and hearing the tone of his voice, spoken from the shadows, gives the viewer a feeling of futility. You want to know why this character has given up and what brought him to this point of just waiting for his death. The small room is confining and oppressive in it feel. The whole feel at the beginning is of dread and futility and how did the character reach this point. 

Reply to this topic


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users