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"The Killers"


misswonderly3
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This famous noir was aired on TCM last night. As most of you probably know, it's directed by Robert Siodmak and stars Edmond O'Brien, Burt Lancaster, and Ava Gardner. (I put O'Brien's name first because he actually has much more screen time than Lancaster.)

 

SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS

 

Ok, here's my story on The Killers:

I love film noir, and this 1946 film is one of the most famous, reputedly noiriest noir of them all. (No arguments about Out of the Past, please - I said one of , NOT the ultimate noir...) 

So I always want to watch it when it comes on. But here's the thing - I always fall asleep watching it, right about the time Ava (Kitty Collins) appears. It's nothing against Ava, it's just around the time that the film gets kind of boring for me. I've never made it past that point, I always fall asleep then and wake up to hear Ava begging, "Kitty is innocent ! Say it ! Say "Kitty is innocent !"  "   

What happened in between I never knew.

Til last night, when I actually managed to stay awake for the whole thing.

 

Well, here's my verdict: Sorry, "Killers" fans, I still think it's kind of boring. Ok, that's a harsh word for anything made by Siodmak. Let me change that to "un-engaging". 

My main criticism of the film is, you don't get to know anything about Burt's or Ava's characters. Yes, I know, Burt's dead within the first 5 minutes of the story, and it's all told from the point of view of many characters who knew him, through the lens of insurance investigator Edmond O'Brien.  (Kind of Citizen Kane-ish, eh?)

Ava's character is a true femme fatale, using Burt's obsession with her to manipulate him and get what she wants (in this case, the stolen loot from the heist Burt's just participated in.)  But in most noirs with a memorable femme fatale ( and by the way, many great noirs do not have such a character), we get to know her a bit. There are a few scenes where we see the hapless male protagonist and the lovely ff. getting to know one another, flirting, talking, teasing, and of course, making out.  ( fun phrase, that.)

But we get very little, in fact I'd say none, of that kind of interaction in The Killers. It's not even very clearly implied. Ok, yeah, we can see by the way Burt stares at Kitty that he's got it bad. But the audience has to fill in the rest of the story of their relationship. In fact, until the last 15 minutes or so of the film, Ava's hardly even on screen.

 

Without some kind of establishing flirtation scenes, or passionate eye contact, or something between the Swede and Kitty, we have little reason to care or be interested in what happens to them. When we find out that Swede flips out when he discovers Kitty has left, and tries to jump out the window, we have only the knowledge that he was in love ( or rather, en thrall) with Kitty. The audience has seen very little evidence of it, and as a result, his pain does not move us. Doesn't move me, anyway.

 

This is my main criticism of The Killers. I was hoping and assuming that all that movie time I'd slept through in the past was filled with important scenes between Burt and Ava, only to find that I'd missed nothing, as far as their love affair was concerned.

 

As for the story, it's hard to follow, at least if it's the first time you've seen it. But this is nothing unusual for film noirs, and I don't really have a problem with complicated plots in noir.  My problem was, because Burt is both the main character and at the same time, a character once removed ( since it's all from O'Brien's perspective, Burt's dead ), I couldn't get very interested in him, I had too little to go on. I love Burt Lancaster, and I think he did a fine job in The Killers. It's not his fault; but I found his character uninteresting, and Kitty's downright boring. 

 

I fear I may be offending noir fans, and certainly The Killers fans, right left and centre here. I can't help it; film noir movies usually fascinate and move me, and this film did neither.

One positive thing I can say about it: it had a beautiful noirish look. I loved the cinematography, the interesting angles and shots, and the settings - seedy old buildings, rain soaked streets, and lots of shadows.  The name of the man responsible for all this is Woody Bredell, who photographed a number of other Siodmak productions, as well as good little noirish dramas like The Unsuspected.

 

I just thought of the word I think describes The Killers:  cold. To me, it's a cold film.

 

Anyway, people, I know I've committed blasphemy here. Please feel free to tell me why I am wrong, and why, if I can repeat the difficult feat of staying awake a second time through The Killers, I'll retract my words here. I'm willing to have it 'splained to me.

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I thought it was OK.

 

Not the BEST noir I ever saw, but not the WORST either.

 

There.  Said it in less than EIGHT bloated paragraphs.  ;)  But I can continue---

 

As a photographer I'd have to say the cinematography was far more stunning than the story..

 

 

Sepiatone

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I thought it was OK.

 

Not the BEST noir I ever saw, but not the WORST either.

 

There.  Said it in less than EIGHT bloated paragraphs.  ;)  But I can continue---

 

As a photographer I'd have to say the cinematography was far more stunning than the story..

 

 

Sepiatone

 

There are two ways to respond to insult on an internet message board. One, ignore it. Two, respond to it. Although I'm tempted to do the first, I'm going to do the second.

 

Sepiatone, it's very rude of you to refer to my write-up as "bloated paragraphs".  You have this thing, where you think anyone who talks about why they like or dislike something is being "bloated". I've also seen you use the word "pretentious". 

 

Why is it better to simply state, in one sentence, your opinion of something, rather than going into a bit of detail about it? How come it's somehow more admirable ( I suspect you think this) to write one or two definitive statements about a film or song, or whatever the topic is, rather than to discuss it in more depth?

 

Clearly you take pride in not only sticking to the short and simple, but in disparaging anyone who wants to talk about it in more depth. Apparently  going beyond a sentence or two is to be "bloated".

 

I had a few specific ideas about The Killers, and thought it might be fun to share them with others here, and solicit others' opinions about the same film. This is actually what these message boards are supposed to be about, or so I thought. That might actually mean going into a little more depth than "not the BEST noir I ever saw, but not the WORST either".

 

Wow, I sure got a lot of insight about the movie, reading that. Thanks for your incisive ideas. god forbid you say anything more about The Killers, that would mean being pretentious and bloated.

 

There ya go. And limited to a mere six paragraphs.

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Jeez MissW.

 

Being Canadian I'm sure you have easy and affordable access to a large supply of "CHILL PILLS"!

 

I thought for SURE the "wink" emoticon would have clued you in that I was pullin' your leg.

 

Instead, you went all FACEBOOK on me!  :o

 

 

Sepiatone

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One of the more interesting scenes in The Killers is the one in which one of the members of the payroll heist gang gets fatally wounded and brought to the hospital. He's dying, but before he does he recounts (between gasps for breath) his version of the robbery, including Swede's role in it. I think the character's name is "Blinky". I love the nick-names these guys always have in noirs, names like"Blinky" and "Dum-Dum".

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One of the more interesting scenes in The Killers is the one in which one of the members of the payroll heist gang gets fatally wounded and brought to the hospital. He's dying, but before he does he recounts (between gasps for breath) his version of the robbery, including Swede's role in it. I think the character's name is "Blinky". I love the nick-names these guys always have in noirs, names like"Blinky" and "Dum-Dum".

 

Watched The Killers yet again last night.   You make some very interesting points in your initial post here.  

 

With regards to your point of hoping the film "was filled with important scenes between Burt and Ava, only to find that I'd missed nothing, as far as their love affair was concerned":   I assume the reason is that both Burt and Ava weren't stars at this stage of their career and certainly Burt wasn't a romantic lead.   

 

Of course maybe it has to do with the plot and the fact that Kitty was married and it appeared she really cared for her husband and the director\screenwriter didn't wish to show her pretending to be love with the Swede. 

 

As for the entire film being rather 'cold';  I suspect this has to do with the casting of no major stars as the criminals.    Note that the ending ends with a big smile from O'Brien which showed his humanity but as you noted he was the lead that really wasn't.   (or he wasn't the lead that really was).

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The Killers is one of those films that I like even though it is complicated, much like other films that I like, such as The Big Sleep and Vertigo.  

 

When I saw this film the first time, I was automatically hooked by the setting.  I love when film noir (and other 1940s dramatic films) use the small town diner, the old gas station, the crumbling derelict warehouses, etc. as locations for their scenes.  It adds a certain grittiness and aesthetic to the film that I enjoy.  The action at the beginning of The Killers wouldn't be nearly as effective if it took place at 21 or something.  I especially love the diner scenes, if only to see the prices of the food ("I could get a steak sandwich, fries and a drink for only 75-cents!").  One of my other favorite diner scenes is in another of my favorite noir films, They Drive By Night.  In fact, They Drive By Night also features many of the same type of settings as in The Killers.  

 

The opening scene of The Killers featuring the two hit men looking for Burt Lancaster is very interesting.  I think it's also curious how, despite a warning from a co-worker, Lancaster's character allows himself to be killed.

 

The flashback storytelling device is effective in the film.  I like films where the storylines are told in a non-linear fashion.  It mixes things up a bit from the usual narrative structure (opening, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution).  With The Killers, the climax occurs at the beginning and works its way backward setting up the action that led to the climax.  

 

I agree that the plot in the film is a bit involved.  For me, it makes me want to watch the film to see if I can figure it out.  There are other films that, with subsequent viewings, I'm able to unravel the plot a little bit more each time.  However, the film has to have something that makes it worth watching again.  The Killers has that for me.  I think it's a combination of the setting, the great music, the overall gritty aesthetic and the cast.  I'm a fan of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  Lancaster's character seems like he's a bit naive and unfortunately, is killed as a result of it.  Maybe his career as a boxer inhibited his decision making skills? Old movies tend to portray the boxer as dopey due to too many blows to the head (see Mickey Shaughnessey in Designing Woman).  Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim being one of a few exceptions.  As for Ava, I like her femme fatale character, though she doesn't seem as "fatale" as Rita Hayworth in Gilda or Jane Greer in Out of the Past.  

 

Perhaps The Killers is one of those films that wouldn't have as much acclaim if it hadn't been the big break for two major icons of the Golden Era of Hollywood--Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  

 

I realize I might be all over the place in my assessment of this film.  Bottom line is that I like the film, despite finding it a bit convoluted.  I'm not sure if I can properly articulate what it is about this film that grabs me and why I enjoy watching it.  I think it boils down to the fact that I like film noir and I like the two leads.  Add in the interesting setting, the great score and the vibe of the film and it makes it a good watch for me.

 

I even own The Killers on Criterion (found it used for a good price!).  The Criterion set also comes with the 1964 remake.  I wonder how it compares with the original 1946 version.  I also wonder how this film compares with Ernest Hemingway's short story? 

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I thought it was OK.

 

Not the BEST noir I ever saw, but not the WORST either.

 

There.  Said it in less than EIGHT bloated paragraphs.  ;)  

 

 

Jeez MissW.

 

Being Canadian I'm sure you have easy and affordable access to a large supply of "CHILL PILLS"!

 

I thought for SURE the "wink" emoticon would have clued you in that I was pullin' your leg.

 

Instead, you went all FACEBOOK on me.

 

A wink doesn't offset an insult. "Bloated" is a pretty insulting way to describe the writing of someone who has a good amount to say about something. 

 

If you ever had anything to say other than a mean and thoughtless snipe, maybe you'd understand.

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MissW,

 

While it appears I hold a higher overall assessment of this film or at least have found it has always held my interest throughout the course of it more than it has yours, I must admit in your initial post you have indeed well expressed a niggling little problem I've always felt was a minor problem with the film...yes, the seeming lack of presenting a more entailed accounting of the early-on Kitty/Swede relationship.

 

Yep, I've always felt as if perhaps some of the original footage shot had been left on the cutting room floor, as they say.

 

If, say, you compare it to another Lancaster-starring noir film made just a few years later, CRISS CROSS, and in which more detail of his relationship with that film's femme fatale(Yvonne De Carlo) is presented, it does seem as if there is "something missing" in this regard in THE KILLERS.

 

(...in other words, yep, I see your point)

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It's score by *Miklos Roza influenced TV's "Dragnet"

 

& the 1964 remake-(originally made for tv but thought to violent) is well made (***) with Ronald Reagan of all people as the villain.

 

Agree (not about the too violent, about the well-made).

 

Reagan is unfortunate casting, but everyone else - Marvin, Gulager, Dickinson, Cassavetes - are first rate.

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Agree (not about the too violent, about the well-made).

 

Reagan is unfortunate casting, but everyone else - Marvin, Gulager, Dickinson, Cassavetes - are first rate.

 

Actually dark, I always thought Reagan was fairly well cast and plays the role of the crooked high financier with a thin veneer of respectability(the Albert Dekker role in the '46 version) pretty darn believably.

 

But I guess that's just me.

 

(...now, maybe because Angie Dickinson has never done a thing for me and couldn't hold a candle the sultry Ava, SHE'S the one I think lessens the remake a bit)

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Reagan is unfortunate casting, but everyone else - Marvin, Gulager, Dickinson, Cassavetes - are first rate.

 

It's been a long time since I saw the remake but I recall thinking that the one time Reagan played a guy who turned out to be a bit of a slime he was surprisingly good in the role. In particular, his final moments, those when, knowing he is about to pay the ultimate price for his misdeeds, he surrenders to his looming fate, he's effective.

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Actually dark, I always thought Reagan was fairly well cast and plays the role of the crooked high financier with a thin veneer of respectability(the Albert Dekker role in the '46 version) pretty darn believably.

 

 

It's been a long time since I saw the remake but I recall thinking that the one time Reagan played a guy who turned out to be a bit of a slime he was surprisingly good in the role. In particular, his final moments, those when, knowing he is about to pay the ultimate price for his misdeeds, he surrenders to his looming fate, he's effective.

 

You both may be very well right. I've not seen the '64 version since the early 70's. My antipathy to Reagan may be just habit - I've never been a fan of him as an actor.

 

But, I have the Criterion edition right now (from the library) - it contains both versions - so I'll be revisiting it shortly. I'll post my agreement with you both (if I do agree) after I've watched it.

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If, say, you compare it to another Lancaster-starring noir film made just a few years later, CRISS CROSS, and in which more detail of his relationship with that film's femme fatale(Yvonne De Carlo) is presented, it does seem as if there is "something missing" in this regard in THE KILLERS.

 

The similarities between the two films are quite significant, including the vulnerability that Lancaster brought to both roles as not-too-bright naive guys enthralled with a beautiful woman, eventually, and inevitably, meeting his doom because of her.

 

I can't say that I ever thought there was anything missing in The Killers' story line regarded the Lancaster-Gardner relationship in regards to fleshing it out more. It's a hard tough crime film, told through numerous flashbacks as a mystery is pieced together by an insurance investigator. Lancaster's enthrallment with Gardner is convincingly conveyed in their first scene together, I feel, to the extent that no member of the audience would question it. Gardner's true feelings about Lancaster, however, remain largely ambiguous which serves the story well.

 

I would definitely rank the '46 Killers as among the better film noirs. Unlike MissW, who apparently finds portions of it boring, I don't find that to be the case at all for me. The cast is largely excellent (including smooth talking Albert Dekker as the mastermind of the robbery). The film certainly has the visual trademark look of classic noir with its characters walking from dark into light, only to be submerged again in darkness, even if only partially. Miklos Rosza's Dragnet-type score certainly helps to build the tension, and while they aren't in the film that much, both Charles McGraw and William Conrad make their scenes as the title characters count as they methodically go about their business of death by contract.

 

One more thing. Did any other film of the genre have a better opening?

 

The%2BKillers%2B1946%2B3.jpg

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Actually dark, I always thought Reagan was fairly well cast and plays the role of the crooked high financier with a thin veneer of respectability(the Albert Dekker role in the '46 version) pretty darn believably.

 

But I guess that's just me.

 

(...now, maybe because Angie Dickinson has never done a thing for me and couldn't hold a candle the sultry Ava, SHE'S the one I think lessens the remake a bit)

 

The one thing that caught my eye and sort of tickled me about that remake was Reagan's character wearing that silk scarf around his neck.  An old sort of cliche referrencing aging actors taking to wearing those scarves like that in effort to hide that "wattle".

 

And +1 on Dickinson.  She's CUTE enough, but did seem to lessen MANY a flick she was in.

 

 

Sepiatone

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It's score by *Miklos Roza influenced TV's "Dragnet"

 

Walter Schumann was at Universal at the same time as Miklos Rozsa.  Schumann clearly lifted the "Killers" motif for the danger portion of his DRAGNET radio theme.  If you watch U-I's 1947 release THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, you will also hear the first use by Schumann of the march portion of the DRAGNET theme.

 

A few years later, Rozsa sued and was awarded co-authorship and royalty share of the DRAGNET theme.  When the 1987 feature was released he was given credit on the film and on the soundtrack album.

 

rozsa_lawsuit.jpg

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don't have time to go into description now, but here's this:

 

 

 

EDIT:

 

Was in a hurry when I posted the above. it's a 30 minute Lux Radio(?) production of THE KILLERS, not as good as the movie, but interesting as a chance to hear Shelley Winters in the Kitty role. I'm not sure why the person who uploaded this chose such a curious visual to represent it, but there you are.

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don't have time to go into description now, but here's this:

 

 

EDIT:

 

Was in a hurry when I posted the above. it's a 30 minute Lux Radio(?) production of THE KILLERS, not as good as the movie, but interesting as a chance to hear Shelley Winters in the Kitty role. I'm not sure why the person who uploaded this chose such a curious visual to represent it, but there you are.

 

Shelley Winters as Kitty Collins? Oh...maybe...radio is not a visual medium.

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Shelley Winters as Kitty Collins? Oh...maybe...radio is not a visual medium.

 

LOL

 

Actually MissW, because I've always felt Shelley had one of the LEAST sexy voices of any film actress ever, THIS aspect to her playing the Kitty character on the radio would seem to be the predominate reason for her selection of such as being counter-intuitive.

 

(...I mean remember here, Shelley wasn't all that hard on the eyes back in the early-'50s and before she let herself go) 

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Some interesting comments from my fellow noir fans on the film here. 

 

Something I want to clarify:  I may not have stated emphatically enough how much I did like some aspects of The Killers

Like the opening scene; as at least one poster here observed, it's got to be one of the best opening scenes ever, certainly in noir, and maybe even for movies in general. It's truly gripping, in terms of both the narrative (What the hell is going on? Who are these guys? Damn, are they tough ! etc.), but also with regard to the fabulous black and white cinematography. I think it was Tom posted a still from the very first shot of the film - the diner, the two menacing-looking dark figures approaching it, and the contrast between light and shadow in the street.

(Why am I trying to describe it, when Tom's picture speaks a thousand words?)

 

As speedracer pointed out, The Killers is rife with all things noir, and certainly features many of the things a lot of us noir lovers enjoy about the genre. But I'll just quote speedy, she says it better than I could:

 

Speedracer said, of "The Killers" :

 

"When I saw this film the first time, I was automatically hooked by the setting.  I love when film noir (and other 1940s dramatic films) use the small town diner, the old gas station, the crumbling derelict warehouses, etc. as locations for their scenes.  It adds a certain grittiness and aesthetic to the film that I enjoy.  The action at the beginning of The Killers wouldn't be nearly as effective if it took place at 21 or something.  I especially love the diner scenes, if only to see the prices of the food ("I could get a steak sandwich, fries and a drink for only 75-cents!").  One of my other favorite diner scenes is in another of my favorite noir films, They Drive By Night.  In fact, They Drive By Night also features many of the same type of settings as in The Killers. "

 

Exactly, speedy. I couldn't agree with you more, that the visuals of The Killers, the "grittiness" of the settings, (diners, warehouses, etc.) give a wonderful, classically noirish feel to the film.

 

I also agree with everyone who pointed out that the narrative structure is very unusual, and that alone makes The Killers a stand-out in the noir canon. Lots of noir movies use flashbacks, but very few begin with the main character getting killed in the first few minutes ( ok, Sunset Boulevard ), and even fewer use that device in which various characters who knew the murdered man recount their memories, their version of that man's life,  to piece together the entire story. (ok, Citizen Kane did it first.)

 

Another clarification: Speaking of the story structure, I'll say again, as I did in my original post, that although the plot is complicated, maybe a little difficult to figure out for first-time viewers, I have no problem with that. In fact, complicated plots are pretty common in noirs ( nobody has as yet ever figured out what's going on in The Big Sleep...)

It was not the convoluted plot that I didn't like about this film. What I did not like about it was its coldness.I found it very un-involving; I felt I never "got to know" Burt's character, (of course this is because we only see him through others' eyes, their recollections of him), and therefore never really came to care much what he did or what happened to him.

 

Tom and others have commented that the "love story" (such as it is) between him and Ava's character is not that important, and that, if Kitty was in love all along with her husband, there wouldn't be much to show between Swede and Kitty anyway.

Ok, I buy that. But still, the lack of plot development between them, the paucity of scenes between them, does feel like a missing piece in the story. 

 

As I said in my earlier post, I understand and recognize all those wonderful noir features that appear so abundantly in The Killers. But, for the reasons I mentioned, I guess it's not enough for me. It just feels cold to me. 

 

(sorry, one last point:  The Killers is just about the only film noir classic that does "leave me cold". I love the genre ( or style,maybe I should call it), and off-hand can't think of another noir that leaves me feeling "meh" like that. )

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.  

 

When I saw this film the first time, I was automatically hooked by the setting.  I love when film noir (and other 1940s dramatic films) use the small town diner, the old gas station, the crumbling derelict warehouses, etc. as locations for their scenes.  It adds a certain grittiness and aesthetic to the film that I enjoy.  The action at the beginning of The Killers wouldn't be nearly as effective if it took place at 21 or something.  I especially love the diner scenes, if only to see the prices of the food ("I could get a steak sandwich, fries and a drink for only 75-cents!").  One of my other favorite diner scenes is in another of my favorite noir films, They Drive By Night.  In fact, They Drive By Night also features many of the same type of settings as in The Killers.  

 

 

Well, guess what, both The Killers and They Drive By Night have the same producer, Mark Hellinger.

 

Now Hellinger's name might not mean so much to film buffs today (myself included) but he was out of the Damon Runyan school of hard boiled, hard drinking Broadway columnists. Hellinger was also a theatre critic who married a Ziegfeld Follies beauty.

 

But when he got a chance to turn film producer in Hollywood his films of most distinction were of the hard boiled school with wise guy dialogue. The Roaring Twenties was an early effort, obviously a far more sentimental street drama than some of his later stuff, but with Cagney's character in the film based on a real life gangster (I don't know if Hellinger actually knew the gangster but I'm sure he obviously knew a lot of stories about him). Other Warners efforts of the tough guy school that Hellinger was involved with as producer or associate producer were Manpower and High Sierra.

 

But it was after the war that Hellinger was producer of three beauts, starting off with The Killers. Immediately afterward he was reunited with Lancaster again in Brute Force, a tough prison drama (with a great performance by Hume Cronyn as a sadistic captain of the guards), followed by a tough big city cop drama, The Naked City (Barry Fitzgerald cast against type as a detective) and the basis, of course, for the later television series.

 

All three of these films are distinguished by a realistic grittiness, with both The Killers and, from what I can recall of it, The Naked City (much of this one, unlike the studio made Killers, filmed on location in a major metropolits-  forget which one) benefiting from the wonderful visuals of great photography. Humphrey Bogart, ready to leave Warners, was ready to sign on with Hellinger for some independent productions of their own when, suddenly, Hellinger was dead - at age 44. Not certain of the cause. I assume a heart attack.

 

What a shame, I suspect, for film noir fans, that this man went so early. You have to wonder, too, how different Bogart's post Warners career might have been if Hellinger had lived.

 

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