Ernest Hemingway's short story is memorably elliptical: nothing is explained. In the film adaptation everything is explained via nine flashbacks, each representing in Citizen Kane style a new witness's viewpoint: Nick Adams, the hotelkeeper lady who becomes the beneficiary, Lt. Sam Lubinsky (twice), Lilly Lubinsky, Charleston, Blinkey, Dum Dum, and Kitty. Another Citizen Kane connection is the green silk handkerchief with golden harps, the Rosebud of this movie.
An unforgettable debut for Burt Lancaster as a suffering protagonist, thrown into a world of violence, crime and sexual attraction. Swede wants to succeed, but he is out of his league. Ava Gardner is also in a career-defining role, and her Kitty Collins is a striking but rather conventional femme fatale. Ava Gardner became Ernest Hemingway's favourite actress, acting also in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Sun Also Rises.
Elwood Bredell's cinematography is magnificent, highlights including the darkness surrounding Swede's death, the sober long shots of the robbery of the paymaster's office, and the shadows on the glass panels of Big Jim's door before the final showdown.
There is a bit too much of a Humphrey Bogart imitation in Edmond O'Brien's performance. Intriguing details include the nice Lilly getting aroused watching Swede's torment in the boxing ring (but Kitty says that "I can never bear a man I care for being hurt") and the limping man who tails Riordan and Kitty to the Green Cat bar.
The Killers is a vision of profound suffering. The nine circles of flashbacks in the broken time structure take us deeper into a world of pain and disillusionment. Swede's desperation and utterly broken spirit seem to communicate something graver than a crime plot. Hemingway's story expressed something of the hard-boiled "lost generation" spirit of his age. The creators of this movie were aware of even darker truths than Hemingway had known when he wrote his story.
The print was great.