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The Killers is a 1946 Film Noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien. It is based on a 1927 short story by Ernest Hemingway.

After Ole "The Swede" Anderson (Lancaster) is murdered by two mysterious hitmen, a life insurance investigator (O'Brien) interviews the deceased's friends and associates to find out who would want to kill him. Ultimately, his search links Swede to a past robbery and $250,000 in cash.

A remake was produced for television in 1964, directed by Don Siegel and starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, and (in his last film role) Ronald Reagan. It's generally regarded as far inferior to the 1946 version though it does have a cult following. The main difference between the two films is that while it has basic plot similarities, the 1964 film has the titular hitmen as protagonists.

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The short story provides example of:

  • Face Death with Dignity: The point of the original story. The Swede knows he's going to die and listens to Nick Adams warning with resignation. He stoically accepts his coming end with "grace under pressure" (as per Hemingway's ethos).
  • Faux Affably Evil: The tension of the short story is the mask of civility and kindness maintained by two brutal hitmen before they exercise power on the Cafe and take them hostage and conduct their contract.
  • Implied Trope: The Swede's death is never depicted or mentioned after Adams warns him, but it's clear that he will die. The film adaptations openly take this for granted and depict his death.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The two killers hurl racial insults at Sam, the African-American cook. Hemingway was certainly hoping to invoke this by making his gangsters openly racist, because in 1927, a good number of his readership would have shared these attitudes.
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  • Those Two Bad Guys: The titular Killers were the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier for this in modern fiction and inspired a slew of imitators in many stories and fictions. Indeed Hemingway noted that the killers are "vaudeville twins" and designed as a comic two-man group.
  • Verbal Tic: One of the hitmen calls Nick "bright boy".


The film adaptations provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Hemingway's short story is rather small and limited in scope, and indeed the entirety of the story is faithfully recreated in the opening minutes of Siodmak's film. The rest of the movie greatly expands the backstory leading to the contract to kill Swedish boxer Ole Andreson, adding in a Femme Fatale and a Big Bad. The 1964 film, borrows the basic plot of the Siodmak film but makes the killers the Villain Protagonist.
  • Anachronic Order: There are a total of eleven flashbacks in the 1946 film. The first to be shown is the last to take place (Colfax happening to stop by the service station at which Swede was working six years after the heist), followed by the one immediately before (Swede discovering Kitty has disappeared with the heist money), then they proceed in mostly chronological order to show how Swede fell in with Colfax and his gang and took part in the hat factory payroll heist, before one final flashback shows that the night before the heist, Kitty persuaded Swede to double cross Colfax by stealing the entire take from the heist so they could run away together, when in fact she and Colfax were planning to double cross Swede by taking the money and letting him take the fall for stealing it.
  • Ascended Extra: In the first film the hitmen are in only two scenes, the opening and a shootout near the climax. In the remake, they're the protagonists.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Colfax lives long enough to tie up some loose ends for the police.
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: The astronomy lesson in the prison cell is a disaster. Not only is the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) nowhere near Orion, but the star Betelgeuse is improperly identified as the brightest star in the sky - however, Sirius, which is the brightest star in the sky, is close to Orion. Nonetheless, those books weren't helping out as much as thought.
  • Bathroom Break-Out: Kitty escapes through the pub's bathroom window.
  • Betty and Veronica: A hilariously brief dilemma. Swede and his sweet, pretty blonde girlfriend go to a party. While there, Swede sees the scorching hot Kitty across the room. He literally never looks at his blonde girlfriend again. After the girlfriend realizes that Swede is not looking at her or listening to her chatter, she leaves. Of course, the blonde girlfriend is shown in the film to have been Happily Married and settled down later, which is a better fate than that dealt to Ole Andreson.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Reardon flips over a table and hides behind it when the killers open fire on him.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Swede's hand sliding down the bedpost after the hitmen fill him full of lead.
  • Dumb Muscle: Swede is large and strong, but also quite the naïve bumpkin.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: We first see Swede as he lies in his bed with his face hidden in the dark.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The Hitmen in the 1964 film are shocked by how Swede approached his death, noting that he stood there and didn't run away or scream. It is this which leads them to investigate their own contract and unearth Swede's backstory.
  • Femme Fatale: Kitty Collins says herself that she is poison to everyone around her, but she still has both Big Jim and Swede wrapped around her little finger. Swede takes the fall when she is caught wearing stolen jewels and spends two years in prison, then Kitty manipulates Swede into stealing the entire take from the payroll heist so that she can get away from Big Jim. Except that she then steals the money back for Big Jim.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Max and Al showing up to carry out Swede's murder. The rest of the film intercuts Reardon's investigation into the murder with a series of flashbacks (notably not presented chronologically) showing how Swede participated in a hat factory robbery only to double cross his partners in crime by absconding with the money, thereby ending up a marked man.
  • In with the In Crowd: After his boxing career is over, Swede joins a group of criminals which opens up doors for him. His girl friend is not amused.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: It does at the Swede's.
  • Kill 'Em All: In the 1964 version all the main cast ends up dead.
  • Leitmotif: Miklós Rózsa's score includes one of these for the titular killers, a distinctive four-note refrain that was later adapted for the Dragnet theme.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The scarf.
  • Morton's Fork: In response being accused of having done a Revealing Cover Up, Colfax tells Reardon that after stumbling upon Swede, he carefully considered his options and realized they all looked pretty bad. He could have left Swede alone, but this meant that someone else from the gang could have run into Swede in the same way he did, or Swede himself could have started wondering why no attempts on his life were made and started looking into things. He eventually decided that murdering Swede and then trying to tie up the loose ends as they revealed themselves appeared to be the less risky choice.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Implied but not shown with the killing of Swede who gets riddled with two magazines full of bullets.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: This trope is clearly in play after the hat factory payroll heist, but precisely how only becomes clear by the end of the film. At first, it seems the other thieves are planning to cut Swede out of his share by not telling him that the halfway house at which they planned to rendezvous afterward burned down the previous night, requiring a change in venue. Swede finds out, and takes the entire $250,000. However, he was persuaded to do so by Kitty, who told him the halfway house had burned down - before the act of arson which caused it to do so. She, in fact, was planning to take the money on Big Jim's behalf.
  • One Last Smoke: Colfax gets one at the end.
  • The Oner: The scene of the robbery is one continuous shot from a crane.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. We have both the main character, Jim Reardon, and the significant side character, Jim Colfax.
  • Only in It for the Money: In the 1964 film, the reason that brings Charlie and Lee to investigate the reasons behind a murder commited by themselves is to get a bigger profit out of it.
  • Pet the Dog: Applied literally in the 1964 version, where Lee pets a guide dog in the garden of a charity center for blind people... Just before terrorizing and hitting the crap out of a blind old lady.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Swede is killed in the first fifteen minutes; the remainder of the film is about Reardon's efforts to find out who killed him.
  • Posthumous Character: Swede. The greater part of the film is flashbacks of events months and years prior to his death.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: At the end, Reardon points out that Colfax could have avoided having his part in the robbery and conspiracy uncovered all if he hadn't had Swede assassinated.
  • Separate Scene Storytelling: The stories about Swede told by the many characters are shown as flashbacks.
  • The Sociopath: Lee from the 1964 verion shows quite a crazy, childish and violent attitude in contrast to his mentor/partner Charlie, a tough, rough but level-minded professional.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Is Swede's name Ole Andreson or Anderson? Hemingway uses the former, the 1946 film uses the latter.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Max and Al, the titular "killers." Taken Up to Eleven in the 1964 version, where the killers, called Charlie and Lee here, fit very nicely into the Villain Protagonist trope.
  • Tired of Running: Even though he was warned that two hit men were after him, Swede didn't do anything to protect himself. He just waited to be killed.
  • Villain Protagonist: In the 1964 film, the two killers are the protagonists, with Lee Marvin as the main lead.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Both Charlie and Lee in the 1964 version.

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