Steve Grzesiak’s review:
Between them, Double Indemnity and The Killers made the world of insurance seem a hell of a lot more exciting than it probably is.
No offence meant to any insurance salespeople or investigators out there who regularly run across murder plots and beautiful femmes fatale, and I'm happy to stand corrected if I have shown my ignorance on this front. In the more likely event that I'm imagining the industry to be rather more mundane than the respective Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak classics portray it as, it's fair to say that the strengths of these two perhaps lie to a fairly large extent in the fact that we don't end up following a rather predictable police or private detective investigation path for the narrative of the respective films.
In this case, insurance investigator Edmond O'Brien tries to find the beneficiary of the policy taken out by recently murdered ex-boxer Burt Lancaster, but ends up taking the case further in trying to find out why he was murdered in the first place and just where the mysterious Ava Gardner fits into it all.
Telling any part of a film in flashback is always a difficult trick to pull off convincingly but it is even more difficult if you are trying not to completely befuddle the audience at the same time. While the story of The Killers, based on an Ernest Hemingway short story, is labyrinthine for sure, so carefully pieced together is it that at no point did I feel I was being left behind. There is no doubt that it is a film that rewards close attention, as is the case with pretty much all the best noirs - you are certainly not going to get the best out of this one if you're trying to do a Sudoku at the same time.
But it's a film that practically demands your attention anyway, mostly thanks to an unusually enigmatic but rather more predictably powerful and brooding performance by Lancaster. Ava Gardner's Kitty Collins is perhaps an even more gripping character and performance - one of the most complex and most beautifully characterised femmes fatale that I have ever encountered. Their chemistry is easily the match of anything that Bogart and Bacall ever conjured up together.
It's been a few months since I saw this film, as part of a wonderful nine movie noir boxset which also contains Double Indemnity as well as seven other outstanding noirs. That it stands out as the best of them, bar the aforementioned film (but only just), is about as large a compliment as you could pay it. It also cements Siodmak as one of the very best noir directors of all time. Absolutely wonderful.