My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

Having just completed my own screenplay adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, I watched the three previous adaptations again.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Don Siegel’s adaptation is the least faithful to Hemingway’s story and it is also the strongest. The director uses the source only as a bouncing off point to create one of the best pulp crime films of all time.

Taking the basic concept of two killers going after a man who makes a conscious decision not to run, Siegel follows that motivation into a violent journey in past and present with two terrific leads as the titular killers. Lee Marvin is in his golden period, giving us the kind of subdued brilliant work he did in THE PROFESSIONALS. Clu Gulager is the film’s wild card, turning in an unpredictable performance with plenty of invention that would make Nicolas Cage proud. The rest of the cast is great too, from Cassavetes to his pitiful friend played by Claude Akins. Angie is as sexy as ever, truly one of the more alluring dames to ever walk on screen. It’s Ronald Reagan who may surprise the most. He is a terrific villain and the scene where he slaps her will always be one of my favorites in this genre.

Siegel is at the top of his game here, doing the kind of no-nonsense, lean work I love him for. Any filmmaker making a crime movie should watch this one before they get going. There’s a lot to learn here.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Robert Siodmak’s version of the unforgettable Hemingway short story is a mixed bag, a sometimes thrilling noir adaptation that loses its way.

The filmmaker sticks to the source for the opening of the movie, bringing the killers into a small town diner. Siodmak creates great tension between the characters in the closed setting. The scene which makes Hemingway’s story unforgettable, when Nick comes to warn the Swede, is played perfectly by Burt Lancaster. But the challenge of adapting THE KILLERS is figuring out where to go with a story that has no conclusive ending and a mysterious background. Siodmak and company take the story in a flawed direction. An insurance investigator pries into the history of Lancaster’s Swede. He’s played by Edmond O’Brien, a good supporting actor who never made a good lead in my opinion. He can’t carry a picture and his casting is a decision that hurts the picture. When Burt is on screen in the flashback, the film does pretty well. When O’Brien returns, it’s routine noir fair, something you might catch on TV one night and vaguely remember the next day.

Ultimately, what makes Hemingway’s story so fascinating is the mystery of Anderson, why he doesn’t want to run. Both feature adaptations unfold that mystery until all the questions are answered. Is that a mistake? It’s hard to say.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This straight-forward, faithful adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story works for me. It’s direct and not flashy at all. Simple camera moves and effective black & white photography grounds the picture, avoiding stylized noir lighting for the better. It features strong performances, highlighted by the actor who plays Anderson (stealing the show with one scene). As I look again at adaptations of THE KILLERS, Tarkovsky and company’s early effort is an example of another way the story can work on screen.

Watched on Criterion Channel.