Oldie Noir: Killers

DATELINE: Hemingway Classic

Burt Lancaster Awaits the Grim Reapers.

 

A late 1940s film noir version of “The Killers” made author Ernest Hemingway wince. He was hypercritical of the Hollywood versions of his novels and stories.

Yet, the star vehicle for Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster used the first twenty-minutes to tell the short story. The rest is Hollywood explanations that have nothing to do with Hemingway except to build off his message.

The original dark opening seems to tell an inexplicable tale of a gas station attendant who is hunted down by two hired gunmen. Instead of running when he is warned, he simply waits for the inevitable killing.

When asked why he won’t flee, he gives the ultimate Hemingway man’s answer. There comes a time when you stop running because it doesn’t matter in the end.

The moody and eerie tale is brilliantly directed by Robert Siodmak and were it a short subject could have been a masterpiece after the killers climb the boarding house stairs and let their bullets fly.

Young Burt Lancaster is suitably tough and handsome, as you’d want you hero, but he is antiheroic in not fighting. The rest of the movie is a pathetic attempt to flashback to his roots and how he upset the mobsters.

Quiet nighttime moments in an old-fashioned diner and the ominous sense the Swede’s friends have about the mystery visitors is all part of the philosophical insight of the author.

Many questions about the Swede are raised and there are no answers. It was always the style of Hemingway to omit key information: you fill in the blanks. Sometimes if you have enough questions, they provide an answer. The central mystery of the Swede is explained in banal terms during the remainder of the movie.

Heminway gives you suspense in the anticipation of answers, but you will be thwarted and left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story.

 

 

Broken John Garfield in The Breaking Point

DATELINE:  Lost & Forgotten Movies

Garfield

Of the legendary Blacklist victims of old Hollywood, one of the most tragic is actor John Garfield, a star not much thought of nowadays. He died too young, but he would have been even bigger before another decade passed if only he had lived.

He had a career often playing tough guys with a conscience, often in socially redeeming movies. Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy for him, but he never played it. Elia Kazan was a buddy, but never directed him. Garfield’s last role, before he was forced off the screen in 1951, was The Breaking Point, based on an Ernest Hemingway tale.

As you might expect, Garfield played an independent owner of a small fishing boat that rented out to corrupt businessmen on holiday.

Needing money, Garfield’s character succumbs to dealing in human contraband, bringing illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico. The story almost seems ripped from present-day headlines.

Featuring Juano Hernandez as his partner, a daring cross-color friendship in the middle of the McCarthy era, Garfield’s hero must deal with temptations of corruption. Patricia Neal, in her blonde vamp role, is hard-hearted nemesis, tempting the hero from his wife.

Garfield suffered from a rheumatic heart in the days before medications and procedures—and yet he often played the action hero. Throw in the stresses he suffered personally from the House on Un-American Activities, and you have a shortened life.

The film treads on noir ground, and it plays as cultural realism too. It seems a contradiction coming from the macho-Hemingway mode, but this is a tale of honor with filmmakers who wanted to be relevant as well as entertaining.

Today The Breaking Point stands as a movie way ahead of its time.