Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Killers (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Killers (1946)

In Robert Siodmak's film noir classic - the intense, hard-edged noir was a tale of robbery, unrequited love, and brutal betrayal with a twisting double-cross. The sharply-written script from screenwriters Anthony Veiller and collaborator John Huston (uncredited) was loosely based on Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short story of the same name. The tale was told in eleven fragmented, disconnected and unrelated flashbacks. The film's main musical theme (with a rising and falling dum-de-dum dum) from composer Miklos Rozsa was later borrowed for the opening sequence of TV's Dragnet.

There were two strands to the plot line followed by an obsessive Atlantic Casualty Insurance Company officer - it was both (1) a journey into the dark noir world as he investigated an unwarranted, mysterious killing of an insured client (known as the "Swede") and tried to solve a hat factory heist from 6 years earlier; and (2) the piecing together, unraveling, and reconstruction of the life and enigmatic, troubled past of the victim through interviews and detective work, to learn why he passively and quietly accepted his fateful, sacrificial death without resistance when delivered by two evil hit-men emissaries from his past.

The post-war, moody, expressionistically-lit, black and white film featured two unknowns: Burt Lancaster in his film debut (at age 32) and a break-out memorable performance from 23 year old MGM contract actress Ava Gardner. Her role as the film's duplicitous, strikingly-beautiful and unsympathetic femme fatale made Gardner an overnight love goddess and star.

  • in the bravura 13-minute opening sequence - one of the greatest openings of any film - two unsmiling contract killers Max (William Conrad) and Al (Charles McGraw) arrived in Brentwood, NJ to fulfill a cold-blooded murder contract in 1946; they were tracking down the attendant at a Tri-State Oil Co. station, but found it closed; then just before the dinner hour of 6 pm, they terrorized the manager George (Harry Hayden) of the greasy-spoon Henry's Diner nearby
  • the killers were searching for a passive, fatalistic Ole 'Swede' Andersen (Burt Lancaster in his film debut); he had been hiding out in the New Jersey town in his dark boarding house room under an alias (Pete Lunn) for the last year; he lay passively in his shadowy, dim room in a white T-shirt - his head shrouded in darkness; his gas station co-worker Nick Adams (Phil Brown) had come to warn him a few moments earlier, but the Swede was indifferent to their deadly approach and passively awaited his death on his bed
  • with no strength to even rise from his bed, or will to run ("I'm through with all that runnin' around"), the acquiescent and unresistant Swede awaited his physical sacrificial death - he was already emotionally dead; he stoically admitted his reason to die: ("I did something wrong - once"); the doomed ex-boxer was referring to the film's complex tale of crime and treacherous betrayal - all revolving around a beautifully-glamorous, mysterious, double-crossing, manipulative, vixenish femme fatale
The Swede (Burt Lancaster) - Just Before His Murder in 1946 by the Killers
  • the Swede calmly listened as the two cold-blooded gunman-executioners climbed the stairs to his cheap apartment room; he knew that his life wasn't worth living anymore; he half-rose from his bed as they opened the door and brutally emptied their guns of ten bullets into his body (8 bullets were ultimately found in his body); he died in a blaze of gunfire that briefly illuminated the killers' faces; it was the ex-boxer's final knock-out
  • in the next scene, the personal effects of the Swede were being examined in the Brentwood, NJ police department by the police chief (Howard Freeman) and intrigued insurance investigator James Reardon (Edmond O'Brien) of the Atlantic Casualty & Insurance Company; the Swede was insured through the gas station as one of its employees; one item caught Reardon's attention that he took with him - a green silk handkerchief with a golden harp pattern surrounded by three-leaf clovers (it belonged to the femme fatale)
First Flashback: A Week Earlier in 1946

Nick Adams (Phil Brown) - The Swede's Co-Worker

The Swede Was Recognized at the Gas Station During His Work by Customer Big Jim Colfax
  • Reardon began his search to interview acquaintances of the Swede over a ten year period back to about 1935; in the first flashback, Nick told him that the Swede arrived in Brentwood about a year earlier (1945) and was "easy enough to get along with" as a fellow gas station employee; a week earlier - in the film's first flashback set in 1946, a heavy-set mustached driver [later identified as crime-lord Big Jim Colfax] drove into the station for gas in a big black Cadillac (with an out-of-state plate) and appeared to recognize the Swede
  • Reardon's first contact was the chambermaid Mary Ellen 'Queenie' Daugherty (Queenie Smith), the Swede's beneficiary on his life insurance policy; she worked at the Palms Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, where the Swede had checked in six years earlier in 1940, using the name "Nelson" rather than Lunn; she remembered, in the film's 2nd flashback, how she had dissuaded Nelson, the recently-murdered man, from throwing himself from his window in an act of suicide ("Don't do it, mister!"), after he was deserted by a presumably double-crossing woman ("She's gone"); he flopped onto his bed moaning: "Charleston was right, he was right, Charleston was right"
3rd Flashback in 1935 in Philadelphia

Lilly Harmon (Virginia Christine): The Swede's Girlfriend at a Boxing Match

The Swede: A Prizefight Boxer Whose Career Ended in 1935 with a Broken Hand
  • the investigator's next interviewee was Philadelphia Detective Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene), who had arrested the Swede in 1938 for robbery, and remembered him as a great prizefighter in the third flashback; the boxer had to quit his career when he broke his hand in his last boxing fight in 1935; in 1938, Lubinsky married the fighter's ex-girlfriend Lilly Harmon (Virginia Christine) about six months after Ole broke off his relationship with her
  • in the film's fourth flashback, ex-girlfriend Lilly spoke about how she attended a swanky hotel party scene in 1937 (?) (while still dating the Swede) and met underworld figure "Blinky" Franklin (Jeff Corey); she remembered how the Swede fell under the spell of gorgeous, alluring brunette and treacherous femme fatale "hostess" Miss Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) who was wearing a sexy black satin dress and singing "The More I Know of Love") as she leaned back on the piano; she was the moll/girlfriend of imprisoned, sleazy racketeering king-pin boss Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker), who was absent and in jail at the time; Lilly recalled that she lost the Swede forever to Kitty that night
Fourth Flashback: Swanky Hotel Party Where The Swede Met and First Fell Under Allure of Femme Fatale Kitty - The Moll of Imprisoned Mobster Big Jim Colfax
  • in the 5th flashback set in 1938 (one month after Lieut. Lubinsky married Lilly), Lubinsky recalled arresting the Swede in Lou Tingle's Cafe; the Swede lied for his new girlfriend Kitty when she was arrested for wearing a stolen piece of jewelry (a spider-shaped diamond brooch) on the bodice of her dress, and her took the rap in her place - and subsequently served a three-year jail term
6th Flashback (Between 1938-1940)

The Swede's Cell-Mate Charleston (Vince Barnett) For Two Years
Swede in Prison Twirling Kitty's Handkerchief and Dreaming of Her
  • in the 6th flashback at a bar where Ole's "old-time hoodlum" friend Charleston (Vince Barnett) had been liquored up by Reardon, he told how he and the Swede were cell-mates for two years during Ole's prison term from 1938-1940; Ole dreamt of his Irish girlfriend Kitty (he twirled in his hands her green silk handkerchief); the Swede wouldn't admit that Kitty had used him, even though warned by Charleston that she had
  • in the 7th flashback set in mid-1940, Charleston continued to recall how the recently-released Swede again fell under the allure of the treacherous Kitty; Big Jim Colfax (now Kitty's husband) was planning a hat factory caper-heist (of a quarter-million dollar payroll) in ten days time in Hackensack, NJ with his gang of small-time hoodlums, including "Dum-Dum" Clarke (Jack Lambert), Charleston and "Blinky" Franklin; the Swede was made the fall-guy in an elaborate double-cross due to Colfax's knowledge that the Swede's love-struck, blind, masochistic love and trust in Kitty would be to his benefit; Charleston declined to participate because it wasn't "easy pickin's," and then warned Ole - but he didn't heed his friend's warning: ("Stop listening to those golden harps, Swede. They can land you into a lot of trouble"); Charleston ended his story with: "I never seen the Swede again"
7th Flashback (in mid-1940) - Told by Charleston

Big Jim Colfax Planning a Heist With Gang Members

Gang-Member "Dum Dum" Clarke (Jack Lambert)

Recently-Released Con the Swede

The Swede Enticed by Kitty in a Tight Sweater
  • the 8th flashback presented the entire daring hold-up of the payroll office at the hat factory, and the botched getaway; after the flashback, Reardon pieced together the previous flashbacks, and speculated that after the robbery of the payroll office, the Swede (with the stolen money) checked into the small Palms Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ with an "unidentified woman" (Kitty); within a few days, Kitty ditched the Swede (and took the money), and the chambermaid saved his life by preventing him from jumping from a window
  • in the 9th flashback, Colfax gang-member "Blinky" Franklin (on his deathbed after being shot by rival gang-member "Dum Dum" in a depot washroom), recalled the night before the heist; during a card game - when Kitty seemed to provoke a fight between the Swede and Colfax, the jealous Swede, predictably, gallantly came to her defense and accused Colfax of treating Kitty harshly, but Dum Dum cautioned him to lay off: (Dum Dum to the Swede: "She's his girl"); Kitty informed the Swede that she could take care of herself: ("Mind your own business Swede. I can take care of myself") and then threatened Colfax ("You touch me and you won't live till morning"); after the group settled down to a high-stakes poker game, the Swede antagonistically accused Colfax of cheating and punched him to the floor, although the Swede had miscalculated when it was revealed that Colfax truly had a winning hand; Colfax promised to seek vengeful retaliation against the Swede after the heist
9th Flashback - The Night Before the Heist (Colfax and the Swede Fighting Over Kitty's Attention and Favor)

Kitty Threatening Colfax: "You touch me and you won't live till morning"

The Swede After Accusing Colfax of Cheating During Card Game

Colfax Unfairly Punched to the Floor by the Swede - He Promised Retaliation After the Heist
  • in the 10th flashback (a continuation of the previous flashback after the robbery, the Swede (who trusted blindly in Kitty's version of things about the rendezvous location) turned around and double-crossed the gang and robbed them of the payroll at Farmer Brown's farm house, instead of the Half-way House; it was then highly probable that after they fled to the Atlantic City hotel, Kitty stole the money from the Swede and returned to Colfax; the Swede never had his hands on the dough for very long
  • before the next (and final) flashback, Reardon followed a hunch to figure out who might have mortally-wounded fellow gang-member "Blinky" - who had been planning to visit Brentwood, NJ; he staked out the Swede's room where he had been killed, and listened from next door as "Dum Dum" was searching the room for hidden and stolen payroll money; Reardon confronted him with his gun and asked why the gang met at the farmhouse instead of the half-way house as originally planned; according to him, the boss Colfax had picked the new location. [Note: A fire report later stated that the half-way house burned down at 2:53 am, almost three hours after Kitty at midnight began telling gang members of the change in rendezvous.] It was clear to Reardon that "Dum Dum" undoubtedly killed competitor Blinky to get to the Swede's money first; after being confronted by Reardon, "Dum Dum" reversed things, held a gun on him, and escaped to pursue his next target - Colfax himself; "Dum Dum" was wounded by police gunfire as he fled
  • before the next and final flashback, Reardon visited Colfax in his Pittsburgh, PA on-site office to speak to him about his heist participation, and found he had set up a "legit" business for himself as a big-time contractor and builder; the deceptive Colfax denied any involvement or knowledge of the Swede, and lied that he didn't know Kitty's whereabouts (even though he was married to her)
Colfax Questioned by Reardon in His On-Site Work Office in Pittsburgh, PA
  • when they finally settled down to talk in the Green Cat restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA, Kitty finally and reluctantly - under pressure - admitted to Reardon that she knew of the Swede's obsessive love that she could cleverly manipulate on the eve of the heist, planned by Colfax: ("I hadn't seen him for a long time, but the minute I laid eyes on him, I knew. He was always looking at me. And it doesn't sound like very much, but he always carried a handkerchief I'd given him...I hated my life, only I wasn't strong enough to get away from it. All I could do was dream of some big payoff that would let me quit the whole racket. The Swede was my chance to make my dream come true. If I could only be alone with him for a few hours. But Colfax was always there. I thought it was hopeless. Then suddenly, my chance came")
  • during the 11th flashback, the unscrupulous, treacherous, and double-crossing Kitty claimed that she came to the Swede in his hotel hideout late at night, and told him about Colfax's betrayal (and the change in rendezvous from the half-way house to the farmhouse BEFORE the fire); she deliberately misinformed him that he was to be double-crossed and cut out of his fair share, and that all of the gang members hated him
  • after deceiving the Swede, Kitty had him promise: ("Promise me one thing. You won't give me away. If Colfax ever found out what I did...You know why Colfax hates you? Because of me. He's no fool. He sees what's happened"); when the Swede asked: "Why did you ever go back to him, Kitty?", she responded with her most famous line - admitting her own poisonous, lethal nature: ("Maybe because I hate him. I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me. I'd be afraid to go with anyone I love for the harm I'd do them. I don't care harming him"); she persuaded him to get revenge on Colfax's betrayal by stealing the payroll; she promised the Swede that the money would allow her to get away from her hated boyfriend (another major lie); however, it was fairly evident that Kitty and Colfax were accomplices, but the Swede was blind to the deception
  • completely trusting Kitty, the Swede double-crossed the gang and robbed them of the payroll at the farm house, but then Kitty double-crossed him by stealing the money and ditching him after two days in Atlantic City, NJ; six years later, the Swede was discovered at a filling station - and "waiting for some killers to come and get him"
  • after speaking to Kitty and the flashback ended, she eluded Reardon in the ladies' room as Colfax's two hired thugs Max and Al arrived to kill him; Lt. Lubinsky shot them dead in a short and violent gun battle
  • in the final scene set at Colfax's Pittsburgh mansion, a gun battle was heard between disgruntled gang member "Dum Dum" and Colfax; "Dum Dum" lay dead as the lethally wounded Colfax began to talk to Reardon; the investigator had figured out the tiny flaw in Colfax's heist betrayal: ("The half-way house didn't burn down 'till nearly three in the morning. That meant Kitty had a partner. And who could it be but you"); Kitty was revealed all along to be Colfax's wife and partner in crime; Colfax explained that he had the Swede killed to silence him from telling "Dum Dum" and Blinky that he had stolen the money with Kitty (the thugs knew that Colfax and Kitty were married)
  • as Colfax was dying, Kitty knelt by her husband's body and again expressed how heartless and selfish she was, by repeatedly and desperately begging her dying husband to lie for her and exonerate from any crime: ("Jim! Jim!! Tell 'em I didn't know anything. Jim, listen to me. You can save me. Jim, do ya hear me? Tell them I didn't know those gunmen were coming. Say, 'Kitty is innocent. I swear, Kitty is innocent.' Say it, Jim, say it! It'll save me if you do...'Kitty is innocent. I swear, Kitty is innocent.'...Come back, Jim, tell them. Come back! SAVE ME! Jim! 'Kitty is innocent! I swear! Kitty is innocent! Kitty is innocent! I swear, Kitty is innocent! Kitty is innocent!'")

Dum Dum Killed By Colfax

Colfax Lethally Wounded by Dum Dum

Kitty Begging Colfax to Exonerate Her As He Died
  • Colfax, Kitty's potential fall guy, expired after asking for a cigarette; his silence criminally implicated Kitty and condemned her; ironically, Colfax had stolen the money for the duplicitous Kitty, as the Swede had done, and ended up dead; Colfax and Kitty had planned the ultimate frame-up to allow them to keep the entire "take" of the heist: ("And the Swede never knew his girl had gone straight back to Colfax with all the money. As for the others, they had no idea she'd ever been away from Colfax...And Colfax framed the whole thing, just so he wouldn't have to split the take")
  • one of the film's final lines was uttered by insurance investigator James Reardon who wrapped up his own findings about Kitty's smoldering triple-cross: ("The double-cross to end all double-crosses!")

Opening Sequence: Two Contract Killers (Al and Max) in Diner with Manager George

Swede to Nick Adams: "I did something wrong - once"

The Two Hit-Men: Al and Max

Insurance Company Investigator James Reardon (Edmond O'Brien)

In the Swede's Personal Effects: A Green Silk Handkerchief (Belonging to Kitty)

Mary Ellen "Queenie" Daugherty - Palms Hotel Maid in Atlantic City, NJ (the Beneficiary)

2nd Flashback in 1940: the Swede ("Nelson") to "Queenie" - "She's gone!"

The Swede Moaning to Himself: "Charleston was right!"

Philadelphia Detective Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene)

Lilly (Now Lt. Lubinsky's Wife in 1946) Telling 4th Flashback - How the Swede First Met Kitty in 1937

Underworld Figure "Blinky" Franklin (Jeff Corey)

5th Flashback in 1938: Kitty Wearing Stolen Brooch-Jewelry on the Bodice of Her Dress in Cafe

5th Flashback: The Swede Arrested and Taking the Rap for Kitty's Theft of Brooch

Newspaper Record of Hat Factory Robbery (Mid-1940) - Shown in the 8th Flashback

9th Flashback: Delusional Recollections of Dying "Blinky" Franklin to Riordan

9th Flashback: The Jealous Swede and Colfax Provoked Into Threatening Each Other Due to the Way Colfax Treated Kitty

9th Flashback: The Swede Stealing a Glance at Kitty - Just Before the Heist

10th Flashback: The Swede Robbed the Gang of the Stolen Payroll Money at the Farm House

Reardon Staking Out the Swede's Room in Brentwood, NJ Where He Confronted "Dum Dum"

Reversal: Dum Dum Now Questioning Reardon

Kitty Meeting Reardon in Pittsburgh, PA

Kitty In the Green Cat Restaurant Relating the 11th Flashback

11th Flashback: Kitty Taking Advantage of the Swede's Obsessive Love ("They're planning to double-cross you")


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