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The Killers: The Criterion Collection

Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short story "The Killers" is short and sweet and spares no room for sentimental embroidery in its tight scenario of two hardened assassins suffering small-town innocence as they hunt a man who is resigned to be their prey. The same can't be said of the two feature films inspired by the source. During the height of the film noir craze, director Robert Siodmak used Hemingway's sharp prose as a springboard for a fair 1946 yarn about a captivated insurance claim investigator (Edmund O'Brien) playing gumshoe to unravel the story of a murdered Swede (Burt Lancaster), a ruined prize fighter whose hard luck ran him afoul of a troublesome dame (Ava Gardner) and an ill-advised payroll heist. Eighteen years later, director Don Siegel remade Siodmak's movie by removing nearly all evidence of Hemingway, recasting Lancaster's boxer with a has-been race car driver (John Cassavettes), switching out Gardner's femme fatale with Angie Dickinson, and shedding O'Brien's weak claims dick in favor of an inquisitive hit man (Lee Marvin). Both films have their moments, but neither, by nature, is as tight and telling as their source material. Nevertheless, Criterion packages the movies together in a pleasing double-feature with plenty of context that succeeds in making the two films more valuable than they may seem viewed individually. Both movies are presented in new 1.33:1 full-frame digital transfers with monaural Dolby Digital audio tracks and alternate audio tracks with music and effects only. Supplements include interviews with mystery novelist and Don Siegel biographer Stuart Kaminsky and actor Clu Gulager, a faithful 20-minute student film of Hemingway's story by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, a 1949 Radio Presentation of Siodmak's film with Lancaster reprising his role and featuring Shelley Winters, an audio track of actor Stacy Keach reading Hemingway's story, a chapter from Don Siegel's autobiography, trailers for five movies directed by Siodmak, Paul Schrader's influential essay "Notes on Film Noir," production and publicity stills, press clips, movie house marquees, ads, script notes, memos, casting suggestions, and trailers. Dual-DVD keep-case with liner-notes essays by Jonathan Lethem and Geoffrey O'Brien.
— Gregory P. Dorr

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