Ernest Hemingway's short story with the same title is only a dozen pages long. It comprises the first fifteen minutes of the film, where two hired killers come to a small town to murder the Swede, Ole Andreson, who works at the local gas station. Max, one of the killers, interrogates the man behind the counter at the diner to find out when the Swede comes in for dinner, while the other killer ties up a young patron and the cook. When the Swede does not arrive to eat dinner, the two killers seek him out where he lives. After the killers leave the diner, the young patron runs to warn the Swede. The young man asks the Swede why they want to kill him. The Swede replies with resignation, "There isn't anything I can do about it."1 It is a powerful scene, as the young man leaves in tears and the Swede awaits his fate.

The remainder of the film fills in the whys. In a most inventive adaptation written by Anthony Veiller and an unacknowledged John Huston, the two screenwriters provide the background leading to the Swede's death. Using an insurance investigator named Riordan as the narrator, the film plumbs the depth of human weakness, finding the love of money and the love of a woman behind it.

Robert Siodmak shot the film using flashbacks. Each segment is prompted by Riordan's finding of some clue, until someone begins to tell him the truth. Each flashback provides Riordan with the truth of the circumstances for the Swede's final demise.

Julio A. Rosario, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Library

1 Ernest Hemingway, "The Killers," The Best Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953: 287.

The Killers. Dir. Robert Siodmak. Perf. Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien. DVD. Universal Pictures, 1946, 1973. The Criterion Collection, 2003.

The two killers, Max and Al (Charles McGraw and William Conrad), enter the diner and sit down at the counter.

The door of Henry's lunch-room opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter.      "What yours?" George asked them.
     " I don't know," one of the men said. "What do you want to eat, Al?"
     " I don't know," said Al. "I don't know what I want to eat."

Ernest Hemingway. "The Killers." The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953. 279.

One of the killers, Max (William Conrad), questions George (Harry Hayden) about the whereabouts of Ole Andreson, "the Swede" (Burt Lancaster).

     "Talk to me, bright boy," Max said. "What do you think's going to happen?"
     George did not say anything.
     "I'll tell you," Max said. "We're going to kill a Swede. Do you know a big Swede named Ole Andreson?"
     "He comes here to eat every night, don't he?"
     "Sometimes he comes here."
     "He comes here at six o'clock, don't he?"
     "If he comes."

Ernest Hemingway. "The Killers." The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953. 283.

Nick Adams (Phil Brown) leaves the diner so he can warn Ole Andreson (Burt Lancaster) about the two killers who are coming to kill him.

     Nick opened the door and went into the room. Ole Andreson was lying on the bed with all his clothes on. He had been a heavyweight prizefighter and he was too long for the bed. He lay with his head on two pillows. He did not look at Nick.
     "What was it?" he asked.
     "I was up at Henry's," Nick said, "and two fellows came in and tied up me and the cook, and they said they were going to kill you."
     It sounded silly when he said it. Ole Andreson said nothing.
     "They put us out in the kitchen," Nick went on. "They were going to shoot you when you came in to supper."
     Ole Andreson looked at the wall and did not say anything.
     "George thought I better come and tell you about it."
     "There isn't anything I can do about it," Ole Andreson said.
     "I'll tell you what they were like."
     "I don't want to know what they were like," Ole Andreson said. He looked at the wall. "Thanks for coming to tell me about it."

Ernest Hemingway. "The Killers." The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953. 287.


Cook, Rita. "Adaptive Inventions: An Interview with Roger Kumble." Creative Screenwriting 6.2 (1999): 35-37.

Jays, David. "Cruel Intentions." Sight and Sound Feb. 2001: 24-27.

Laclos, Choderlos de. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Trans. P.W.L. Stone. England: Penguin Books, 1961.

Le Gagne, Alexa. "The Acting Female Gazed with Cruel Intention." West Virginia University Philological Papers 48 (2001-2002): 140-147.

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