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The opening title cards read: "Mark Hellinger Productions, Inc. presents Ernest Hemingway's The Killers." The Killers was the fourth Hemingway work to be adapted to the screen, following A Farewell to Arms (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1275), For Whom the Bell Tolls and To Have and Have Not (see below). The entire plot of the Hemingway short story occurs in the film's opening sequence; the remainder of the film, written by Anthony Veiller, explains the murder of "Ole (Swede) Anderson." Papers in the Mark Hellinger Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicate that Hellinger paid Hemingway approximately $50,000 for the rights to the story, but that publicity items inflated the figure to $75,000. Richard Brooks stated in a modern interview that he wrote a version of the script; his contribution to the final film is undetermined.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M agreed to loan Audrey Totter to Universal for the role of "Kitty Collins," but a production reshuffle at M-G-M, brought about by Robert Montgomery's walkout on Desire Me, nullified the agreement. Universal then borrowed Ava Gardner from M-G-M for the role. Other information from the Hellinger Collection notes a clause in Gardner's contract requesting that her singing voice not be dubbed in The Killers. The film marked Hellinger's first producing assignment at Universal and the screen debuts of Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), William Conrad (1920-1994) and African-American character actor William "Bill" Walker (1896-1992). According to contemporary sources, after Lancaster made a notable appearance in the brief Broadway run of the 1945 Harry Brown play A Sound of Hunting, he was brought to Hollywood. Hollywood Reporter and New York Times praised Lancaster's performance in The Killers and noted his star potential. A Hollywood Reporter news item indicates Barbara Powers was cast in the film, but her appearance cannot be confirmed. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Score and Best Screenplay, but lost in all four categories to The Best Years of Our Lives. Composer Miklos Rozsa's "Danger Ahead" refrain, which is heard in The Killers, later became the inspiration for the highly recognizable Dragnet theme song (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1951-60).
Burt Lancaster recreated the role of "Swede" in a Screen Directors Playhouse radio broadcast on June 5, 1949. Shelley Winters co-starred as "Kitty." The Killers was remade by Universal in 1964 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.2593). The remake, which utilized both the Hemingway story and Anthony Veiller's screenplay, was directed by Don Siegel and starred Nick Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan in his last film role.