I started off with Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, this week.
“The door of Henry’s lunch-room opened and two men came in.” I immediately thought of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”.
I’ve always imagined that the two men in Hopper’s famous painting showed up together, with one leaving the other to try his hand with the lady in red, so that’s where this story is taking place, in my mind. I’m waiting for lady to show up, now.
Once the two men, Al and Max, start making a fuss, however,
“Nighthawks” begins to fade. They’re starting trouble; just like every street-level gangster does before they take care of business. After they ask about the town, “Nighthawks” has completely disappeared, replaced by a locale not
dissimmilar from Fredericksburg’s own Twenty Four Hundred
except situated in a three-streetlight town.
“You don’t have to laugh at all, see?” Yes!! That cliche “see”!
It’s like the gangster version of the Canadian “Eh?”, wielded by fast-talking, slick-haired hitmen and bagmen alike. These guys mean business. Through their exchanges, I get lost, though. I don’t know who’s talking to who, since two of the characters haven’t been given names yet. I get my bearings back after re-reading a few lines of dialogue, just to solidify the events in my mind.
I’d like to take the time to admit that I’ve never much cared for “manly man” characters–they seem too one-dimensional, too predictable, and often times are much less intelligent than they believe themselves to be, making the writing process easier for the writer–a character with less knowledge is easy to fool, which makes it easy to waste time with wordiness and supposition, which distracts the reader from the plot.
Speaking of which, we’re back at Henry’s now. Al and Max bring Sam the cook out of the kitchen to scare him, and show that they mean business to the three Summit locals. The hitmen are on a mission to kill Ole Anderson, another Summit resident, who was known to visit Henry’s. He never shows, so the Al and Max leave after a few hours. Nick, the 3rd Summit resident, just a patron of Henry’s, goes to find Ole Anderson and tells him about the men, when Anderson seems to decide his own fate. “I’m through with all that running around”, is his response.
Nick leaves Anderson’s and returns to Henry’s, where he and George talk about the night’s events. Nick wonders what Anderson must have done to deserve the mob’s attention, when George tells him “Double-crossed somebody. That’s what they kill them for.” There we go, some good old-fashioned double-crossing! Nick realizes then that instead of Anderson, he himself should leave town–he just double crossed the mob by telling Anderson of Al and Max’s presence and purpose in Summit.
The story ends with a slightly comical “Doctor, it hurts when I do this,” exchange between Nick and George.
“I can’t stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he’s going to get it. It’s too damned awful,” Nick says. To which George replies. “Well, you better not think about it.”
This ending is rather nuanced, it seems, given a little supposition by the reader. Nick, who has just crossed the mob, is now waiting in Henry’s diner, operating on his instinct to leave town. Maybe he’s next?
The Killers plays the noir game quite well, it seems. Gangsters, threats of violence and a hostage situation, repercussions for past events, and a story taking place at night.
Something I would personally include as another feature that occurs, and may occur in future noir works this semester is the use of nicknames. The gangsters ask Nick for his name, and he tells them, but, even after asking his name, the gangsters refer to him as “bright boy”, an obvious tongue-in-cheek insult.
Overall, The Killers left me wishing there was more to the story, to be quite honest. There should have been action of some sort, especially with a name like The Killers…although it wasn’t called “The Hit” or something similar, so I guess it’s fitting.