The Story (continued)
The Killers (1946)
Nick remembers how "it started Thursday, a week ago" about an hour before closing at the Brentwood filling station.
A heavy-set, wealthy driver with a mustache [later identified as Big Jim Colfax] in a big black Cadillac (with an out-of-state plate) pulled in for gasoline and appeared to recognize the Swede. Immediately afterwards, the Swede reported feeling "kinda sick," left work, and uncharacteristically failed to report the next day.
After leaving the police station, Reardon phones his secretary Stella at the Newark home insurance office, to instruct her to take the post-mortem photos of the deceased to Kelly's Gym to see if anyone there can identify the boxer. (The corpse with broken knuckles provided the clue.) Reardon then drives down to Atlantic City to interview Mary Ellen "Queenie" Daugherty (Queenie Smith), Lunn's $2,500 beneficiary, who is a chambermaid at the Palms Hotel. She has no recollection of Pete Lunn ("there must be some mistake"), but then recognizes him from a photograph as a short-term hotel guest (the "man in 1212" - "his name...was Nelson") from six years earlier. Queenie is thankful that the murdered man "can sleep in consecrated ground" - because "the sin was not on his own soul."
Queenie remembers that the tenant's room was trashed and that the sweaty and distressed Nelson was bemoaning: "She's gone!" She also remembers how she prevented Nelson from throwing himself from his window in an act of suicide - the reason that the distraught Swede made her his policy's beneficiary. And she heard him express regret about not following Charleston's advice: "Charleston was right."
Back in his Newark office, Reardon greets his flirtatious blonde office secretary Stella (Ann Staunton):
Reardon: Good morning, Stella.
Stella: Good morning, dream boy.
When he begins discussing the insignificant death benefit case with insurance company chief R.S. Kenyon (Douglas MacBride), Reardon is instructed to "forget it." But the dogged agent is persistent and threatens to quit - he is allowed to stay on the perplexing Lunn case for one more day:
This isn't a two-for-a-nickel shooting. Two professional killers show up in a small town and put the blast on a filling station attendant. A nobody. There was no attempted robbery. They were out for only one thing. To kill him. Why?
Stella's research at Kelly's Gym pays off, and provides background information on the Philadelphia boxer:
Real name Ole Andersen, born Philadelphia June 23, 1908. Mother died 1909. Father employed by Philadelphia Transit Company, died 1916. Started fighting professionally in 1928. Weight 173. Last fight Philadelphia Sports Arena, October 1935...Three years later October 1938, arrested in Philadelphia for robbery. Sentenced to three years at hard labor by Justice Regan. Released for good behavior in May of 40.
Reardon's next interviewee is the police officer who 'pinched' Andersen for robbery in 1938, Philadelphia Detective Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene) from the Fifth Precinct. According to Lubinsky, the Swede and he were childhood pals from the 12th Ward, because both of their fathers worked for the Transit Company. But their lives took very different paths: "I joined the Department, he started fighting." He also remembers how the Swede was a great fighter who could take a lot of punishment: "I saw his first fight and I saw his last":
Lubinsky attended the Swede's last fight, a brutal encounter with Tiger Lewis. Although instructed to 'use your right' by his manager Packy Robinson (Charles D. Brown), the prizefighter Swede gets "murdered" and neglects to counter-punch with his right. He is twice knocked to the canvas and the fight is declared over. Later in the locker room, a doctor diagnoses the reason that the boxer couldn't fight - he had broken the bones in his hand, and it's likely he'll never fight again.
Lubinsky helps the vulnerable, deserted boxer shower and dress and then tells him the bad news: "You're through...That hand will never be good again - not for fighting...It's a lucky thing. You aren't punchy yet. Now suppose it was your brains were scrambled instead of your hand." Ole's faithful, ringside supporter, girlfriend Lilly Harmon (Virginia Christine) waits outside, but the Swede shows her little attention. When Lubinsky suggests that the ex-boxer join the police department, the Swede declines the low-paying occupation: "No, I wouldn't want to be a copper."
Thereafter, the two friends parted ways, and Lubinsky married the fighter's ex-girlfriend about six months after Ole broke off his relationship: "She was always in love with him...and I was always in love with her. It worked out fine for me, anyway."
When Lilly was dating the Swede, she remembers attending a swanky hotel apartment party with him, held by gangster-type Jake the Rake (John Miljan). Lilly is introduced to underworld figure Blinky Franklin (Jeff Corey) and to "hostess" Miss Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), moll/girlfriend of imprisoned racketeering king-pin boss Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker) ("who has his time all booked up"). From his first look at the ravishing brunette with a full length, slithery black satin dress that bares her shoulders, Ole is entranced and falls in love with the alluring siren, and can't help but stare. Kitty cares little for Andersen's boxing career:
Swede: Do you like the fights?
Kitty: I'm afraid I've never seen one.
Swede: No kiddin'.
Kitty: I hate brutality, Mr. Andersen. The idea of two men beating each other to a pulp makes me ill.
Lilly: I saw all Swede's fights.
Kitty: How wonderful of you! I could never bear to see a man I really cared for being hurt. (Kitty is called away, and slinks off.)...
Swede: She's beautiful.
Ole literally ignores Lilly and watches the sexy Kitty from behind as she croons "The More I Know of Love" by the piano. Lilly recalls that she lost the Swede forever to Kitty: "Right then, I knew the boat had sailed" and that "poor" Ole had fallen in love "with dynamite."
Lieutenant Lubinsky remembers the night he arrested the Swede in Lou Tingle's Cafe, about one month after marrying Lilly. After receiving a "tip" about stolen "hot jewelry," the detective spotted Kitty Collins, now the Swede's new girlfriend, sitting at a table with Jake the Rake, and wearing a spider-shaped diamond brooch. [The Swede has found a new occupation - stealing to satisfy Kitty's material desires.] Although Kitty is tipped off by another petty crook named Charlie (Wally Scott) and secretly hides the jewelry piece in a bowl of soup, she is found out and threatened with arrest. The Swede arrives in the restaurant, acting ostentatiously with bills and wearing flashy clothes after joining the "numbers racket." Feeling sympathetic for Kitty and to save her from being pinched, he lies for her and takes the rap ("I swiped that stuff myself. I was lettin' her wear it, just for tonight"). He is sentenced to a three-year term for the theft. Afterwards, Kitty "went her own sweet way."
At Ole's graveside funeral (in the rain), Reardon notices "an old-time hoodlum" named Charleston (Vince Barnett) at the grim ceremony. He takes Charleston to a Philadelphia bar/pool hall and interviews Ole's tight-lipped, alcoholic friend.
Charleston reflects about the time he was Ole's cell-mate in prison ("stir"): "For nearly two years, we weren't never more than eight and a half feet apart. That's how big the cell was." In the cell, Charleston passes the time by gazing at and studying the stars, while Ole dreams of his girlfriend (he twirls the green handkerchief with a harp pattern in his hands). When Charleston describes a bright star in the sky, Ole is thinking of Kitty:
You see that bright star in the center...brightest star in all the heavens. Only it's so far away, it don't seem like it.
The only item Ole has to remember Irish-born Kitty by is the handkerchief:
Swede: You know what harps mean?
Charleston: Angels play 'em.
Swede: They mean Ireland. That's why they call them Mick's harps. Kitty's Irish. She give me this. [Mick is slang for Irish.]
But Kitty hasn't written or visited Ole in prison during his entire incarceration, and he rationalizes that she's sick. Charleston wisely knows that Kitty has just used him: "A girl don't write. That don't mean she's sick like you might think. Not necessarily."
Charleston remembers the last time he saw Andersen. A gang of small-time hoodlums were gathered together by Big Jim Colfax to plan a big caper - a payroll heist ("should be good for better than 250 grand"), just a few days after the Swede's release from prison.
[Colfax engineered the holdup to include the Swede as part of the setup, knowing that his love-struck, blind, masochistic love and trust in Kitty would allow he and Kitty, now his wife, to orchestrate an elaborate double-cross of the rest of the gang, and make the Swede the fall-guy.]
While Kitty lounges on a nearby bed, Charleston, Big Jim, Blinky, and Dum Dum Clarke (Jack Lambert) consider playing blackjack. The Swede arrives and is immediately entranced by the sight of Kitty wearing a tight sweater. [She is Colfax's wife, a fact known by Blinky and Dum Dum - but not by the Swede.] He tenderly unfolds the green handkerchief and caresses it in his hands, as Kitty enticingly watches over his shoulder.
Big Jim describes the uneven, four-person split of the loot ("I take the first 100 grand, the rest you divide to suit yourselves"). Long-time ex-con Charleston declines the offer to join the gang for the big take: "If it's as big as you claim, it's not gonna be any easy pickings. Nothin' that big ever is." When the Swede is asked about participating, he first glances at Kitty - who coyly moves her stockinged foot, and then votes affirmatively. Charleston's words of advice to the love-obsessed Swede to ignore Kitty and "stop listening to those golden harps" fall on deaf ears:
Stop listening to those golden harps, Swede. They can land you into a lot of trouble.
Reardon pays a second visit to his superior Kenyon, with a newspaper clipping (dated July 21, 1940) describing the gang's heist:
BANDITS ROB HAT FACTORY OF QUARTER MILLION PAY ROLL
Prentiss Hat Company in Hackensack, N.J. Victim of Daring Holdup
While Kenyon reads the account from the newspaper, a flashback presents the daring holdup.