22 February 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Killers (1964)

Thriller, Crime
Arrow Academy
Rating: 18
BD Release Date:
24th February 2014 (UK)
Don Siegel
Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes
Buy:The Killers [Blu-ray]

Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers has been adapted into 3 films for the silver year, first by Richard Siodmak in 1946, the second by Andrei Tarkovsky as a student film and finally by Don Siegel in 1964. They were all masters of cinema in their own way and all 3 films are very different. The Siodmak version is noted as the only adaptation of his work Hemingway admired before his eventual suicide.

The plot is about as basic as you can get: two hit men - Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) - are hired to kill a teacher Johnny North (John Cassavetes). They are shocked when he tries to flee the scene and accepts his fate quite calmly. The two hit men investigate to find out why he accepted his fate and Johnny’s story is told in a series of flashbacks.

The Killers is probably most well known for two reasons. The first is it was set to be the very first TV movie and Arrow has kindly included widescreen and full screen aspect ratios in this release. The Killers, however, was deemed too violent for television so it was originally released theatrically in Europe where it was a bit of hit; Lee Marvin won a joint Bafta for his work on this and the overrated Cat Ballou. It was eventually released in the US but a few years after Europe.

It’s also widely known for being Ronald Reagan’s last ever film before he decided to go into politics which eventually lead to his election as President. Reagan plays a mobster and absolutely hated the fact he agreed to be in the film because he slaps Angie Dickinson’s character. In reality it was basically the only role Reagan could get because everyone realised he was a pretty woeful actor then. During the early to mid 80s, a famous shot of Reagan with a gun was used numerous times for flyers and posters for loads of hardcore punk gigs.

The early 60s to mid 60s in American cinema was a fascinating time for film despite what many critics might say. The remnants of film noir were still in the air and it can be argued that it didn’t fully stop till the death of JFK. It is rumoured that Angie Dickinson heard the news during the shooting of The Killers and she supposedly had a bit of a fling with him as well. Films were starting to become more violent and explicit and The Killers was one of the first before the so-called ground zero moment of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967, along with some films such as Shock Corridor, Seconds and the work of Roger Corman.

Lee Marvin had been in supporting roles for most of his career before The Killers so he was eager for a meatier role and he considered it one of his best. It can be said his great performance in this could be considered a dry run for his cooler than ice character of Walker in the 1967’s masterpiece Point Blank. John Cassavetes, who had already started directing his independent films that he became better known for, gives one of his finest on screen performances as Johnny North.

The Killers has become something of a minor cult classic over the years and rightfully so: it’s a great slice of neo-noir coming at the tail end of film noir. Lee Marvin is as cool as you can get. Don Siegel’s direction is spot on as usual and it’s always a riot to see Ronald Reagan’s performance as mob boss Jack Browning. The disc also includes 3 interviews - one on Lee Marvin’s career, one on Reagan’s acting career and archive one with Mr. Siegel himself.


Ian Schultz

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