Wednesday, November 23, 2011

1964 - The Killers

The Killers (1964)

It’s a bight sunny California morning when Charlie Storm, played with intelligent menace by the always threatening Lee Marvin and his eager young associate Lee walk into a school for the blind and make their way to the Principals office. Once inside the men begin terrorizing the lady principal, forcing her into telling them where to find teacher Johnny North, played with tragic resignation by revolutionary independent director John Cassavetes.

Lee Marvin in The Killers (1964)

As the two thugs make their way to the upstairs classroom where North is teaching, the principal calls up to the classroom warning North of the danger, but the tired looking man just sits down and waits for the two men to arrive and puts up no struggle as they shoot him to death.

John Cassavetes in The Killers (1964)

Later, after leaving town, Charlie tells Lee that he is not comfortable with how this assignment has gone off. First off, it seems to him that they got paid a lot more then the hit they had carried out seemed to be worth. More importantly, Charlie doesn’t understand why Johnny just sat there and hadn’t made any attempt to get away or save his life and he wants to know why, the guy just waited to be plugged.

And so begins director Don Siegel’s loose adaptation, from a script by Star Trek's Gene L. Coon, of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers, that ditches Nick Adams and the rest of Papa’s story and the earlier 1946 filmed version, but leaves behind the bare bones tale of a man waiting calmly for a deserved death. As Charlie and Lee search for why Johnny North just allowed himself to be killed, director Siegel transforms the story into a noir version of Citizen Kane.

Lee Marvin in The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel always had a deft touch with crime films such as Charley Varrick or Dirty Harry and this 1964 film is no exception. Originally filmed as a television movie NBC decided The Killers was far too violent for broadcast, and gave it back to Universal who released it in theaters instead.

Lee Marvin leads an exceptional cast that provides strong performances all around. Clu Gulager is great as the younger hit man Lee, carrying himself as a young man who could just as easily be working as a car salesman as a hired killer. Angie Dickinson plays the lady in distress who might not really be that distressed. John Cassavetes plays a tough guy who is smart enough to know he is over his head and there is going to be hell to pay. And best of all in his only turn on screen as a villain, Ronald Reagan in his last feature role, plays a psycho gangster named Jack Browning who is one of the nastiest pieces of work to grace the screen up to Dennis Hopper gave us Frank Booth in BlueVelvet.

Ronald Reagan in The Killers (1964)

Okay, maybe not that extreme, but still, it’s kind of fun to watch Ron beat up girls and murder cops.

If you have ever seen Pulp Fiction, then The Killers is a crime film you almost have to see. The two hit men played by Marvin and Gulager are the spiritual godfathers of Jules and Vincent. And the entire feel of the film, from tight dialogue to brightly lit California streets, is an obvious influence on the Los Angeles of Quentin Tarantino.

If you haven’t paid much attention to the work of Don Siegel, you're missing out on one of Hollywood’s finest directors and The Killers is easily one of his very best films.

Original film trailer for The Killers (1964)

1 comment:

  1. I've always meant to see this but it's always gone when I try to check it out. I blame a vast right-wing conspiracy to keep Reagan's image cleaner.