The Killers Reviews
But in all seriousness, the film holds up incredibly well. Originally envisioned as one of the first made-for-tv movies, it was deemed too violent for broadcast, so, Universal repackaged it as a good old fashioned slice of late period American noir. And as such, the budget is lower then your average film, but is used effectively. Don Siegel directs the story of a weathered hitman, Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin), pondering why his target, a former race car driver, Johnny North (John Cassavetes), didn't resist his fate, instead simply allowing himself to be shot. Deeply confused, the hitman and his twitchy, sunglasses adorned partner Lee (Clu Gulager), the duo set out to find out what made their target so dead inside. Along the way, they first interrogate Johnny's former mechanic and friend, Earl (Claude Akins), who points them in the direction of Shelia Farr (Angie Dickinson), a alluring temptress who caught Johnny's eye, but happened to also be the girlfriend of the villainous gangster Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan).
Siegel keeps the pace swift and direct, bouncing between present-day and flashbacks with ease, while keeping the film alive with a spark and edginess to the direction. It's not super eye catching, but it's all effective, and helps contribute to the stark, pessimistic tone of the film. On top of that, he gets some choice performances out of his stable of actors. Lee Marvin is, as always, a perfect mix of calm and collected yet violent and dangerous. By Marvin's own admission, this was his favorite performance to date, and it's well deserving. Quintessentially summing up his unique brand of stark roughness and coolness that no other actor could quite match.
John Cassavetes delivers a great performance as Johnny North, whose life is related back to us in flashback. An ambitious, determined driver who falls into complete bondage under Angie Dickinson's vixen like charms, Cassavetes mixes vulnerability with arrogance perfectly, and even though his character is no doubt doomed by the narrative (after all, he dies in the first five minutes of the movie), you can't help but root for the guy, and feel pained when he repeatedly gets screwed over in increasingly terrible ways.
Angie Dickinson is a quintessential noir femme fatal, all allure but no soul. Her steady seduction of Cassavetes is smooth and done with practiced intent, and despite all her over-the-top declarations of love, it's plainly apparent that she's a no good, two-timin' dame, whose own greed means she's dedicated to the real love of her life: Power, and those who wield it.
Ronald Reagan meanwhile, provides an assured, smoothly calm and collected performance as the dominating, cold hearted gangster Jack Browning. Using his innate charisma and charm, Reagan is the textbook definition of affably evil, and, for the only time Reagan ever played a villain, he does so quite well. And trust me, it is quite surreal to see the future president of the united states play a cold hearted mobster, but at the same time, it works!
The film's score, by a then-unknown John Williams (credited as Johnny Williams) is a spikey, crackling piece of excellent jazz scoring. Contrasting the stark, cynical noir elements with the romantic elements, Williams shows his natural talent for film music, and it's a vital piece of his musical filmography, if only to show how good he was from the beginning.
So, suffice to say, The Killers is an underrated, unpretentious piece of excellent genre filmmaking, and totally worth checking out.
The best part? It's on YouTube!
5 out of 5 stars.
This Don Siegel vehicle is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway and carries a classic double cross/revenge theme, but via the strong actors (Marvin, Dickinson, Gulager and Cassavetes) this becomes quite entertaining. And quite violent as well. Despite the pretty poor Hollywood backlot structures at times. Lee Marvin is a personal favourite and he plays a quite nasty character here in a very convincing manner. I reckon he played as hard in real life as well from what I know. Love the ending.