The Killers (1964 USA)

Hugely influential classic re-telling of Ernest Hemingway’s short story. This flick has inspired many a wannabe. Not really Film Noir as it was made after the genre had passed and is in colour and features no detectives or private eyes. And not even a “film” as it was originally intended as the very first made-for-television movie. With this version also featuring a murder-by-sniper scene, the recent assassination of John F. Kennedy by sniper ensured The Killers was temporarily on unsafe ground. With Ronald Reagan making his last appearance on film before moving into politics, the ’64 version of The Killers has a bit of history.

It’s a film about double-crossing, murder and fateful yearnings, featuring amoral characters in a wonderfully constructed story that is told in flashbacks! Photographed in bright, almost garish, colours, it’s very much the polar opposite to the 1946 version… A man learns that there is a contract out on him. He is about to be killed but accepts it passively, not attempting to save his own life. The man in question is Johnny North. Johnny gets involved with a dangerous dame and lets her talk him into participating in a robbery. The robbery goes wrong, the money disappears, and all things point to Johnny as the culprit. But Johnny is consumed by guilt and betrayal and has lost the will to go on, the will to live. Like the original, much of the story is told in flashbacks but in this one it’s from the killers point of view.

Lee Marvin plays Charlie, one of the killers hired to do the hit on Johnny North (played by John Cassavetes) and Charlie wants to know why a man doesn’t run, why he allows himself to be killed. He also wants to know what happened to the money from the heist. Johnny doesn’t have it and the guy who hired him didn’t ask him to find it. That’s not right and Charlie sets out to find out what happened and where the money is. Marvin is great in this and Clu Gulagar is the perfect psycho-killer sidekick to Marvin’s understated thinking thugs’ thug. Angie Dickinson plays Sheila Farr, the gun moll that Ava Gardner played in the 1946 original and is every bit the sociopath that Gardner’s Kitty was, and just as fatal. Angie was a very good looking girl and her star was definitely on the rise during this period.

They had her in a collection of sexy dresses that showed off a wonderful physique and of course she had that hair going. And in his last screen role (though he wasn’t done acting), Ronald Reagan plays Jack Browning, the head of the criminal organization that pulls off the heist. Of course this went against type for Reagan. It is hard to picture Reagan as a criminal mastermind but he brings an interesting authority to the part. John Cassavetes is his usual neurotic self while we also get to enjoy old pros like Claude Akins in supporting character roles. All in all, it’s fun and definitely worth a view. If you’ve seen the 1946 version you’ll find that while it pales in comparison, it is different enough to still be enjoyable. And if you haven’t seen the original you’ll find this an entertaining film. Either way, it is an interesting look at the state of the television art of that era and just what wouldn’t get past the censors. The clipped quality of the dialogue even has a kind of majesty worthy of Hemingway.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review as always! I haven’t seen Ronald Reagan in an acting role before so I’ll have to check this one out. Especially if it’s adapted from Hemingway, then it’s guaranteed to be a rip-roaring plot. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoy!… & thanks for commenting. 🙂

    Like

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