Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Commissioned as the very first 'TV movie', Don Siegel's compelling thriller would be forgiven for being utterly forgettable. As it turns out, The Killers is a bit of a gem, complimented by great casting, strong performances and sparkling dialogue. "I gotta find out what makes a man decide not to run. Why all of a sudden he'd rather die." And so it begins. Hitman Charlie (Lee Marvin) can't quite work out why his high-priced victim, Johnny North (John Cassavetes), gives up without a fight. Obsessed with the answer, Charlie and his hot-headed partner, Lee (Clu Gulager), track down Johnny's associates, including Ronald Reagan in his last screen role, uncovering a complex web of crime and deceit along the way.

The Killers is loosely inspired by the Ernest Hemingway story of the same name. It's the second Hollywood adaptation, first brought to life in 1946 by Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), The Killers is available for the first time in high definition courtesy of Arrow Films. The Killers is best remembered for two reasons. The first being Ronald Reagan's last ever foray. Sources close to Reagan claim that he was disappointed with himself for taking on the role of 'chief bad guy', particularly with a scene where he's seen to strike the leading lady. He feared the scene might have repercussions later on as his political career took flight. He shouldn't have worried. It's not like he became the most powerful man in the world or anything.

It's also claimed that leading lady Angie Dickinson learned of President John F. Kennedy's assassination during filming, though speculation that they were more than good friends remains just that. The Killers was pulled from the television schedules when NBC deemed it too violent, which gave Universal the opportunity to release it in cinemas instead. The Killers is violent in places, and a part of me would like to see Quentin Tarantino remake it in the style of Reservoir Dogs, but there's more to The Killers than sporadic violence. It would be interesting to know if Tarantino is a fan though, because the zippy dialogue is certainly reminiscent of his early work.

The story is told - much like Reservoir Dogs - in extended flashbacks, with Charlie and Lee piecing the puzzle together one interrogation at a time. John Cassavetes carries most of the films weight, and he does a great job, oozing smarts and charm from every pore. Marvin is as icy cool as he's ever been and Gulager exudes fiery menace in a scene-stealing performance as his unhinged partner. Charlie and Lee work well together, and thanks to Marvin and Gulager their relationship is richly rewarding from start to finish. Even Reagan, who was never considered to be that good an actor, convinces in his first bad guy role. It's a shame that he didn't amount to much.

Love is in the air courtesy of Angie Dickinson's Sheila Farr, the extravagant mistress of an almost presidential mob boss. Naturally, there's more to Sheila than meets the eye, and the twists and turns come thick and fast in Don Siegel's lively thriller. Not least on the race track, where Johnny North makes a living as a champion race car driver. There are several chases littered throughout the film, and it's a shame that the rear-projection techniques have dated so badly, but The Killers remains an exhilarating ride despite some obvious budgetary constraints. Performances are strong and with Siegel at the helm the film never loses momentum, racing from one set piece to the next whilst filling up on memorable characters and gripping storytelling.

This feature-packed disc will be released as a deluxe Blu-ray featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, an archive interview with director Don Siegel, new and exclusive interviews with Dwayne Epstein, author of 'Lee Marvin: Point Blank' and Marc Eliot, author of 'Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years', alongside an exclusive collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mike Sutton, extracts from Don Siegel’s autobiography and contemporary reviews. Not only that, you can now enjoy the film in both the alternate widescreen framing (1.85:1) and the more commonly seen 1.33:1/4:3 version.

With sharp dialogue and a double act that would give Pulp Fiction's Vincent and Jules a run for their money, Don Siegel's The Killers is a worthy addition to any film fans collection. The ending is a real corker too.

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