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USA 1964
Directed by
Don Siegel
91 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Killers, The (1964)

Don Siegel's remake of Robert Siodmak's 1946 film noir of the same name is a considerably different affair with both gains and losses.

All trace of the original's striking noir style are gone and replaced with eye-catching '60s flair with the actors posed against blue Californian sky or blocked in with flat planes of primary colour. It is in its own right a stylistic treat although particularly the race-track sequences with their cheap back-projections look interchangeable with equivalent scenes in Viva Las Vegas, released the same year (Siegel had directed the 1960 Presley vehicle Flaming Star). This however will appeal to some viewers for its intentional cheesiness. Although made for television its nasty pulp fiction violence, embodied with great panache by Lee Marvin, warming up for his iconic role in Point Blank (1969) and accompanied by Clu Gulager as his sadistic apprentice was too much for the small screen.

The plot has also changed considerably with Burt Lancaster's original role of a down-and-out boxer being taken by John Cassavetes, now re-invented as a racing car driver, Johnny North. Whilst the film similarly opens with North's execution, the film's structure is significantly different, with the plot driven not by a righteous insurance investigator as it was on the first version but by Marvin's Charlie, a professional hitman with an eye on a potential retirement fund.

If the film in its initial phase looks like a poor relation of the original, this restructuring gives it a more coherent internal dynamic and with Marvin's implacable performance it tends to grow in strength, culminating in a suitably fatalistic ending with a great line by Marvin's wounded gunman who in reply to Sheila Farr's pleas for mercy says: "Lady, I don't have the time....".

As Sheila, the femme fatale, Angie Dickinson is no Ava Gardner and unlike the original, her role is never convincingly developed within the script. Thus the confrontation between the two at Johnny's hospital beside is particularly confusing as there appears to be no reason for their break-up, whilst her allegiance to crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his last screen appearance and first as a bad guy) is far from convincing. Cassavetes is also miscast as a working class tough.

Surprisingly, most of the scenes involving guns, from Johnny's execution to Browning's failure to kill him at point-blank range and Charlie's demise are surprisingly weakly done and the plot twist is far less effectively handled than the original. Nevertheless The Killers as a '60s B grade crime flick will well reward fans of such fare.

FYI: Virginia Christine who appears as the secretary in the opening sequence of this version played Sam Lubinsky's wife in the 1946 version.




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