The Killers

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Killers at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Score:

Genre: Crime/Thriller
Director: Don Siegel
Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Ronald Reagan, Clu Gulager
Rated: NR

Disabuse yourself of any notion that this second film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers (1964) is going to have any of the moody film noir feel of Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film of the same name. This take on the story by the invariably overrated Don Siegel is probably the most brightly lit, atmosphere-challenged movie ever to be tagged as noir. The film was made for TV (and looks it), but was quickly shunted into theaters when the results were deemed too violent for home consumption. While the violence doesn’t seem all that extreme today, it still has a kind of offhand, almost casual quality that makes it slightly distasteful. In truth, its approach to violence—along with its status as Ronald Reagan’s last acting stint—is probably the main thing The Killers has going for it. A case could be made, however, for the fact that there’s scarcely a likable character among the major players in the entire film.

The basic story—a man is executed by hit men at the onset, and the bulk of the film is devoted to finding out why and at whose orders—is largely the same as that of the Siodmak film, yet the details are quite different. (Considering that Hemingway’s story only concerns the hit, screenwriters on both occasions were free to embellish.) This film is interesting because of its mean-spirited quality (whether or not that’s a plus), but it’s constantly compromised by the flat high-key lighting (there are home movies with better lighting) and an over-reliance on shoddy rear-screen and process work that attempt to place characters in backgrounds they were obviously never near.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

9 thoughts on “The Killers

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    While it’s certainly no masterpiece, I rather enjoy this version of THE KILLERS even with the technical limitations. I actually prefer it over the 1946 version which, as you pointed out, is very different and a true film noir. I would never have thought to call it noir and I’m sure Siegel wouldn’t have either (although he was Mark Hellinger’s first choice to direct the 46 version).

    Perhaps it’s the fact that this was the template for the rash of TV movies that followed or it may be all those familiar TV faces like Burt Mustin, Claude Akins and Norman Fell that were part of my childhood. Lee Marvin has some pretty good dialogue and I’ve always found the Clu Gulager character a hoot.

    Revisiting it for this showing (I once took a college course where it was highly regarded and that was before Siegel hit it big with DIRTY HARRY and THE BEGUILED), I found it much the same as Michael Winner’s later update of THE BIG SLEEP which I’m also very fond of.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I found it much the same as Michael Winner’s later update of THE BIG SLEEP which I’m also very fond of.

    Well, as you know, I’m fond of the Winner film, too, but this does little for me. I think it may, in part, be that while being reminded of TV movies triggers a positive nostalgia for you, it has the reverse effect on me.

  3. ncain

    Watching Reagan bitch slap Angie Harmon is a surreal experience. His character was not that far off from the one he played for most of the 80′s.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Watching Reagan bitch slap Angie Harmon is a surreal experience

    You have no idea how hard I tried to get a decent frame-grab of that.

    His character was not that far off from the one he played for most of the 80’s

    And I was so not going to go there.

  5. ncain

    Angie Harmon’s the one from Law and Order, isn’t she? I meant Dickinson, who was acutally, you know, in the movie.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Angie Harmon’s the one from Law and Order, isn’t she? I meant Dickinson, who was acutally, you know, in the movie.

    I couldn’t tell you who is or isn’t from Law and Order, but I translated who you meant.

  7. Chip Kaufmann

    Being reminded of TV movies does nothing for me as I didn’t care for most of them. I was commenting on THE KILLERS being the first one that all the others copied.

    My fondness is for the TV stock company of actors that appeared in it much like the studio stock companies of old.

    As a kid (and a future but now former actor) I dreamed of being a member in such a company. Steady employment without the hassle of being the star.

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