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.