Killers, The (1964)

Killers, The (1964)

“A man stood still while we burned him, and I’d like to know why.”

When their target (John Cassavetes) isn’t surprised about being killed, two hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager) decide to investigate by talking with his former partner (Claude Akins), and learn that Cassavates — a race car driver — was fatally in love with a kept woman (Angie Dickinson) supported by a wealthy crook (Ronald Reagan) planning a major heist with his partner (Norman Fell).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Angie Dickinson Films
  • Car Racing
  • Don Siegel Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Flashback Films
  • Heists
  • Hitmen
  • John Cassavates Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Ronald Reagan Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this Don Siegel-directed “version of Hemingway’s short story” — previously made in 1946 by Robert Siodmak — was “meant to be the first made-for-television movie”, but “was released instead as a theatrical feature because its violence was deemed too strong”. Indeed, the opening scene in which Marvin and Gulager “rub out John Cassavetes, who works as an instructor for the blind” is almost shockingly sadistic, as they terrorize numerous blind individuals while cold-bloodedly carrying out their task. It’s been rightfully noted that Marvin and Gulager — who are “really bastards” — are prototypical Tarantino-esque hitmen; you’ll likely think of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994) while watching their banter.

Interestingly, the flashback format of the screenplay works better than expected: despite knowing from the outset that Cassavetes will be killed, we remain curious (like Marvin and Gulager) to know why he’s so non-resistant to being assassinated. Dickinson, meanwhile, makes a perfect femme fatale: she’s beautiful, thrill-seeking, loving, and deceptive like nobody’s business. As Peary notes, Ronald Reagan (in his final role before becoming governor of California) “is particularly stiff”, and didn’t really deserve the excellent reviews he received; as DVD Savant writes, he plays “a one-dimensional heavy with no redeeming qualities” and “is as rigid as a washboard”. He was much better in Kings Row (1942).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The unnerving opening sequence
  • Top-notch direction

  • Fine performances

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable, well-directed thriller.



One thought on “Killers, The (1964)

  1. A once-must for its place in cinema history – as an excellent (and rare) example of how to successfully remake a film (especially an established classic).

    That said…it’s not as if this is a particular favorite film of mine; it isn’t. I probably feel about this film the way I do about Siodmak’s original 1946 version. Since plot towers over character here, I feel less invested.

    Although much of this remake retains the original script construction (and, here and there, there is very similar dialogue), the major difference with Siegel’s take on the material is the absence of the three Siodmak characters who balanced the plot with decency: played by Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene and Virginia Christine. The world of the remake is totally amoral and decency is nowhere to be found.

    Siegel’s version of ‘The Killers’ is less refined than Siodmak’s – I miss the noir feeling; there’s too much harsh daylight. And the film, overall, is rougher around the edges, as it shows its low-budget somewhat. But it certainly gets an “A for effort” due to what it gets right as a slick, commercial flick.

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