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When two hitmen, Charlie Storm (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager), shoot ex champ racing car driver - now a teacher at a school for the blind - Johnny North (John Cassavetes), they are intrigued why he doesn't try to run or defend himself. They don't know their client's identity, but they discover that Johnny had been involved in a million dollar robbery and the money has disappeared. They start tracking down the gang in order to find out why their victim didn't run, who hired them - and where is the money now. They learn that Johnny had been involved with Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson), the girlfriend of badman Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan), who masterminded the robbery.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Director Donald Siegel's most famous film is undoubtedly Dirty Harry (1971), but Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Escape from Alcatraz (1979) are two that also stand out from a busy career that saw him earn just one award for himself: in 1988, the Los Angeles Film Critics awarded him a lifetime achievement gong, which shows that the LA critics recognised his body of work. It wasn't typical award winning material, but solid craftsmanship.

In this adaptation of Hemingway's short story - although perhaps more accurately referred to as 'inspired by' - Siegel casts Angie Dickinson against type as the femme fatale, handsome John Cassavetes as the guy who falls for her and pays the hefty price for it, and Lee Marvin as the high impact but cool hitman, whose edgy partner Lee is superbly played by the oddly named Clu Gulager, a study in unpredictable menace.

Other notable casting choices include the-later-to-be-President Ronald Reagan as the scheming Jack Browning, the memorably faced Normal Fell as his sidekick, likeable Early Sylvester as Johnny's racing manager and Virginia Christina in a small role as Miss Watson. She played Detective Lubinsky's wife in the 1946 version.

The 1946 and 1964 versions of The Killers are vastly different, except for a couple of plot points, like the lack of surprise and failure to run the hitmen note with their target, and the double cross that is revealed at the end.

Among the highlights of the film are a) the scene with Nancy Wilson singing the Mancini ballad, Too Little Time in a nightclub, and b) the opening sequence in a home for the blind where Johnny North is now a tutor. This sequence economically sets up not only some of the key characters but the tone of the film. It ends with equal economy ...

Melbourne based film critic Paul Harris provides a useful commentary track, and there is a long doco on Hemingway.

Published: June 4, 2009

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KILLERS, THE (1964): DVD (M)
(US, 1964)

CAST: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan, Virginia Christine

PRODUCER: Donald Siegel

DIRECTOR: Donald Siegel

SCRIPT: Gene L. Coon (story by Ernest Hemingway)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard L. Rawlings

EDITOR: Richard Belding

MUSIC: Johnny Williams (Song Too Little Time by Henry Mancini & Don Raye, sung by Nancy Wilson)

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Frank Arrigo, George Chan

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

PRESENTATION: 4:3 (1.33:1 original); DD 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Released as a 2-disc Collector's Edition with The Killers 1946, directed by Robert Siodmak. Extras: Ernest Hemingway Wrestling With Life [100 mins]; audio commentary with Australian film critic Paul Harris; The Killers short story [booklet] by Ernest Hemingway; trailers


DVD RELEASE: September 1, 2007

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