Movie Critique - The Killers

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Definitely ahead of its time, but gives you a good thriller keeping the viewers on the edge. Gripping neo noir crime film with excellent star cast, powerful plot and thrilling and fearful ending.

The Killers is a 1965 American neo noir crime film directed and produced by Don Siegel, and released by Universal Pictures. It stars Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager, John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan in the lead among others. It was released in UK as Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers".

Two hit men - Charlie Strom (portrayed by Lee Marvin) and Lee (portrayed by Clu Gulager) - after finishing a job wonder why they were paid so high for such an easy mark. And they start to retrace their steps back in figuring out the person who hired them, Jack Browning (portrayed by Ronald Reagan), and the reason behind it. They get more than they bargained for in the end. 

The plot was based on the 1927 short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway. Screenplay was written by Gene L. Coon. Originally was intended for Made-for-TV movie as part of Project 120 series, because of the violent content Universal released it in theaters instead. The entire film is shown in several flashbacks.

This was the final film role for Ronald Reagan before he retired from films in 1966 and entered politics. This is the only known film role of Reagan where he played an antagonist, which per Kirk Douglas' autobiography The Ragman's Son, he hated doing it. He gets a special mention in the opening credits. It was very different to see Reagan in a cool, calculated and mean spirited role. 

During the filming President John F. Kennedy was assassinated delaying the film schedule. Angie Dickinson, playing the role of Sheila Farr in the film, was a close personal friend of JFK and had a tough time coping with the news of his death.

This is the first film that had Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson starring together. Prior to this they were paired in the Season 1 Episode 10 titled "Diamond Squad" of the 50s American crime drama television series M Squad, which was aired in November of 1957. They made two more films since The Killers - 1967 American crime drama film Point Blank; and 1981 American western action film Death Hunt.

John Cassavetes portrays the role of Johnny North, the man central to the story. I remember him as Alex Benedict from Season 2 Episode 1 of TV series Columbo, titled Etude in Black, released in September of 1972. 

The music played in the background on opening and closing credits was originally composed by Henry Mancini for Orson Welles 1958 American film noir Touch of Evil. Universal Pictures re-edited it for the use in this film. The main characters, director, producer and key support cast are shown in the opening credits. Rest of the cast and crew are shown in the closing credits.

Checkout the theatrical poster shared by Eddie Muller, host of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel, prior to the film being aired. Muller also had Clu Gulager as the guest for the show who shared some interesting tidbits about the film. And Clu has the distinction of being the only guy that Reagan killed in his movies. In the film Reagan's Jack Browning shoots Clu's Lee. Clu also provides the comic flair needed in a noir without making it an obvious comedy. 

The film is far from the 40s and 50s black & white film noir with flashes of color and bright, happy locations. Yet it gives you the noir feeling in the elements of cruelty shown; the torture; and the calculated wickedness of everyone included.

A standout cast, 60s violent film that has sort of become a cult classic B-movie over the years. Definitely ahead of its time, but gives you a good thriller keeping the viewers on the edge. Ironic that the central story revolves around a dead man who was the only one not afraid of dying. Gripping neo noir crime film with excellent star cast, powerful plot and thrilling and fearful ending.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. There is an earlier version of the film, based on the book, released in 1946 with the same name. It had Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien and Sam Levene in the cast. That was Burt Lancaster's debut film role. 

b. Virginia Christine who portrays the role of Miss Watson, blind secretary, also appears in the 1946 version. In that movie she however plays the role of Lilly Harmon Lubinsky, Sam Lubinsky's (portrayed by Sam Levene) wife.

c. Check out director cameo - Don Siegel as a cook at a diner.

d. See a frequent presence of several TV shows from old time including Twilight Zone and Murder, She Wrote? Yes, it is Claude Akins as Earl Sylvester in the film. 

e. Nancy Wilson is shown signing the song Too Little Time at a nightclub in the film. Lyrics were written by Don Raye and music was composed by Henry Mancini. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The Blind School distinctly misses accompanying Braille Information under all signs and doors.

b. Browning hits Sheila on her left cheek. But the subsequent scenes show her rubbing first the right cheek then the left cheek alternately.


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