Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Ronald Reagan and Norman Fell
Running Time: 93 minutes
Loosely inspired by the Ernest Hemingway story, when their high-priced victim Johnny North (John Cassavetes) gives in without a fight, two hitmen (Marvin and Gulager) become obsessed in finding the answer as to why. The duo track down Johnny’s former associates, only to discover a complex web of crime and deceit involving his femme fatale girlfriend Sheila (Angie Dickinson) and ruthless mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his last screen role).
“I bet you’re a big Lee Marvin fan aren’t ya”, so muses Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White in a terrific tense scene in Quentin Tarantino’s crime classic RESERVOIR DOGS. Like the gangster double act and the now iconic filmmaker, I’m also very much a fan of the late brooding actor with most of that down to my love of John Boorman’s thrilling 1967 masterpiece POINT BLANK and war drama THE DIRTY DOZEN. Of course, there were many more sublime roles given by the imposing tough guy in his surprisingly short acting career but I find myself a little embarrassed in admitting I’d not seen Don Siegel’s remake of Ernest Hemingway’s THE KILLERS, until now…
THE KILLERS is a film that landed Marvin a BAFTA despite its origin as the first ever US made-for-TV movie and that foreign luck carved out a niche for the former marine with the international theatrical release marking him as a leading man. Again, his screen presence in another superbly cast thriller is second to none, while his pairing with the brilliant Clu Gulager as the ruthless, yet inquisitive title characters shows just why he’s held in great esteem by the likes of Tarantino. Compare Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s patter with these guys, the style, the violence, the dark comedy; and you’ll appreciate PULP FICTION even more (if that’s even at all possible). Marvin is a force of nature with his steel-like stare and sardonic delivery of the coolest of lines. He puts future president Reagan to shame.
Siegel’s directing style is key to the grip this film has on the audience. Responsible for some of cinemas unforgettable works (DIRTY HARRY, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, CHARLEY VARRICK to name but three) and the man credited with making Clint Eastwood a director (and star) we all know and love, he’s on top form once again. The age old phrase of “they don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore” would apply to Siegel and his output… and most definitely Marvin!
While the plot may well be male-driven – two hired assassins find their latest hit’s willingness in meeting his demise very mysterious – it’s all the more positive that Angie Dickinson’s moll is pivotal to the proceedings. Still, you can’t help but wince when she’s shockingly given a sharp slap or punch by men invading her life… or rather the mens lives she’s invaded. Such was the impact of violence coming around the same time as the JFK assassination, the network pulled plug and followed international markets in transferring to the big screen where it deserved.
(4 / 5) THE KILLERS is released on Blu-ray for the first time via Arrow Films from the 24th February