Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel’s violent (for 1964), nihilistic Ernest Hemingway adaptation comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films in this sparkling transfer.
The film opens with hit men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager entering a care home for the blind where, after a bit of cruel rough stuff with the receptionist (who also can't see), they locate John Cassavetes. He’s on the staff, helping patients rehabilitate to their condition by showing them how to fix cars. That’s not for long, however, as Marvin and Gulager promptly kill him and make their getaway. Their subsequent ruminations and investigations as to why they were sent to despatch him lead to a number of flashbacks. In these we learn how Cassavetes, in his former life as a racing driver, got mixed up with Angie Dickinson and her villainous husband Ronald Reagan (very weird to children of the 1980s like me, who really only know him because of his political career). A heist is pulled and various parties end up after the money, including, as the narrative moves into current time again, Marvin and Gulager. The film reaches a climax at Reagan’s house where he and Marvin end up in a showdown.
Apparently THE KILLERS was intended as the first made for TV movie, but it was subsequently deemed too violent and got a cinema release instead. Even watching it today, you have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to consider this property as being suitable for early 1960s American TV audiences. British TV was always far and away ahead of the game when it came to dealing with ‘adult’ subjects in those days, but even the BBC probably wouldn’t have touched this until later. 
THE KILLERS also happens to be a very good film. Perhaps as a consequence of its intended TV destination, everything is very brightly lit, making this less a film noir than a film blanche, but that actually works in the film’s favour, literally shining an unforgiving light on the violence and petty vindictiveness of its lead characters. The acting is great across the board (with the exception of Ronald Reagan - sorry Ronald - who looks as if he’s wandered in from another - far less impressive - film). Lee Marvin was born to play the sort of character he is here, and this is the movie that catapulted him to cinematic stardom. Angie Dickinson scores points as the manipulative femme fatale who’s only out for herself, in an excellent and subtle performance where we only get to see the scheming seductress she really is occasionally break through her otherwise faultless veneer of charm and little-girl-lost-helplessness.

      Arrow’s Blu-ray of THE KILLERS looks absolutely excellent - on the whole. Two aspect ratios are offered: the original 1.33:1 so you can view the film as intended, and 1.85:1 for those who prefer to have their TV screen filled at the expense of loss of picture information.  There are a few tiny black blobs on the mid part of the left side of the screen image about 54 minutes in that remain for another couple of minutes before disappearing, but otherwise the print is very fine. 
       Extras include a 30 minute talking head piece Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein on Lee Marvin (he wrote Marvin’s biography) , and another 20 minute featurette on Ronald Reagan from Marc Eliot (author of Ronal Reagan: The Hollywood Years). There’s also an archival interview with Don Siegel from 1984. Overall a very nice presentation indeed of a classic piece of cinema.

Arrow Films are releasing Don Siegel's THE KILLERS on Blu-ray on the Arrow Academy label on 24th February 2014

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