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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THE KILLERS (1964)


It's still got that Ernest Hemingway title, but there’s not a bit of Hemingway left in this loose adaptation of Robert Siodmak’s noir classic from 1946. So, naturally, the official title on this one is ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S THE KILLERS. It does follow the general outline of the non-Hemingway parts of Siodmak's film with John Cassavetes’ car jockey taking over for Burt Lancaster’s doomed boxer and Angie Dickinson trying out a blonde variation on Ava Gardner’s smoldering brunette femme fatale. The comparison does them no favors. At least, Lee Marvin has a bit of fun in a role that merges elements of Edmund O’Brien’s investigator and William Conrad’s hitman. A ridiculous combo, but it’s the only way for the largely retained plot structure to function with the reconfigured cast line-up. Ronald Reagan, in his last big screen appearance, gets the old Albert Dekker role as the head villain & gang leader and . . . he’s great! Amazingly convincing, especially when he socks Angie. Pow! Ron, we hardly knew ye. Physically, the film is imposingly hideous with wall-to-wall fluorescent lighting (it was shot for tv release, but turned down for excessive violence) and that cheap looking Universal ‘house style’ imposed by Lew Wasserman, Hollywood über-agent turned penny-pinching studio chief. Four years on, MADIGAN/’68 would finally get helmer Don Siegel the assignments he had so long deserved and start up his amazing late career run. Be sure to listen to the excerpt from his auto-bio included on the Criterion DVD. Very entertaining inside stuff.

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