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THE KILLERS  [Blu-ray]
on 26 December 2014
THE KILLERS  [Blu-ray] There is More Than One Way to Kill a Man! Explosively NEW in Color!
“I gotta find out what makes a man decide not to run. Why all of a sudden he’d rather die.”
So muses hitman Charlie [Lee Marvin] after his high-priced victim Johnny North [John Cassavetes] gives in without a fight. Obsessed with the answer, Charlie and his hot-headed associate Lee [Clu Gulager] track down Johnny’s associates, and uncover 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.
Loosely inspired by the Ernest Hemingway story, and directed by Don Siegel, whose many other taut, efficient thrillers include ‘Dirty Harry’ and the original ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ ‘The Killers’ was commissioned as the very first “TV movie,” but was given a cinema release because of its violence – although a cast like that really belonged on the big screen in the first place.
FILM FACT: ‘The Killers’ was intended to be the very first "made for TV movie", but NBC judged it too violent to broadcast, so Universal released the movie in theaters instead. Steve McQueen and George Peppard were considered for the Johnny North role. Don Siegel had originally been hired as director of the earlier 1946 version of the same story, but had been fired. Actress Virginia Christine had also appeared in the 1946 version.
Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan, Virginia Christine, Don Haggerty, Robert Phillips, Kathleen O'Malley, Ted Jacques, Irvin Mosley Jr., Jimmy Joyce, Davis Roberts, Hall Brock, Burt Mustin, Peter Hobbs, John Copage, Tyler McVey, Seymour Cassel, Scott Hale, Richard Lane (uncredited), Don Siegel (uncredited), Bert Stevens (uncredited) and Nancy Wilson (singer) (uncredited)
Director: Don Siegel
Producer: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Gene L. Coon and Ernest Hemingway (story)
Composer: John Williams and Fred Steiner (uncredited)
Cinematography: Richard L. Rawlings
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 and 1.85:1
Audio: English: 2.0 LPCM Mono Audio
Running Time: 95 mins
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Arrow Academy / Universal Pictures
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Supposedly based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway and inspired by the 1946 Burt Lancaster Black-and-White “film noir” of the same name and directed by the brilliant Don Siegel of the ‘Dirty Harry’ film. ‘The Killers’ stars Lee Marvin of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and Clu Gulager of ‘Return of the Living Dead’ as a couple of contract assassins in a brooding crime thriller about armed robbery, double crosses, fighting over a woman and the hitmen sent in to clean up the mess.
Johnny North [John Cassavetes] of the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ film, is a former racing driver working in a school for the blind when he is shot dead by assassins Charlie Strom [Lee Marvin] and Lee [Clu Gulager]. Instead of running, Johnny North stood still and took all the bullets, forcing seasoned pro Charlie Strom to question why and begin investigating who hired them for the hit, which leads them back to femme fatale Sheila Farr [Angie Dickinson] of the ‘Dressed to Kill’ film and her ruthless beau Jack Browning [Ronald Reagan]. And then things get very complicated…
As a thriller ‘The Killers’ works tremendously well, the various twists and turns keeping you engaged thanks to some solid performances from all the main cast. For those of us who grew up in the ’80s it is a bit strange seeing former US President Ronald Reagan as the movie actor he was before going into politics but it’s easy to see why the American public was taken with him as he looks every inch the charismatic film star here, playing a villain for the only time in his screen career, and your eyes are immediately drawn to him whenever he’s on the screen. Lee Marvin solidifies his film tough stance guy role as the cold-hearted Charlie Strom but Clu Gulager provides some of the best lines and his background interactions and likes wiping his sunglasses on an informant’s head whilst Lee Marvin is interrogating him and makes him have fun to watch as Ronald Reagan is commanding the scenario. John Cassavetes and Angie Dickinson do not quite shine as much as their co-stars but that’s more to do with the strength of Lee Marvin, Ronald Reagan and Clu Gulager’s collective presence rather than their performances.
The racing car scenes mean there’s a lot of fake-looking process shots. But the greatness of the made for TV movie is in the cast. Along with the names I already mentioned it has Claude Akins in an outstanding performance as Johnny’s loyal right hand man during his racing career. To see him cry about Johnny North’s death after telling the killers his story is heart-breaking. He knew what Johnny North was getting himself into but couldn’t talk him out of it.
Even better though are Lee Marvin and Gulager as the killers. This is an all-time great team up. Marvin is the guy in charge and Clu Gulager is the weird, crazy one. Marvin gives one of his best tough guy performances, which is saying a lot, but also was generous enough to let Clu Gulager do all kinds of business, he’s always doing some weird thing with his sunglasses or something while they’re talking to people. Lee Marvin is serious and Clu Gulager has a strange sense of humour and the combination is very intimidating. And they have no morals or scruples; and they don’t mind scaring the s*** out of some poor secretary lady or somebody. These guys are total bastards but you find yourself rooting for them.
There are many great things about this movie, but the greatest on is Lee Marvin. He is even meaner than in the film ‘Point Blank’ but equally set on his goal, and that makes for one of the all-time great death scenes when he’s trying to stumble away with the money when mortally wounded. It’s so obvious he’s not going to make it and he can barely stand up, especially with the sirens are closing in on him, but he’s not about to give up anyway and there moto is “Get rich or die trying.” It’s so convincing and it turns out the reason why this is so is because he showed up drunk that day. I don’t know if he did it on purpose but it turned out to be a totally brilliant approach, the poor guy and especially sacrificing himself for our entertainment and enjoyment of this brilliant Hollywood actor.
The film was originally an NBC TV made-for-television production and as such it feels very cheap, and the repetitive nature of telling the story in flashbacks from various characters does jar the pacing somewhat, but overall ‘The Killers’ is a sort of decent pulpy thriller which should appeal to lovers of this type of “film noir” modern day heist films and especially for hard-core fans of Tarantino films, especially the influence of this film on his work is glaringly obvious, and the Blu-ray transfer looks fantastic.
‘The Killers’  is one of those rare made for TV movies you come across that manages to completely live up to its well-deserved reputation and fires on all cylinders. While it manages to be delivering on the visceral thrill of the genre, it also rewards viewers with a host of artistic touches that elevate it to classic status. Most of all it provided a first glimpse of what Lee Marvin was truly capable of, and showed us what might have been in the form of Clu Gulager and Ronald Reagan. If you’ve never seen or heard of this film, you definitely want to purchase this stellar Arrow Academy Blu-ray disc, to compare the two films with the 1946 film ‘The Killers.’
Blu-ray Video Quality – This was originally made for the small screen and then promoted to the cinema, what we have here is two versions. As you can see from the comparison frame, the 1.33:1 aspect ratio TV friendly frame has been cropped to 1.85:1 with the original shooting bearing this eventuality in mind and framing accordingly. Both play easy on the eye, though I must say I found the 1.33:1 version a little more satisfying. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 2.0 LPCM Mono Audio track is very clear and there is a great deal of punch in the music, although of course, there is little or no separation. There are optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
High Definition digital transfer of the film by Universal Pictures, presented in alternative “Television” and “Cinema” aspect ratios.
Original uncompressed 2.0 L PCM Mono Audio.
Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Special Feature: Reagan Kills: An Interview with Writer Marc Eliot [1080p] [20:47] Interview with New York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years.’ in this new video interview, best-selling writer and author Mark Eliot discusses the life, the legacy and Hollywood image of Ronald Reagan, and the unique qualities of the 1964 film ‘The Killers’ and also the politics and liberalism comparison in Hollywood at the time. Marc Eliot applies the same criteria to Ronald Reagan as he looked very presidential, and what America thought of their President of the free world ought to look like. That's reason right there to eliminate it as any kind of criteria for power. It's fascinating to hear Reagan's excuse for starting off a Democrat and moving to the far right. It's exactly the same as Charlton Heston's; "I didn't leave the democratic party. The democratic party left me." Again for those that are interested in the politics behind Hollywood during the Ronald Reagan's era, this is a really good solid extra feature.
Special Feature: Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein on Lee Marvin [1080p] [30:45] Interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of “Lee Marvin: Point Blank.” In this new video interview, writer and author Dwayne Epstein, discusses the life, legacy and character image of the Hollywood actor Lee Marvin, as well as the production history of the 1964 ‘The Killers.’ Lee Marvin was larger than life and some of the stories of his actions are encased in 60s and 70s amber. In other words, Marvin's behaviour would sit uncomfortably in today's hyper-celebrity culture. What's most surprising is the medical conclusion that was never reached after he was invalidated out of the Marines due to a severe war wound. Lee Marvin lived his entire career with what we now know as “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” It's fascinating to know that he had the classic symptoms but just soldiered through it. Throughout the interview we get to view different archival photos, posters, stills and clips from the 1964 ‘The Killers.’
Special Feature: Don Siegel Archival Interview  [480i] [4:3] [10:32] In this [sadly of poor quality] archive interview with Don Siegel from the French Television series ‘Cinéma Cinémas’ that was filmed on the 5th December 1984. In this archival video interview, Don Siegel discusses his style and directing methods, his experience as a second unit director as well as the reputation he earned for being an action director, his work with Clint Eastwood, etc. The director also recalls an interesting conversation he had with Jean-Luc Godard. Don Siegel regrets the label of 'action director' but was in no way unrealistic of where he stands professionally. I do wish he had been asked to take off his shades because there was definitely a twinkle in his eyes, that was so obvious in his very prophetic words and should have be seen to see it actually in his eyes. Seven minutes in, there is intrusive videotape damage for a minute or so. This extra has French white subtitles. The interview was conducted by Claude Ventura and Philippe Garnier. Directed by Claude Ventura.
Special Feature: Here you have a Gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images. You get to view Twenty-one stills including poster artwork and front of house cards. The stills originate from the German publicity materials. It's an interesting and fascinating extra, which sadly is not exactly overflowing with content.
BONUS: Stunning Blu-ray printed reversible sleeve featuring the original poster and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh.
BONUS: Stunning 40 page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mike Sutton entitled “THE KILLERS” . Interesting article by Tom Milne from the publication Monthly Film Bulletin entitled “CONTEMPARY REVIEWS [1964 – 1965]. Extracts from Don Siegel’s Autobiography and Contemporary Reviews entitled “SHOOTING THE KILLERS” . Interesting article on the first purpose-made American TV movie for ‘The Killers’ entitled “PROJECTIONIST’S NOTE” . Plus “ABOUT THE TRANSFER;” “PRODUCTION NOTES” AND “SPECIAL THANKS.” You also get lots illustrated colour images from the film ‘The Killers.’
Finally, ‘The Killers’ is yet another competent release from British distributors Arrow Academy that should please fans of this made for TV 1964 film very happy. The release also comes with some outstanding good supplemental features. This is also a great transfer of the NBC TV movie that gave birth to the iconic Hollywood actor Lee Marvin and a terrific example of the workmanlike professionalism of one of America's mostly unsung directors Don Siegel. Andrew Sarris, author of “The American Cinema,” was quick to praise the credentials of the director Don Siegel, mostly by his own admission, was a director for hire who almost by chance has made some pretty important and thrilling films. Unfortunately despite this 1964 effort of ‘The Killers,’ but despite a good effort by the brilliant director Don Siegel, sadly it does not come up to the high standard Black-and-White “film noir” of the 1946 film ‘The Killers,’ starring the equally brilliant Burt Lancaster, but despite the lack of judgement and interference on behalf of NBC TV in America, in not allowing its full potential, but despite this, I am still pleased to add it to my ever increasing brilliant Arrow Academy Blu-ray Collection, so one can compare the two films. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom