Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
I remember being a teenager when I first saw director Don Siegel's 'The Killers', floating around on regular TV late one night.  I was amazed by it, if for no other reason than I believe it was one of the first, if not the very first movie I had seen that featured bad guys as the protagonist.  I thought that was so… cool.  And of course there was the then current President of the United States slapping Angie Dickinson silly.  From that point on this movie became one of my favorites.  Antiheroes are pretty much de regueur nowadays with your Tony Sopranos and Hannibal Lector's and Walter White's, but even though I saw this movie from 1964 for the first time in the 80's, that was still some pretty cutting edge stuff.  Naturally I own 'The Killer' and the 1946 version which actually came in the set… the Criterion Edition my friends… so I figured it's time to watch it as an old middle aged man… almost middle aged… and see if this movie is still the classic I remember.  It is, no doubt, but with reservation.

Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are bad dudes.  Seriously… fifty years after the fact, there aren't a lot of cinematic dudes meaner than these two.  They are are hitmen, and on this day they are looking to end ex-race car driver Johnny North (John Cassavetes).  Johnny works at a school for the blind, these two need information on where he is so they rough up the blind receptionist.  Really guys… was this necessary?  Regardless, they find Johnny, who seemed to be waiting for them, and they take care of Johnny.  Job done.

But on the train ride home, something is really bugging Charlie.  Johnny didn't run.  They always run. Why didn't Johnny run?  And how come they got so much for this hit?  Lee, kind of like me, thinks this is crazy talk.  Easy gig, big money, case closed… but not Charlie.  He figures if somebody pays this much to have a stationary target killed… there must be more money out there somewhere, and if there is more money out there… Charlie is staking his claim.
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Now our heroes turn into detectives with their specialized interrogation skills.  And this is where my reservations about the overall awesomeness of 'The Killers' begins.  First stop Miami to talk to Johnny's old pit boss Earl (Claude Akins).  In flashback he tells us all about Johnny and his gifts as a driver, until SHE came along, that being super sexy Sheila Farr (Dickinson).  Next thing you know, Johnny's wrecked his car, ruined his eyes and now he is one miserable dude.  Earl's flashback took a lot longer than what I have told you.  Problem being, at least with me, is that the longer we go without Charlie and Lee being on the screen, the less I love this movie.  Now I know these flashbacks are important, I just wish Director Siegel had made them a little more economical. 

Anyway, now that they have a little piece of the story, Charlie and Lee have a few more stop to make to get the rest of the story.  First they terrorize Mr. Roper who fills them in on a big heist gone wrong, then it's time to chat with Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan) and then it's off to get the final piece of the puzzle from the lovely Sheila Farr.  This will not be a good visit for Miss Farr.  All Charlie wants to know is who hired them, and where is the money.  Charlie will get his answers, and a little extra for his trouble. 

Know what's great about 'The Killers'?  Lee Marvin, that's what.  While I do see this movie a little differently now than I did as a teenager, it will still rank among one of my favorites because Charlie Storm will always be in this movie.  No one needs me to inform the movie viewing public that Lee Marvin was one of the best ever at playing grizzled tough guys, but Charlie Storm is so tough, so mean, so hardcore and so unapologetic and matter of fact about his meanness… it's something to see.  And not to sell Clu Gulager short as he might've been even worse than Charlie considering at least Charlie seemed to give the coming events some thought, whereas Lee just did whatever was on mind at the time.  These two were bad cop / worse cop.  These were two characters were completely in sync with what they were doing and with each other.  You are in a bit of an uncomfortable spot watching this movie, fully aware that Charlie and Lee are really bad people, but still kind of wanting to be them.  That's how well these two actors played these characters. 

Now when we were revisiting the plight of Johnny North, not that this part of this movie was poor by any means, and as we mentioned this was critical to the story, but it did present long stretches where we were drawn away from the main draw of this film, that of course being the pathology of Charlie and Lee.  That being said, you still can't go too terribly wrong with John Cassavetes, Angie Dickinson, Norman Fell and Ronald Reagan showing that he can play bad pretty darned good. 

True enough, upon my revisit I noticed that this film didn't have a lot of the subtle nuance of a noir styled film, especially when it came to lighting since everything in this movie was so brightly lit, looking very much like the TV movie it was originally destined to be back in '64, and I have less appreciation for the lengthy flashback sequences than I did years ago.  Still, 'The Killers', thanks Mr. Marvin and Mr. Gulager holds up very well, fifty years later, because of those two amazing performances.  Rarely has being bad looked like it was so much fun.
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