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DON SIEGEL'S VERSION OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S 'THE KILLERS'

Title: THE KILLERS Year: 1964 Rating: ****

Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short-story THE KILLERS is indeed quite short, mostly taking place in a diner where two hit men are looking for a renegade who that tale's protagonist, Nick Adams, works with at the small town's gas station... also the prologue to the 1946 Film Noir introducing Burt Lancaster... 

This 1964 Don Siegel version couldn't be more different, deleting the central diner scene (from the book and previous film) and was originally intended for television: no surprise given the somewhat mundane framing, noticeable studio sets (more inexpensive than stylized), soapy dialogue and lack of blood — THE KILLERS is not violent enough a theatrical thriller and too intensely lethal for the small screen...

John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS

A cocky yet vulnerable John Cassavetes is the victim (both versions create reasons for how each person acquired the stolen stolen-money, which Hemingway's yarn never reached)... and with doting mechanic Claude Akins constantly trying to save him from himself, Cassavetes plays an emotional loser in a losing game, on and off the track...

Despite his semi-famous/hot-shot Johnny North having had won plenty of races in his prime, he ends up... post-heist... working at blind school after falling dead-over-heels with fancy blonde Angie Dickinson (who hired him for the score): she's the trophy dame of a millionaire gangster played by an actor about to trade showbiz for politics, Ronald Reagan, surprisingly effective and ruthless in a subdued, slow-burn yet dame-slapping performance...

Clu Gulager and Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS

Unlike the Lancaster version, where THE KILLERS appear at only the beginning and end, these fellas are the main characters, and, played by an icy, experienced, morally ambiguous and philosphically curious Lee Marvin partnered with an offbeat/health-conscious Clu Gulager, discussing life and death as they wander from one person to the next, gathering information about their victim's stolen cash...

But the device of every person they find spilling the beans... as each story pans out visually... keeps the picture from being as tight and edgy as it could've been without all the memories: Then again, both KILLERS are full of expository flashbacks (the 1946 version was deemed the CITIZEN KANE of noir because of this)... Only here the device seems a bit more intrusive, especially since our titular central thugs (listening offscreen) aren't physically involved in the process...

Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS

Director Siegel never seems completely sure what kind of story he's telling: The pulpy neo noir sometimes clumsily intersects with the romantic melodrama, and only when both connect into a pivotal stakes-raised, rural-off-road central armored car heist (aided by Norman Fell and Robert Phillips) does the picture truly live up to its iconic genre...

And although the extremely bright 1960's colors hinder what a more sparse B&W provides to genuinely capture what these KILLERS do for a living... which is another person's dying... there's still a palpable and edgy cadance similar to most Siegel features where... like genuine noirs from THE BIG STEAL to THE LINEUP... he's more at home centering on the villains than their victims or foils (surprisingly there aren't any tailing cops involved)...

Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS

Meanwhile the overall scene-stealer is younger assassin Clu Gulager, particularly intriguing as the kind of neurotically meticulous heavy that'd become standard fare in the post Quentin Tarantino era...

And ironically, Lee Marvin, in 1955's noir-melodrama VIOLENT SATURDAY, played the offbeat hypochondriac sidekick like Gulager does here: Proof that it's rarely as much fun in the leading role, whether you're the hero, the villain, or in THE KILLERS case, both at the same time.

Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS
Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS with Clu Gulager
Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS with Clu Gulager
Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS with Clu Gulager
Lee Marvin in THE KILLERS with Clu Gulager

Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS with Lee Marvin
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS with Lee Marvin and Virginia Christine
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS with Ronald Reagan
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS
Angie Dickinson and Claude Akins in THE KILLERS
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS with Claude Akins
Ronald Reagan in THE KILLERS
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS with Lee Marvin and Norman Fell
Ronald Reagan and Norman Fell in THE KILLERS
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS
Ronald Reagan and Norman Fell in THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
Ronald Reagan in THE KILLERS with Robert Philips
Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickinson in THE KILLERS
Ronald Reagan in THE KILLERS

Lee Marvin with Angie Dickinson and Clu Gulager in THE KILLERS
Clu Galager in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS
Lee Marvin blasts his way out of the last stand of THE KILLERS
Virginia Christine in both versions of THE KILLERS pictured with Burt Lancaster
Criterion THE KILLERS Double Feature with original and Siegel version
Lee Marvin in Donald Siegel's THE KILLERS
Claude Akins in Donald Siegel's THE KILLERS
Claude Akins and Clu Gulager THE KILLERS
Claude Akins and Clu Gulager THE KILLERS
Ronald Reagan from THE KILLERS
Ronald Reagan from THE KILLERS
Opening Credits from THE KILLERS
Opening Credits from THE KILLERS
Opening Credits from THE KILLERS
Opening Credits from THE KILLERS
Clu Gulager and Angie Dickenson from THE KILLERS
RONALD REAGAN in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS
John Cassavetes in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS
RONALD REAGAN in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS with John Cassavetes
Robert Phillips and Norman Fell round out the heist gang in THE KILLERS
Fifth wheel Robert Phillips and the heisted Don Haggery in THE KILLERS
LEE MARVIN in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS
CLU GULAGER in Don Siegel's THE KILLERS with Norman Fell
John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson
Lee Marvin in DON SIEGEL'S The Killers
CLU GULAGER in The Killers
CLU GULAGER in The Killers
Ronald Reagan aims for THE KILLERS
Reagan's gun shoots THE KILLERS with Angie Dickinson

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