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

Dutch angle assassins Clu Gulager & Lee Marvin YEAR: 1964
Ernest Hemingway's 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, this is also the prelude to the 1946 Film Noir introducing Burt Lancaster. And the 1964 version by Don Siegel couldn't be more different: although it's a theatrical remake as opposed to another literary adaptation...

John Cassavetes is the victim this time (both films create reasons for how each person acquired stolen stolen-money, which Hemingway left out), and he's one of the most original cats in crime cinema history: A hip, cocky race car driver named Johnny North, who works at a school for blind children and winds up falling dead-over-heels with mystery-blonde Angie Dickinson: the trophy dame of a millionaire gangster played by an actor about to trade show biz for politics, Ronald Reagan, and he's surprisingly effective here in a subdued, slow-burn, mellow role — except when he slaps Angie's character so hard, his tongue sticks out in delicious, envious delight...

Reagan, Cassavetes, Philips, Fell, Dickinson RATE: ***1/2
Unlike the Lancaster version, where THE KILLERS appear in only the beginning and end, these fellas are the main characters. Played by an icy yet genuinely curious Lee Marvin and a strange, health-conscious Clu Gulager, scenes as they wander from one person to the next are intriguing enough...

But the device of each person they find spilling their guts keeps the movie from being as tight and edgy as it could've been without all the memories. Then again, both versions are all about flashbacks... They just seem more contrived this time.

Director Siegel never seems completely sure what kind of film he's making: The New Noir crime heist flick and the race car driver romantic melodrama veers in and out of each other clumsily, and only when both connect into the pivotal stakes-raised crime does the picture truly live up to its genre...

John Cassavetes goes go-carting with Angie Dickinson The Killers
Although the vibrant 1960's colors take away from what a more sparse B&W would need to capture what these KILLERS do for a living, which is another person's dying, there's a palpable, edgy beat, like most Siegel features. And Clu Gulager is especially intriguing: his kind of neurotic yet meticulous assassin would become standard fare in the post Quentin Tarantino era...

Ironically, Lee Marvin, in 1955's Film Noir Melodrama VIOLENT SATURDAY, played the offbeat, hypodrondiac secondary criminal 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. 
Ronald Reagan and John Cassavetes in THE KILLERS
Two actors I had spent time hanging with: Clu Gulager and Claude Akins 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
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