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Supposedly based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway. In this film noir, two hitmen want to find out why their latest victim (a race car driver!) "just stood there and took it" when they came to shoot him. Ronald Reagan plays a rich, double-crossing bad guy. A young Angie Dickinson (looking just like Ellen Barkin) plays the femme fatale. Written by
Mark Logan <email@example.com>
Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, two contract killers, walk into a Midwest school for the blind and cold-bloodedly murder John Cassavettes. "We walk in, we put him down, we walk out," muses Marvin distractedly on the train back to Chicago. Cassavettes had the chance to run but didn't, and Marvin wants to know why.
Initially, Don Siegel's colour remake of the Ernest Hemingway story was intended as the first made-for-TV movie. Vetoed by the network for its amoral viewpoint and violence, it was released in cinemas and quickly became a cult 1960s B-movie.
Anonymous and menacing in executive suits, sunglasses and briefcase, Marvin and scene-stealing Gulager memorably personify organised crime under Siegel's expert direction. They're pure all-American evil.
True, the main plot - pieced together in flashback as the two hitmen track down the mail robbery gang led by Ronald Reagan (his last film) - is pretty routine stuff. But even that serves to heighten the threat represented by Marvin and Gulager, as they unravel the real reason for Cassavettes' deathwish.
"No one ever knows what we're talking about," mocks Gulager when femme fatale Angie Dickinson tries to act dumb. The scene in the hotelroom where the killers force her to tell is handled with a ferocious cool that is Siegel's trademark.
The Killers was still in production when Kennedy was assassinated - perhaps one reason, given its theme, why TV network ABC pulled it from their 1964 schedule. The scene where Gulager is shot down on a sunlit sidewalk even echoed the killing of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gulager's character is called Lee).
OK, it's not a masterpiece. Even the great Don Siegel can't quite disguise a B-movie budget, a repetitious screenplay, brightly artificial colour, and exteriors that are only too obviously the Universal backlot. But it is tense and exciting, thanks to Siegel's authoritative grasp of the genre.
"I shot it in the style which I think is my style at its best," Siegel concluded later. "Very taut and lean with great economy. If I had to do it over again, I don't think I would change much."
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