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.
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
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
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.