Friday, October 5, 2012

Dead Already

I'm a big fan of Don Siegel's made-for-TV-but-killed-by-the-censors film Ernest Hemingway's The Killers. It's exceedingly ironic that Hemingway's name is attached because the film has no connection to the Hemingway story at all. It's barely even a re-make of the Siodmak picture that it's ostensibly supposed to be. The Siodmak version opens with a great ten or so minute adaptation of the story, then quickly veers off into its own terrain. The Siegel version forgets this opening and re-imagines the rest.

I love the way the action is framed throughout. There is a real menace that slowly develops, bursts, then unravels in pure noir fashion. There's also a melancholy that hangs over the film in a way that is both familiar to noir, but more concentrated here, as if this were some grand operatic work of doomed romance instead of a gangster/heist movie.

Siegel's direction is great, but part of this is that he knew how to cast great actors and got great work out of them. If Chris could finally warm up to John Wayne after The Searchers, then I think he might find himself loving Ronald Reagan after watching The Killers. The final shot of Reagan is nearly perfect. For that matter, the final shot of Marvin is way up there with the best endings of any movie in cinema history.

Cassavetes is great, too. Angie Dickinson holds her own. The stars, though, are Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the titular killers. There are some seriously frightening moments each time these men muscle someone for info. Marvin is precise and cold-blooded. Gulager is off-the-cuff sadistic. Both characters apparently take great pleasure in their work.

The next day after watching it, I texted Brandon asking him why it wasn't on his '64 list. I knew he'd seen it because I let him borrow it back in '08/'09 or so. He responded that he didn't like it. Fair enough. It's got its problems. The flashback device, in particular, was worn out long before its use here. I find the movie fresh and strikingly off-kilter, but it does also cycle through some tired noir tropes.

The Killers may not be one of "my essentials" but maybe it is. It always surprises me into respecting it. It's a film that I really enjoy returning to every few years (I think it's been five years since the last time I watched it). Give it a chance and let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Added it to my queue.