The Killers (1964 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Siegel|
|Produced by||Don Siegel|
|Screenplay by||Gene L. Coon|
|Based on||"The Killers"|
by Ernest Hemingway
|Music by||John Williams and Henry Mancini|
|Cinematography||Richard L. Rawlings|
|Edited by||Richard Belding|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The Killers, released in the UK as Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers", is a 1964 American neo noir crime film. Written by Gene L. Coon and directed by Don Siegel, it is the second Hollywood adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short story of the same name, following the 1946 version.
At the time of release, Marvin said that it was his favorite film. The supporting cast features Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, and Norman Fell. In July 2018, it was selected to be screened in the Venice Classics section at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.
It was Ronald Reagan's final film role before retiring from acting in 1966.
One morning, hit men Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) enter a school for the blind and terrorize an administrator until she reveals the whereabouts of a teacher, Johnny North (John Cassavetes). As the hitmen walk toward North's upstairs classroom, the teacher receives a call warning him of their arrival. Johnny sadly responds, "It's okay. I know them." As he calmly waits at his desk, Charlie and Lee enter and shoot him multiple times.
As they depart by train, Charlie is bothered that North refused to flee and that they were paid an unusually high fee for such a simple hit. He and Lee run through what they know about the man they have killed. Johnny was once a champion race car driver whose career ended in a violent crash. Four years before his death, he was involved in a million-dollar robbery of a mail truck. Tempted by the missing million, Charlie and Lee visit Miami to interview Johnny's former mechanic.
Earl Sylvester (Claude Akins), who considers himself Johnny's only friend, is devastated to learn of his death. In between sobs and gulps of whiskey, he tells the story as he remembers it. Johnny was at the top of his profession when he met the beautiful Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson). Johnny fell in love and planned to propose marriage after winning his next big race. However, his late nights with Sheila had left him disoriented from lack of sleep. Johnny's racing career ended with a fiery crash due to a problem with a rear wheel.
At the hospital, Earl revealed to Johnny that Sheila was the mistress of mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan). Known for her extravagant taste, Sheila has cheated on Browning with several other sports figures, all of whom met bad ends. Enraged and heartbroken, Johnny rebuffed Sheila's attempts to explain and cut his ties to her.
Intrigued, Charlie and Lee approach a former member of Browning's crew, who also reveals his memories. After the crash, Sheila found Johnny working as a pit mechanic. She says a much better job might soon be his for the taking. Browning was planning the robbery of a U.S. postal truck. On Sheila's recommendation, he agreed to Johnny as his getaway driver.
Although Johnny still felt betrayed, Sheila said that she always regretted losing him. Johnny forgave her. He also helped Browning by modifying the getaway car. Browning, however, was enraged when he learned that Sheila had returned to Johnny. In a deliberate provocation, Browning brutally slapped Sheila in front of Johnny after she defied him. Johnny punched Browning and threatened to kill him if he ever hurt Sheila again. They agreed to "settle this" after the robbery.
Browning and North placed a phony detour sign to send the mail truck onto an isolated mountain road. When the truck stopped, the gang held it up at gunpoint, loading more than $1 million into the getaway car. Johnny then forced Browning out of the moving car, driving off alone with the money.
After listening to this story, Charlie and Lee pay a visit to Browning, who is now a real estate developer in Los Angeles. Browning insists he is now an honest businessman and has no idea what happened to the money. He reveals that Sheila is staying at a hotel and arranges a meeting with her. To deprive Browning of time to plan an ambush, Charlie and Lee call at Sheila's hotel several hours earlier than agreed, but unknown to them, a clerk spots them and calls Browning. At first, Sheila denies all knowledge of Johnny or the money. Charlie and Lee beat her and dangle her by the ankles out a seventh-story window. Terrified, she tells them the truth.
The night before the robbery, Sheila told Johnny his life was in danger. Browning, she said, was planning to kill him and pocket his share. Johnny wanted to kill Browning on the spot. Sheila insisted she had a better idea. On her advice, Johnny threw Browning out of the car and drove the money to Sheila. As the two lovers entered a motel room that Sheila had prearranged, Browning was waiting for them. Sheila asked Browning to "do it quickly," and the gangster shot Johnny, severely wounding but not killing him, before Johnny escaped. It turned out Sheila and Browning were husband and wife and had used Johnny as a fall guy for Browning's plan to take all of the money. Sheila expressed fear that Johnny would seek revenge, so Browning hired Charlie and Lee to murder him.
Charlie now understands at last why Johnny refused to flee: The only man who refuses to run is a man who considers himself to be already dead. Sheila's betrayal had killed Johnny long before the bullets ever touched him.
Charlie and Lee, with Sheila in tow, intend to confront Browning, but he is waiting nearby with a sniper rifle. He kills Lee and wounds Charlie. Browning and Sheila return home, where they prepare to flee with the money. A mortally wounded Charlie makes it there in time. Sheila, again revealing her disloyal nature, frantically denies any role in the ambush, insisting that her husband alone was responsible. Charlie calmly shoots Browning dead. He turns his revolver toward Sheila. When she again pleads for her life, Charlie snarls, "Lady, I don't have the time!" He kills Sheila with a single bullet and staggers out the door with the money. Charlie falls dead on the lawn while spilling the money out of the suitcase as a police car in the background makes its way toward the house.
- Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom, a professional killer
- Angie Dickinson as Sheila Farr, Johnny's two-timing lover
- Clu Gulager as Lee, a professional killer, Charlie's accomplice
- John Cassavetes as Johnny North, the man Charlie and Lee are hired to kill
- Ronald Reagan as Jack Browning, a gangster, posing as a legitimate businessman
- Claude Akins as Earl Sylvester, mechanic and best friend to Johnny
- Norman Fell as Mickey Farmer, gang member and associate of Browning
- Virginia Christine as Miss Watson, the blind secretary
- Don Haggerty as Mail Truck Driver
- Robert Phillips as George Fleming, gang member and associate of Browning
- Kathleen O'Malley as Miss Leslie, the receptionist
- Ted Jacques as Gym Assistant
- Irvin Mosley as Mail Truck Guard
- Jimmy Joyce as Salesman
- Burt Mustin as Elderly Man
The Killers was intended to be one of the early "made-for-TV movies" as part of a Project 120 series of films that did not reach the airwaves. It was filmed under the title Johnny North, but NBC judged it too violent for broadcast, so Universal released the film theatrically instead.
Steve McQueen and George Peppard were considered for the role that eventually went to Cassavetes. After Cassavetes was signed to play the race car driver, director Don Siegel found out the actor could barely drive.
The Killers was Reagan's last acting role in motion pictures before entering politics and the only villainous role in his career. According to Kirk Douglas's autobiography The Ragman's Son, Reagan regretted doing the movie, particularly because of a scene in which he slaps Dickinson.
The main title and closing music, originally composed by Henry Mancini for the Orson Welles film Touch of Evil (1958), was drawn from the Universal Pictures music library and re-edited for use in this film. The song "Too Little Time", composed by Mancini with lyrics by Don Raye as the love theme for The Glenn Miller Story, was sung by Nancy Wilson.
The Killers holds a rating of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews with the consensus: "Though it can't best Robert Siodmak's classic 1946 version, Don Siegel's take on the Ernest Hemingway story stakes out its own violent territory, and offers a terrifically tough turn from Lee Marvin."
- Epstein, Dwayne. "Lee Marvin: The Mind Behind the Muscle". Outre. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2007.
- "Biennale Cinema 2018, Venice Classics". labiennale.org. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
- Smith, Cecil. (November 21, 1963) "Two-Part Show Is One Worth Look" Los Angeles Times
- Siegel, Don (1993). A Siegel Film. Faber & Faber. p. 245. ISBN 0-571-16270-3.