• Don Siegel had wanted to make Hemingway’s The Killers for nearly twenty years by the time he had the opportunity to finally make it 1964. Siegel wanted this film for his debut- but it ultimately went to Robert Siodmak of course/ Siodmak’s work proved him to be the right choice.
  • Siegel makes a major change to the narrative structure of the 1946 original. The 1964 version drops the Edmund O’Brien insurance agent investigative character/angle. Siegel’s version (perhaps a sign that the times are a-changin in the 1960s) tells the story from the killers’ point of view. This makes Lee Marvin the lead with Clu Gulager as his sidekick. It is a smart move as well not try to fully remake/recreate the 1946 classic- this shift gives the 1964 version enough of its own spin- it gives the film an edge.
  • This is an important film for Lee Marvin as he transitions from a supporting heavy or villain (think of him The Comancheros in 1961 or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962) to leading man (The Dirty Dozen in 1967 and Point Blank also in 1967).
  • The Killers in 1964 is often cited as one of the first examples of neo noir -shot in color, narrative from the killers’ point of view.

The film opens with stunning red and blue-soaked photographs during the opening credits.

  • Both Cassavetes and Marvin would lead the ensemble in Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen a few years later. Cassavetes’ buddy Seymour Cassel has a minor role in the film- Cassel was one of the Cassavetes’ trope of actors.
  • Cassavetes plays the Burt Lancaster role here, but they smartly changed it from boxer to race car driver to suit Cassavetes. Angie Dickinson is in the Ava Gardner part. As good as both Cassavetes and Dickinson are as actors- they do not quite measure up in these roles that started Lancaster and Gardner on the path to stardom. Cassavetes does not have Lancaster’s screen presence and Dickinson lacks the threat or danger of Gardner’s seduction.
  • There are some prolonged throwaway sequences in this version. The go-cart scene is a miss and there is a long, cinematically flat car race scene as well.
  • Ronald Reagan’s final role is a nice to his resume just before he went into politics. He plays Jack Browning and Reagan plays wealth and power very well with his suave looks and cool, crisp suits.
  • At the 60-minute mark Siegel uses a pink neon spilling in on Cassavetes’ hotel from the street lighting. Unfortunately, this is Don Siegel, who is a solid director, but mostly no frills in his approach- so he does not lean into the lighting enough.

When Lee Marvin’s character pulls up on the lawn late in the film- Siegel shoots just Marvin’s shoes (while catching a glimpse of the gun with silencer in the shot)- the red blood trickles on his black shoes making for one of the sequences in the film.

  • One of John Williams’ first films, certainly his first noteworthy score. Siegel uses excerpts from Henry Mancini’s memorable Touch of Evil score though to open and close the film.
  • Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1964