Sunday, 16 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel's 1964 film had the distinction of being the first made-for-TV movie, but ended up playing in cinemas after the network pulled it from schedules. 'The Killers' is a remake of Robert Siodmak's 1946 film, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Here, Lee Marvin plays the role of hitman Charlie Strom who, with the aid of accomplice Lee (Clu Gulager) leave us in no uncertain terms of his ruthless streak when he visits a school for the blind, leaving bodies in his wake. Strom's mission is to locate a guy by the name of Jerry Nichols (John Cassavetes), who used to be a racing driver under the name of Johnny North and who walked away with a million dollars after a robbery. Strom duly identifies and shoots his target, but the fact that North accepts his fate with no attempt to run leaves Strom with a burning desire to find out more.
The puzzle leads him to one Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson); a gold-digging dame known as 'The Wrecker', who takes North's concentration away from his job, much to the concern of his business partner Earl (Claude Akins). In turn, Farr introduces sugar daddy Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his final screen role), who is mixed up in the million dollar heist and is out for revenge. Reagan usually played "best friend" of the leading guy in his feature films, so a nasty role like Jack Browning represented a real sea change and a chance to expand his cv. Unfortunately, Reagan didn't see it like that. He hated the role, and only took it because he was broke. It's by no means a great performance, but just about convincing enough to capture Browning's mood and motivation

Of course, Lee Marvin was used to playing guys with a mean streak, and the role of Charlie Strom has to be one of his most memorable, ably supported by Cassavetes and Dickinson: one outstanding feature of 'The Killers' is that whoever gets top dog of the situation, good will not triumph.

This Blu-ray disc from Arrow Academy is an absolute highlight of UK first quarter releases, with some fascinating supplementary material. The film is presented with two choices of aspect ratio: 1.33:1 for TV and 1.85:1 for theatrical screenings. Picture quality is outstanding, with an abundance of fine detail, robust skin tones and a fine layer of grain. Fans of this film will be delighted with this presentation.

The extras begin with 'Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein On Lee Marvin', being a 30 minute interview with the author of 'Lee Marvin: Point Blank.'Epstein does more than enough to prompt folks to invest in his book, declaring Marvin pretty much invented the modern American Cinema Of Violence, and going on to chart his career as a marine and his bout of post traumatic stress disorder which led to alcohol-related problems. Marvin's formative acting years on the stage are also mentioned (sadly not the occasion when he left Lee Strasberg's studio with a defiant "Fuck You!"), and his ability to understand the dark side of the characters he often played. It really is a fascinating interview, and it was with a genuine sense of regret that the interview came to an end: full marks to High Rising Productions Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill for another superlative disc extra.
The aforementioned pair are also responsible for 'Reagan Kills: Marc Elliot On Ronald Reagan', which is a 20 minute interview with the writer of 'Reagan: The Hollywood Years'. Elliot gives us the lowdown on Reagan's career as an actor and as US President, acknowledging he was not a truly gifted actor but a survivor; how he hated the role of Jack Browning and objected deeply to having to slap Angie Dickinson, and moves to his stint as President Of The United States. Reagan was anti-union and his actions including the Pakco air strike (where he fired one of my wife's cousins for hisa paart in the strike) are covered, together with his home and foreign policy. it's a fascinating interview, and leads us to a final piece: a ten minute interview with Don Siegel shot in 1984 and originally made for French TV's 'Cinema Cinema' programme. Here, Siegel talks about his work in second unit for many directors, his dislike at being known as an action director and his constant battles with producers. 'The Killers' must rank as a personal triumph, and was certainly ahead of its time.Arrow's disc is rounded off a photo gallery and comes with a 40 page booklet (which Ididn't receive)that contains text interviews, projectionist notes and 'about the transfer'. This Blu-ray disc is Region B, contains subtitles for those of us who are hard of hearing and is released on 24th February.

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