The Killers (1964)

the killers poster 1964 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Improves on the flow of the story

Cast and story feels more dated than 1946 version

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Killers

Studio:  Revue Studios

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  July 7, 1964

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

the killers john cassavetes racecar driver

I’m a winner…things are gonna change!

Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) have been sent to kill Johnny North (John Cassavetes).  When North doesn’t run from his fate, Charlie suspects there is more to the story than what he has been told…and that a stolen fortune might still be hiding.  As Charlie and Lee investigate their hit, a story of a racecar driver whose career is stolen from him and the lover named Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson) who could be dangerous is revealed.

Directed by Don Siegel, The Killers is a suspense mystery thriller.  The film is an adaptation of Earnest Hemingway’s story “The Killers” from Scribner’s Magazine (March 1927) and was originally intended to be a made-for-television movie for NBC.  It was previously adapted in 1946, 1956 as a short by Andrei Tarkovsky, and a 1959 adaptation for CBS’s Buick-Electra Playhouse.  The Criterion Collection released the film packaged with the 1946 version (Criterion #176).

the killers 1964 lee marvin clu gulager norman fell

Lee and Clu putting the heat of Mr. Roper

I hadn’t seen any version of The Killers, but pounded out both this version and the 1946 version in one day.  Both films are different enough to watch back to back, but they are similar enough to make a nice comparison between the two.

This version of the film streamlines the story a bit.  The 1946 version has the crime being investigated by an insurance claim adjuster, but here the actual killers are the ones investigating…which helps tie the story back together.  Sheila Farr is more tied to Johnny North, and her actions are more ambiguous.  The basic story works out the same, but the movie is a little more ruthless.

The movie has a lot of celebrity status to it.  Lee Majors and Clu Gulager are the killers looking for a big score.  John Cassavetes is always good in his roles, and Angie Dickinson is seductive and believable as Kitty.  The film also features appearances by Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Don Haggerty, and Virginia Christine (who also appeared in the 1946 version).  The movie is also noted for being Ronald Reagan’s last movie role and the only film where he portrayed a villain.

the killers 1964 ronald reagan angie dickinson

Hey…I’m thinking of going into politics? Will it work?

The film doesn’t feel as classic as a noir shot in the 1940s or 1950s with dynamic black-and-white coloring.  The movie is rather modern looking in that sense and that has good and bad aspects…scenes like the racecar driving are pretty dated, but there is a grittiness to it that also feels more similar to films later in the 1960s.

The Killers is a worthwhile film for fans of the genre.  While this version didn’t really define the genre, it showed how it could advance and be modernized.  The quasi-Rashomon style of storytelling could have been enhanced by having the storytellers expressing a bias to the story they are telling, but it still is enjoyable as it is presented.  The story is rather universal and continues to be adapted.

Related Links:

The Killers (1946)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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