Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blu-ray Review: THE KILLERS (1964)

Label: Arrow Films
Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Certificate
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English 2.0 LPCM Mono with Optional English  SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p  Fullscreen (1.33:1) and Widescreen (1.85:1)
Cast: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan
Director: Don Siegel

A pair of hired guns walk into a school for the deaf and blind and rough-up the receptionist before walking into a classroom and gunning down the shop teacher Johnny North (John Cassavetes, Rosemary's Baby) in a spray of gunfire. Afterward the hitmen Charlie (Lee Marvin, The Big Red One) Lee (Clu Gulager, Vic) reflect on the lucrative job and begin to wonder about the peculiarities of the hit. Why did it pay so well and why did Johnny not even attempt to run - it just seems a bit odd.  The assassins decide there must be more to it and set about to uncover what turns out to be a twisted web deceit involving mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan) and his double-crossing dame Sheila (Angie Dickinson, Dressed To Kill) plus a million dollars in cold cash from a heist.

Directed by Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) The Killers is a gritty noir-styled thriller starring the bad-ass Lee Marvin as a stone-cold assassin joined by his younger partner played by b-movie legend Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead). Marvin is his usual tough as nails self while Gulager is fun as the health-obsessed scene stealer. They're a great duo and watching them it's not hard to image Quentin Tarantino watching this and dreaming up Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction. It was a blast to see ex-president Ronald Reagan as a women-slapping baddie here in his last onscreen role before entering politics and Angie Dickinson as his double-crossing dame is pretty cute. Add John Cassevetes to any production and he just classes it up, we get nothing less with race car driver Johnny North, a skilled driver who falls for the wrong girl and winds-up in an awful mess. 

Aside from the leads we have a few side characters along for the ride, there's Johnny's longtime mechanic (Claude Akins, Rio Bravo) and mobster Mickey Farmer played by character actor Norman Fell (Bullitt)  whom I mostly associate as Mr. Roper from TV sitcom Three's Company. Mickey is memorably interrogated by the pair of assassins while taking a sphitz at the health club. A great watch with a strong cast of characters and performers, hard to believe this was filmed as a TV movie, some of the violence is pretty shocking even today. 

Blu-ray: The Killers (1964) looks gorgeous in 1080 from Arrow Video with a new HD transfer courtesy of Universal Pictures. We have the option of viewing the film in it's original TV aspect ratio or the cinematic widescreen (1.85:1) option. The television version offers more image on both the top and bottom as it was cropped for projection in the theaters, originally filmed as the first-ever made-for-TV film it eventually ended up in cinema when it proved to be too violent for prime time. A nice layer of film grain with some fine texturing, the colors are strong and black levels are decent. We can see some very minor print damage but this is a very pleasant HD presentation. 

Audio chores are handled by an English 2.0 LPCM Mono track with Optional English  SDH Subtitles. The mono presentation is pretty flat but the very cool score provided by Henry Mancini and John Williams sounds just great, a wonderful brassy score with a lot of bongo drums. 

A nice selection of extras from Arrow including an interview with New York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years who  talks about Reagan the actor and his place in Hollywood and how the ex-President felt about playing a baddie in his last onscreen role. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ who speaks about  Marvin's time on set and his place in Hollywood during the filming plus some great anecdotes about pranks he pulled and his consumption of vodka on set. The last of a trio of video extras is a vintage interview with the director from 1984 discussing his style of film making. Lastly we have a 40 pg. booklet, reversible artwork and a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images. 

A nice set of interviews that give some interesting insights into the making of the film - surprised there wasn't an interview with co-star Clu Gulager or Angie Dickinson - would have greatly appreciated input from actors who are still alive and kicking.This is a region-B locked Blu-ray. 

Special Features:
- Reagan Kills: interview with New York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years’ (20:45)
- Screen Killer: interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ (30:45)
- Archive interview with Don Siegel (1984) from the French television series ‘Cinéma Cinémas’ (10:36)
- Gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images
- Reversible sleeve featuring the original poster and new artwork by Nathanael Marsh
- 40 pg. Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mike Sutton, extracts from Don Siegel’s autobiography and contemporary reviews, illustrated with original lobby cards

Verdict: The Killers (1964) is a top notch noir-styled thriller with a great cast that moves along

swiftly with some hard-boiled crime elements, plenty of double-crossing and great shocker of an ending. Worth a watch and glad to finally get this one under my belt, an unexpected treat. 3.5 Outta 5