Friday, June 18, 2004

The Killers

I was in a sentimental mood last week, so I rented and watched the double-disc set of The Killers. I miss Lee Marvin, and the second disc promised me footage of Hollywood's legendary heavy drilling Ronald Reagan. Throw in performances by Angie Dickinson and John Cassavetes, and how can you possibly miss?

Unfortunately, a miss it was.

You heard me.
The movie is best enjoyed as a pristinely-kept artifact of kitsch from 60s America. I'd be tempted to blame director Don Siegel for the movie's dramatic failings, but the whole thing is such a wild goulash of 60s pop obsessions, it is clearly the result of a creative team gone wild. There is endless footage of a day at the races, with vintage GTOs and Cobras screaming around the corners (interspersed with the expected shots of Cassavetes sneering dangerously behind a steering wheel, while Dickinson, with yellow scarf flapping cheerfully in the wind, grins and bites her lip). Then there are those nifty stove-pipe suits, the skinny little ties, the Man From U.N.C.L.E. guns. The extras even include an interview with Clu Gulager, who delivers the goods: "It was the last day of shooting, and Lee Marvin comes to the set (closes eyes, shakes head painfully)!"

How can I stay mad, when the puppy has such a cute face?

The first disc is clearly superior. It's a tidy bit of film noir, directed with flair by Robert Siodmak. The Hemingway short story (neither his best nor his worst) is faithfully rendered as the movie's first act. If The Old Man ever saw the movie, he probably swallowed his teeth watching the rest of it, but the additional material (the back-story, or, if you will, the iceberg Hemingway left submerged), hammered down by Anthony Veiller, makes for what is easily the most entertaining Hemingway flick I've seen. Burt Lancaster, who I don't often enjoy, puts in one of his best performances as The Swede, a palooka incapable of giving his head a much-needed shake. Of course, the justifiable cause of his confusion is a young Ava Gardner, and by movie's end we know exactly what caused Frank Sinatra to keen, "I've gotta get that broad out of my plasma!"

All in all, a good evening's entertainment - fine for renting, if a bit too pricey to purchase.

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