Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Cassavetes, Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Ronald Reagan, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell
Written by: Gene L. Coon, based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway
Directed by: Don Siegel
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/30/1964

The Killers (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Movie remakes seem to be pouring out faster and more frequently than ever before, and it's rare that a remake gets even close to an original, much less equals it or surpasses it.

In an interesting experiment, the Criterion Collection has released a double DVD set with two films based on the same short story, Ernest Hemmingway's The Killers. The first version was made in 1946 by famed film noir director Robert Siodmak, featuring the acting debut of Burt Lancaster. Lancaster plays 'The Swede,' a boxer who becomes infatuated with a ganster's moll (Ava Gardner) and finds himself entangled in their dirty deeds. Siodmak's crafty direction emphasizes shadows, dark rooms and the feel of stale cigarettes, booze and general hoplelessness. The first few minutes of the film follow Hemingway's story fairly closely, but then cleverly goes off in its own direction.

Don Siegel directed the second version, a 1964 made-for-TV movie that was considered too violent for the tube and was eventually released in theaters. John Cassavetes takes over the 'Swede' role, but this time as a racecar driver instead of a boxer. He becomes too involved with femme fatale Angie Dickinson and crashes. After that, he's only employable to drive a getaway car during a backroad bank truck heist. Ronald Reagan gives one of his very best performances as Dickinson's nasty keeper who arranges the heist. Lee Marvin plays another ultra-cool hitman who gets hired to knock Cassavetes off. Siegel shot the movie specifically for television, with brightly-lit sets and a lack of "noir" shadows, but it's still a superior pulp yarn.

DVD Details: The disc also contains a short student film by Andrei Tarkovsky that stays truer to the story than either feature film, as well as lots of other extras.

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