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The Killers
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Reagan Kills: interview with New York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of 'Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years'
  • Screen Killer: interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of 'Lee Marvin: Point Blank'
  • Archive interview with Don Siegel (1984) from the French television series 'Cinťma Cinťmas'
  • Gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images

The Killers

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Don Siegel
Starring: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan, Seymour Cassel
164 | 95 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £19.99 | Series: Arrow Academy
Arrow Films

Release Date: February 24, 2014
Review Date: February 23, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

"I gotta find out what makes a man decide not to run. Why all of a sudden he'd rather die."

So muses hitman Charlie (Lee Marvin) after his high-priced victim Johnny North (John Cassavetes) gives in without a fight. Obsessed with the answer, Charlie and his hot-headed associate Lee (Clu Gulager) track down Johnny's associates, and uncover a complex web of crime and deceit involving his femme fatale girlfriend Sheila (Angie Dickinson) and ruthless mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his last screen role).

Loosely inspired by the Ernest Hemingway story, and directed by Don Siegel (whose many other taut, efficient thrillers include Dirty Harry and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers), The Killers was commissioned as the very first 'TV movie', but was given a cinema release because of its violence - although a cast like that really belonged on the big screen in the first place.


PICTURE

Arrow Films release Don Siegelís 1964 quasi-remake The Killers through their Arrow Academy label. Interestingly Arrow presents the film in two aspect ratios: one in a standard 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and then a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Both versions are presented on a dual-layer disc in new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfers.

The film was initially intended to be the first ďTV movieĒ but Universal objected to its violence and rather cruel nature. They released it into theaters instead, only to surprisingly have it become a decent hit. Previous home video versions (including Criterionís DVD edition) always presented the film in the standard aspect ratio. Since the film was planned to receive a theatrical release overseas (and then eventually in the States) evidence suggests that it was protected for the widescreen ratio as well. Because of this Arrow has seen fit to offering both options.

Both presentations deliver an exceptional image. Colours are rich and saturated nicely, Reaganís maroon jacket later on in the film looking especially good. Detail levels are strong in both close-ups and long shots, and I didnít detect in egregious artifacts within the transfer. The source has a few minor problems. Due to its cheap budget the film heavily uses rear projection and these scenes can look fuzzy and odd. Damage can also get especially heavy, with specs of debris and a number of scratches lingering about.

Of the two the standard transfer is probably the better looking one, coming off quite a bit crisper. Though the widescreen version still looks pretty good itís not as crisp and just comes off a wee-bit fuzzier. The reason for this appears to be because Arrow simply zoomed in on the standard version master, meaning we technically lose resolution. The deterioration is noticeable, but not a killer. As to the framing it does look good. Watching the standard version you do notice a lot of head room in many shots, which is basically all that disappears in the widescreen version. Everything shows up in screen and I didnít feel anything was being cut off, so I have no doubt a widescreen version was taken into consideration while filming. As to which version one should go with it will come down to personal preference.

In the end itís an impressive presentation, offering a noticeably large improvement over Criterionís DVD transfer.

(This is a region B release and North American viewers will require Blu-ray players that can play back region B discs.)

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The filmís audio is delivered in lossless PCM 2-channel mono. For an older film originally made for television the audio is shockingly robust. Depth and range is very good, with clear, articulate dialogue, and a loud, clean score booming over the speakers. I didnít detect any distortion and the track is clean, free of any damage. Itís a great sounding track.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow includes a few supplements, starting with Screen Killer, a 30-minute interview with Dwayne Epstein covering Lee Marvinís career. I know very little about Marvin, admittedly, so ended up finding this a rather fascinating segment. He goes over his early career and service during the war (which led to Marvin suffering from PTSD) and then his work on The Killers. Apparently Marvin hated TV work but did the film anyways, though ironically it led to some Awards for his performance overseas. Epstein also talks about how he worked with other actors. Apparently he took pride in making the other performers work a little harder, and improvised a number of things, including getting right in Angie Dickinsonís face in order to make her more uncomfortable, actually enhancing her performance. Marvin also could not stand Ronald Reagan, finding him a lousy actor (he tested Reagan by playing scenes with him differently during each take or rehearsal to see if Reagan would follow suite: he never did, which sounds to have disgusted Marvin.) Epstein brings up a number of things and gives a wonderful overview of the man and his career.

Regan Kills is a 20-minute interview with Marc Eliot on Reaganís acting and political careers. He explains why Reagan was elected president (while following that with an out-of-left field, somewhat inappropriate Obama rant that has nothing to do with the subject at hand) and how his brief and generally unimpressive acting career led to that. He looks at some of his early roles and how he got into acting, and then his political work and dealings with unions and regulations after the classic studio system fell. He also looks at his role in The Killers, Reaganís only villainous role, and addresses why he was probably miscast. Reagan also apparently hated the film, and regretted starring in it, and this probably has more to do with the infamous slap he performs against Dickinson. Eliot mentions he probably feared it could hurt his political chances, though Iíd like to think people would realize he was just acting (admittedly itís a brutal looking slap on screen, so I guess it could have been used negatively.) Itís a decent overview of his career, worth watching for those unfamiliar with Reaganís Hollywood work.

Arrow then includes a 10-minute segment from a 1984 episode of the French television program Cinema cinemas presenting an interview with director Don Siegel. Siegel talks about his style (which is ďnot having oneĒ) and how his work with other directors taught him everything he needed to know. He talks about his label of being an action director, which heís not fond of, and would rather direct a love story or even a comedy, because heís ďa lover, not a gangster.Ē He admits he directs simply for the money, though does try to bring something special to the film. But despite this statement he admits he is annoyed there is very little freedom in Hollywood, as his movies have to make money. He also recalls a humourous anecdote where he recalls saying to Jean-Luc Godard that he admired the directorís freedom, to which Godard responded with he admired the fact Siegel could get money to make movies. Itís a rather surprising interview and a nice find on Arrowís part.

The disc then closes with a gallery that displays a number of production photos, posters, and German lobby cards. A booklet also apparently comes with the release but I did not receive it with my screener copy of the Blu-ray.

In comparison to Criterionís DVD edition (which included the original 1946 version of the story, Tarkovskyís version, and a whole other assortment of material) it is certainly lacking and probably a bit disappointing, but theyíre decent supplements well worth going through.

5/10

CLOSING

Arrow does an excellent job with this release, delivering a few strong supplements and an impressive transfer, presenting the film in two aspect ratios. It comes with a high-recommendation for those that can playback region B discs.




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