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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Both Robert Siodmak's 1946 version and Don Siegel's 1964 version
  • Andrei Tarkovsky's student film version of The Killers
  • Video interview with writer Stuart M. Kaminsky (Don Siegel: Director)
  • Screen Director's Playhouse 1949 radio adaptation, starring Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters
  • Actor Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) reads Hemingway's short story
  • Production and publicity stills with actor biographies, rare behind-the-scenes stills gallery, original press book and ads
  • Collection of trailers for Robert Siodmak films
  • Writer/director Paul Schrader's seminal 1972 essay "notes on film noir"
  • Notes by Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn)
  • Music and effects track
  • Reflections with Clu Gulager, star of the 1964 version
  • Excerpts from A Siegel Film pertaining to the making of the movie
  • Production correspondence including memos from Don Siegel, broadcasting standards reports and casting suggestions
  • Production and publicity stills with actor biographies, rare behind-the-scenes stills gallery, and advertisements
  • Notes by Geoffrey O'Brien (Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir)

The Killers


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Robert Siodmak, Don Siegel
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell, Ronald Reagan, Seymour Cassel
2003 | 196 Minutes | Licensor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #176 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 18, 2003
Review Date: July 3, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

Why would a man welcome his own murder?

Ernest Hemingway's gripping short story "The Killers" has fascinated readers and filmmakers for generations. Its first screen incarnation came in 1946, when director Robert Siodmak unleashed The Killers, helping to define the film noir style and launching the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in this archetypal masterpiece. In 1956, then-film student Andrei Tarkovsky tackled the story with a faithful 19-minute short. In 1964, Don Siegel-initially slated to direct the 1946 version-took it on, creating the first-ever made-for-TV feature, which would prove too violent for American audiences in the wake of JFK's assassination. The Criterion Collection presents all three versions of this classic tale of amorality that asks why a man would silently welcome his fate with the passivity of a man already dead.

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents two film adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers: Robert Siodmak’s version made in 1946, and Don Siegel’s made in 1964. Both films are presented on their own respective dual-layer DVDs in this 2-disc set and are each presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1.

The transfers are both fairly weak, even for DVD at the time. The ’46 version may be the better looking one of the two, though not by much. Detail and sharpness are both pretty good, though nothing exceptional. Contrast is decent and black levels are fairly rich. Unfortunately compression is problematic, the image looking fairly noisy, and the restoration work does leave a little to be desired as marks and scratches are fairly constant.

The ’64 version is also fairly sharp with decent detail, and compression doesn’t seem to be as problematic, but the film’s colours are considerably washed out, looking pasty and pale most of the time. I would have initially thought maybe this was the intended look, though the new high-def presentations found on Arrow’s and Criterion’s Blu-ray editions suggest this wasn’t the case. Coming back to it you realize just how weak this presentation is.

In all they’re both weak standard-definition transfers, even by the standards of DVD.

6/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1946 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

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1964 version

AUDIO

Both films get Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. They’re both fairly flat with little range and fidelity. The ’46 version also has some noticeable noise in the background on occasion. Still, dialogue is easy to hear for both versions, and the music in the ’64 version sounds fairly strong.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion spreads the supplements over the two discs, focusing the features on their respective films. Starting with the 1946 version on disc one we get an interview with Stuart Kaminsky, who talks about film noir, how the term was coined (possibly) and what makes a film “noir” (not necessarily a genre, more a style more than likely owed to German directors like Siodmak) and then talks about both versions of The Killers. One thing that always intrigued me was how Don Siegel was first considered as director for Lancaster/Gardner version, but they were unable to attain him because of his contract with Warner Bros. The 18-minute interview jumps around but offers a decent amount of insight into both films, the original story, and the style of film noir.

Criterion follows this with a collection biographies for members of the film’s cast and crew. These somewhat extensive bios go over each member’s career highlights. Criterion includes bios for Burt Lancaster, Eva Gardener, Edmond O'Brien, Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, Albert Dekker, Vince Barnett, Jack Lambert, composer Miklos Rozsa, and then one for both Robert Siodmak and Mark Hellinger.

Exploitation presents a large selection of publicity material, including publicity stills, production stills, behind-the-scenes stills, the press book, advertising and shots of the theaters playing the film. These are presented in a typical still gallery where you use your remote to move through them. Occasionally text appears to describe the photos.

A sub section called “Source and Adaptations” offers three other features. The first is Hemingway's Short Story, an audio-only supplement featuring actor Stacy Keach reading the story (it comes from an audiobook release of Hemingway’s short stories). I probably would have preferred a booklet featuring the story (though that was probably prohibitive cost wise) but getting it in some fashion is certainly welcome. What’s surprising is how close Siodmak’s opening matches it (Siegel’s remake comes nowhere near, other than the basic premise), at least in terms of dialogue.

We then get what is probably the release’s best feature, Andrei Tarkovsky’s adaptation of The Killers, a student film made in 1956. The film was codirected with two other students (Alexander Gordon and Marika Beiku) but Tarkovsky directed the bulk of it, specifically the two sections that take place in the diner. Despite some unfortunate dated elements (an actor in blackface for example) it’s a strong adaptation of the story, creating some great mood and atmosphere, despite the fact the killers sort of look like they’re wearing their fathers’ clothes.

The transfer is actually pretty good, all things considered. The film is still in rough shape with a decent amount of damage, but it’s still quite watchable. The feature also opens with a brief description of the film.

Criterion then includes a radio adaptation from the Screen Director’s Playhouse, performed June 5th, 1948, and featuring Lancaster, Shelley Winters, Tony Barrett, and William Conrad. It’s an adaptation of the Siodmak film, jumping right in to when Nick goes to tell the Swede (again played by Lancaster) that two killers are after him. We then get first person narration from a police detective investigating why the man simply let the two killers get him. The adaptation then quickly moves through the key plot points of the film, compressing the 102-minute film into less than 30-minutes. In terms of radio adaptations it’s not one of the stronger ones I’ve come across but it’s still a fascinating historical document.

The feature is also accompanied by a text introduction and a list of the players.

”Notes on Noir” reprints Paul Schrader’s extensive study on film noir written for Film Comment in 1972 as a text feature. Divided into 9 parts it’s an extensive essay going over its origins, the development of the style, and then what makes a film a “noir.”

The disc the concludes with Siodmak’s trailer, which includes Son of Dracula, Cobra Woman, The Killers, Cry of the City, and Criss Cross. In total they run about 10-minutes.

The second disc presents the 1964 version and the film doesn’t receive the same amount of material. It does provide a great interview with actor Clu Gulager who reflects on the production, working with Don Siegel, Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and the other actors for 19-minutes. Filmed by his sons John and Tom (and edited together rather annoyingly) it’s probably one of the stronger features to be found in this release as a whole. Gulager talks about some of his hesitations (particularly some of the other actors who, he shamefully admits, he thought were lesser performers initially) and then his complete admiration for Marvin and Siegel. He recounts a few humourous anecdotes from the set (Marvin told him that Dickinson couldn’t act so Gulager ended up being a bit rougher with her, only to realize during the scene in question that Marvin, who had worked with Dickinson before, had pulled one on him), how the makers were able to convince Reagan to play the villain (the only bad guy role in his career), and then talks a bit about the film being pulled from television (though not before having his performance completely cut out apparently, in hopes of making the film less violent for TV) and then released theatrically. It’s a very personal interview with the actor and a solid addition to the set.

Don Siegel on The Killers is another audio-only feature with Wolf Wolverton reading an excerpt from Siegel’s autobiography A Siegel Film. This excerpt (which actually appears in the booklet of Arrow’s Blu-ray edition) goes over in incredible detail (and I really mean “incredible detail”) the film’s production, from being initially handed the project, casting, shooting the race scenes, and so on. It’s a very through supplement, making up substantially for the lack of much else about the film.

Criterion then includes a section called ”From the Office of…” which features 5 memos and an essay of sorts by Siegel. The memos feature notes on the script, casting and problems with the suggestive sex and violence. There is also a memo from Siegel to Angie Dickinson about the bad reviews the film got, critics annoyed by the title Ernest Hemmingway's The Killers and not seeing anything to do with the story in it (Siegel also opposed the title, the original title was to be Johnny North). Siegel’s essay goes over his reservations about doing a remake and his issues with the original Hemingway story.

Like the first disc this one also includes a selection of biographies for the cast and crew of this film, including Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Ronald Reagan, Clu Gulager, Claude Akins, Norman Fell and Don Siegel. There is then also a section called Exploitation, which is another publicity gallery, this one smaller than what is on the first disc, featuring publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and various advertisements. There’s also a theatrical trailer for the film.

The packaging for this release is also fairly clever: when your remove the peel offs it reveals artwork for each film on the front and then on the back. It then includes two inserts, one for each film: the insert for the 1946 version features a short essay by Jonathan Lethem going over the film’s impact in film noir, as well as how it works as an adaptation. The second insert, for the 1964 version, features an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien that goes over its differences from the original while admiring Siegel’s direction and sense for casting.

In all Criterion has put together an exception set of supplements. Though Tarkovsky’s short film is the gem, Criterion offers a strong examination of the “film noir” style, a fascinating look at adapting other sources for films, while also offering a minor look at remakes.

9/10

CLOSING

The transfers for both films leave a bit to be desired and are open to improvement (the Criterion Blu-ray does offer a noticeable improvement) but the supplements are solid and are great to go through. Comes with a high recommendation.


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