The Killers (1964)

The_Killers_(1964_movie_poster).jpgAfter an opening to rival the original film noir The Killers (1946), though nowhere near as atmospheric, Don Siegel’s The Killers asserts itself as a real rough and tumble operation with surprisingly frank violence. However, it might be expected from such a veteran action director on his way to making Dirty Harry (1971) with Clint Eastwood.

With hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Galagher) as the motors for the story, they help maintain a similar flashback structure to the original film taken from Hemingway’s short story, except this time their inquiries are a little more forceful than anything the insurance investigator managed in Robert Siodmak’s film.

Furthermore, to fit better with the cultural moment boxing is traded out for race car driving as our fateful hero in this instance is Johhny North (John Cassavetes) a tragic figure who got caught up in love and wounded in the same instance.

Still, Cassavetes even before he was a director of great repute, he made for a quality acting force because the intensity always seems to burn in his eyes and it serves him well here yet again.

He and his mechanic partner (Claude Akins) are intent on winning a big pile at the racetrack but Johnny gets caught up in a romance with an alluring beauty named Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson) who can’t get enough of him. But she also happens to be pretty closely connected to an unscrupulous “businessman” who conveniently pays the bills for her. If Johnny knew any better he would get out of there as fast as he could but she’s a knockout who seems to want him and he wants to believe in her sincerity.

Ronald Reagan takes on the uncharacteristically grimy role as the corrupt Jack Browning which interestingly enough would be the actor’s last Hollywood role before switching his sights on politics first as governor of California and then down the road aways as the president of the United States.

Like his predecessor so many years before, The Swede (Burt Lancaster), Johnny (Cassavetes) gets played for a bit of a stooge and as embittered as he is after a faltering racing career, he inserts himself into Jack Browning’s (Reagan) get-rich-quick bank job which is bound to spin out of control. Adding insult to injury Sheila is right there searing through him like she always used to. The imminent results speak for themselves concerning hitmen, dames, and everyone else who could possibly be caught up in the dirty business.

There are isolated moments where the drama gets laid down a little thick and yet for a film that was initially supposed to be a TV movie, this effort really is an enjoyable neo-noir despite being starkly different than its predecessor. In fact, that allows it to stand on its own two feet and even if it’s not nearly as good, Siegel’s film is still quite thrilling. Thankfully this one lives up to its name and it goes out as deadly as it came in which usually bodes well for a crime picture.

Part of that goes down to the acting talent because it feels like there’s no real throwaway role and everyone has something to keep them busy. Lee Marvin has top billing and he takes up a post that feels like it just might be the precursor to the enigmatic crime spree of Point Blank (1967). His performance along with Clu Gulager’s are undoubtedly the coolest bar none and yet they aren’t even in the majority of it.

That privilege goes to Cassavetes and Dickinson who light up the screen and play their character types impeccably. The same might be said for Claude Akins or Norman Fell. The only odd spot is Reagan but then again maybe that might only be my bias since I’m so used to seeing him be presidential.

3.5/5 Stars

Comanche Station (1960)

Comanche_Station_FilmPosterComanche Station opens with a man who willfully goes into Comanche territory. We don’t quite know why at first, but through haggling and bartering he’s able to save a captured white woman. It doesn’t come out until much later but it turns out that Jefferson Cody’s (Randolph Scott) own wife was captured by Comanche well nigh 10 years ago and he has never stopped looking.

The saved damsel Nancy Lowe gets the wrong impression about Cody believing the gruff figure was only in it for the money and that is far from the truth, as he intends to take her back to her husband out of harms way. That’s until they’re joined out on the trail by Ben Lane (Claude Atkins) and his two hired guns. Akins in fact takes on a role almost identical to Lee Marvin a few years before and he’s not quite as memorable. However, his two stooge sidekicks are more interesting, because although they are “outlaws” in a sense, we cannot help but like them for their buffoonery and conflicted morals.

Lane looks to ambush Cody and Mrs. Lowe so he can snag the reward, but Dobie will not take part. The shootout ensues between Cody and Lane. Afterwards the searcher leads the lady back to the arms of her husband. This final installment of Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle shares some similarities to Seven Men From Now, but there is a totally different feel because the visuals are very different.

3.5/5 Stars

Inherit the Wind (1960)

Starring two battling greats in Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, with Gene Kelly as well, the film chronicles a fictitious version of the controversial Scopes Monkey Trial which acted as an allegory for the McCarthy era. March is the prestigious prosecutor on the side of Creationism and Tracy is the famed defense attorney fighting for a young schoolteacher (Dick York). The two spar back and forth on the touchy subject while staying friends outside the courtroom. The whole town backs Brady, condemning Cates and Drummond as evil. However, despite all that is against them, Drumond saves the case by bringing Brady to the stand. The two stars have commendable performances if not their best. Gene Kelly proves he can be a serious actor, playing the cynical newspaper man. The cast is rounded out nicely by Harry Morgan and Claude Akins. Here Stanley Kramer puts together a respectable movie version of the stage play.

4/5 Stars