Note: The Killers is available direct from Arrow Video.

Two professional killers walk into a school for the blind and gun down an unarmed man who puts up no struggle in the melee. So begins Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, a movie produced by Universal that was intended for television but quickly became a cult hit, earning a theatrical release overseas in Europe. The slick crime thriller is headlined by charismatic performances from Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. Aside from the colorful killers and fluid narrative structure, The Killers is also known as Ronald Reagan’s last movie before he would move on to a career in politics. Yes, the 40th President of the United States goes out against type in his Hollywood career, as a criminal mastermind.

The Killers is firmly grounded in the criminal underworld of professional thieves and hired hitmen. Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are hired killers that take out their intended target, Johnny North (John Cassavetes). Charlie thinks Johnny accepts his death too easily and that starts the seasoned killer down a long path of asking why. Charlie and Lee think a big score waits for them if they can find out who ordered the anonymous hit on Johnny. They begin investigating Johnny’s associates through intimidation and the threat of violence, hearing about Johnny’s former girlfriend Sheila (Angie Dickinson) and ruthless mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan). Each person they meet from Johnny’s life reveals more about his tragic story, first as a race-car driver and then his eventual involvement in crime.

The Killers is one movie where knowing too much of the plot in advance takes away some of its entertainment value. Its ethos is an updated version of the film noir. Sheila is the classic femme fatale, appealingly portrayed by Angie Dickinson. Reagan is probably the weakest actor in the cast, playing against the type of friendly secondary role he was most known for in Hollywood. Browning was originally supposed to be played by Steve McQueen, which would have turned a very good movie into possibly an all-time classic. Reagan isn’t awful as the criminal genius behind a million-dollar heist but he seems a little old for the role and doesn’t exude the type of menace needed for the character.

The shifting stories told by Johnny’s former associates can never be trusted, the narrative thrusts the viewer into the same position as the professional hitmen, chasing down what they think is a huge sum of money but never really knowing the full story until the very end. Lee Marvin brings an intensity to the role that audiences in 1964 likely found shocking. The amoral killer has no compunction punching a woman in the face or threatening to throw someone out a window. All Charlie cares about it is getting the money. These type of killers are old-hat for today’s audiences but the veneer of professionalism (both men wear suits and are nicely groomed) hiding their deadly intentions was a new thing upon release.

Ignore the idea that The Killers might possibly be a lesser movie because it was made for American television. It was a different time and television was a more important venue for first-run movies in those days. Director Don Siegel crafted a great, hard-boiled mystery around a character that dies in the opening minutes of the movie.

Movie ★★★★☆

Welp, he's screwed @ 49:04

Arrow Video has presented two different options for The Killers in 1080P. Featuring a completely new film transfer by Universal, the 1964 movie is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Film purists will almost certainly want to watch the superior looking version from television. The widescreen presentation at 1080P appears to be a zoomed and matted copy of the original 1.33:1 transfer. There is some slight dead space in the television presentation’s cinematography.

The actual film scan is extraordinary and almost certainly derived from the original camera negatives. Aside from some minor blemishes in a couple of scenes, the elements are in gorgeous condition. Crisp and vivid, the film transfer faithfully replicates the native cinematography. More importantly, the recent film transfer has been left untouched by digital processing. There is an immense level of high-frequency content in the fine detail and its native grain structure remains intact. This is some of the finest catalog work from Universal on Blu-ray. The clear cinematography looks good with sharp definition and nice texture.

Arrow Video has included both 1080P presentations on a single BD-50. The AVC video encode is run at moderately-high bitrates, averaging a stout 28.94 Mbps for the main feature. It is a clean encode, free of compression artifacts while preserving the film master’s inherent resolution.

The color timing has a slight tendency towards magenta, skewing flesh-tones in the early going. That is likely a result of aging, unrestored film elements. Its saturation and contrast are nearly perfect, rendering fine black levels and lush primary colors. This Blu-ray looks great in 1080P and is a real credit to Arrow Video for rescuing this movie from Universal’s clutches.

Video ★★★★☆

The original mono audio is presented in a very sound 1.0 PCM option. The mono mix has solid fidelity and reproduces dialogue with utter clarity. Singer Nancy Wilson performs “Too Little Time” during a nightclub scene and it sounds fantastic. Sound effects don’t have the same level of impact or fidelity, the monaural mix begins to show its age and limitations. A perfectly adequate soundtrack that suits the movie quite well.

English SDH subtitles are the only option provided, they will appear in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

UK distributor Arrow Video always includes handsome art design and lavish booklets in their sets, this one is no exception. They dig up Lee Marvin’s biographer for a pointed and freewheeling interview, claiming that Marvin personally disliked Reagan. Both interviews veer into questionable political commentary concerning Reagan, which no American studio would ever allow on one of their releases. The interviews are definitely interesting, though they tend to lack focus. The vintage interview with Don Siegel has burnt-in French subtitles.

  • Reagan Kills: interview with New York Times bestselling writer Marc Eliot, author of ‘Ronald Reagan: The Hollywood Years’ (20:43 in HD)
  • Screen Killer: interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of ‘Lee Marvin: Point Blank’ (30:43 in HD)
  • Archive interview with Don Siegel (1984) from the French television series ‘Cinéma Cinémas’ (10:35 in SD)
  • Gallery of rare behind-the-scenes images – 23 still photographs and various one-sheet posters
  • Reversible sleeve featuring the original poster and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
  • Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mike Sutton, extracts from Don Siegel’s autobiography and contemporary reviews, illustrated with original lobby cards

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *