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 Post subject: 176 The Killers
PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 5:32 pm 
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The Killers

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Ernest Hemingway's simple but gripping short tale "The Killers" is a model of economical storytelling. Two directors adapted it into unforgettably virile features: Robert Siodmak, in a 1946 film that helped define the noir style and launch the acting careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner; and Don Siegel, in a brutal 1964 version, starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and John Cassavetes, that was intended for television but deemed too violent for home audiences and released theatrically instead. The first is poetic and shadowy, the second direct and harsh as daylight, but both get at the heart of Hemingway's existential classic.


Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946)

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.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• Beautiful new digital transfer
• 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
• English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
• Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition


Don Siegel's The Killers (1964)

Ernest Hemingway's gripping short story "The Killers" has fascinated readers and filmmakers for generations. 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.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• Gleaming new digital transfer
• 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)
• English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
• Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 6:29 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
This is my favourite Don Siegel film by far. I can remember catching it on TV late one night and just totally getting sucked into the no-nonsense vibe of this movie. And then, Criterion gave it their deluxe treatment!

I just watched Siegel's version again the other night and found it quite interesting that his film features the professional killers as the protagonists. Lee Marvin's got that great, deep, gravelly voice. He exudes a calm, malevolent nature through the simplest gesture or look (along with Point Blank, it has to be my favourite performance of his). And Clu Gulager is his perfect foil. If Marvin is the no-nonsense straight man then Gulager is the vicious joker, always messing with people just for kicks. For example, in the opening scene when the two men question the school�s receptionist, Gulager fidgets with the furniture, taking some flowers out of a vase, sniffing them while pouring the water out onto the desk while Marvin concentrates on the frightened woman, using that great voice of his to get the information he wants. It�s a simultaneously funny and tension-filled scene that gets me every time.

I also found it interesting that unlike Siodmark�s version, Siegel�s film takes place mostly during the day with a bright colour scheme. I know some people are thrown off by the artificial TV look, with its extensive use of rear projection, but for me, it gives The Killers an almost kind of surreal feel that works surprisingly well. Even though it is bright and colourful, the attitude of the film is pure malevolence. Life is cheap and movie concludes on an uncompromisingly nihilistic note. Just looking at the interplay between Charlie and Lee, you realize how much Tarantino ripped off this film with his cool, tough-talking hitmen in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

...and how many films out there feature John Cassavetes punching out Ronald Regan?!?

It's interesting to see how each version in this set differs from the original short story. Tarkovsky follows it quite closely. Siodmark adds an entire backstory, and Siegel changes the whole POV.

Gotta love the cheesy rear projection in the go-cart scene too!


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2005 7:35 pm 

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criterionsnob wrote:
Gotta love the cheesy rear projection in the go-cart scene too!

Do you? I found it be just that - cheesy. And not in any good way ala Notorious or Pulp Fiction. I much prefer Siodmak's film. Siegel's seemed misanthropic for the sake of misanthropy.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 10:15 am 
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javelin wrote:
Do you? I found it be just that - cheesy. And not in any good way ala Notorious or Pulp Fiction. I much prefer Siodmak's film. Siegel's seemed misanthropic for the sake of misanthropy.

I'd have to disagree with you there. I think the final image of a bloodied, dying Lee Marvin sprawled out on the lawn with the money flying everywhere is a pretty powerful final image that seems to say what was it all for? Money? All these people died over some money, which seems to me to be a pretty good commentary on our society that Siegel is putting across with this movie.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 2:01 pm 

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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
I'd have to disagree with you there. I think the final image of a bloodied, dying Lee Marvin sprawled out on the lawn with the money flying everywhere is a pretty powerful final image that seems to say what was it all for? Money? All these people died over some money, which seems to me to be a pretty good commentary on our society that Siegel is putting across with this movie.

A pretty good commentary, yes, but also a tired commentary. Consider the courtyard scene with all the businessmen in A Nous la Liberte. Instead of saying, "See - all this grabbing for money'll kill ya," Siegel seems to say, "We're all grabbing for money and all dying." It's misanthropic without any desire to say something more. I don't know, this could be my reaction based on the fact that I felt The Killers was little more than a good television production (which, yes, I know it was.) The rear projection, terse dialogue, and stock characters were used in a way that said, "This is what we got," more than, "This is what we chose to use." But if you think I missed something, I'll watch it again.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 3:03 pm 
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javelin wrote:
A pretty good commentary, yes, but also a tired commentary. Consider the courtyard scene with all the businessmen in A Nous la Liberte. Instead of saying, "See - all this grabbing for money'll kill ya," Siegel seems to say, "We're all grabbing for money and all dying." It's misanthropic without any desire to say something more. I don't know, this could be my reaction based on the fact that I felt The Killers was little more than a good television production (which, yes, I know it was.) The rear projection, terse dialogue, and stock characters were used in a way that said, "This is what we got," more than, "This is what we chose to use." But if you think I missed something, I'll watch it again.


Fair enough. I can see what you're saying here. I don't want to read too much into Siegel's film... maybe because there isn't too much to read. Basically, I feel that it is a very entertaining crime film with dialogue that snaps and crackles with intensity and excellent performances from the cast. Plus, the perverse thrill of future Prez Ronald Reagan playing a bad guy which doesn't hurt.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 3:21 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
Plus, the perverse thrill of future Prez Ronald Reagan playing a bad guy which doesn't hurt.

And bitch-slapping Angie Dickinson! It was a shock when I first saw it.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 3:56 pm 
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My take is that Siegel's film is a pretty ordinary one elevated by some great casting and terrific performances. I think the resonance of the final scene is not due to anything great or original in the writing or conception, but down to the details of Marvin's performance.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2005 5:18 pm 
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cdnchris wrote:
And bitch-slapping Angie Dickinson! It was a shock when I first saw it.

Definitely. Or when Marvin and Gulager threaten to drop her out of a window of a tall building! And to see Reagan get his at the finale of the movie was quite an eye-opener. I think it is the intensity of the emotions and performances in this movie are what really speak to me.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2005 3:40 pm 
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I personally did not care for the Siegel one much at all... I thought it was boring and cheesy mostly, but I did appreciate the POV change and found that interesting.

I loved the Siodmak version.

Is the Tartovsky version basically the entire story, and everything after that point is made up by someone else in the Hollywood versions, or does the Tartovsky version just end prematurely?


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2005 5:29 pm 
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Morbii wrote:
Is the Tartovsky version basically the entire story, and everything after that point is made up by someone else in the Hollywood versions, or does the Tartovsky version just end prematurely?

The former.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2005 5:44 pm 
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I liked the Tartovsky one better than the Siegel one, but I felt it would have been a LOT better had it used rembrandt lighting in noir style, like the Siodmak.


Last edited by Morbii on Thu Apr 07, 2005 3:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2005 5:43 am 
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javelin wrote:
Consider the courtyard scene with all the businessmen in A Nous la Liberte. Instead of saying, "See - all this grabbing for money'll kill ya," Siegel seems to say, "We're all grabbing for money and all dying." It's misanthropic without any desire to say something more. I don't know, this could be my reaction based on the fact that I felt The Killers was little more than a good television production (which, yes, I know it was.) The rear projection, terse dialogue, and stock characters were used in a way that said, "This is what we got," more than, "This is what we chose to use." But if you think I missed something, I'll watch it again.

That is an interesting point but I think the two films are taking different points of view. As you say Siegel's The Killers seems misanthropic, nobody is good, and it would seem to me that a misanthropic stance would leave you without the ability to say anything more, because if you do not believe in anyone having the capacity for good, then there is no possibility for change and therefore little reason to propose any different course of action - I guess to be misanthrophic you have to have a certain amount of cynicism that has led you to give up on others entirely (whereas being misogynistic is perhaps about someone giving up on the other sex and allowing the person holding that attitude to put all the blame for their problems onto someone else - I was wondering if someone could sort out for me whether being misanthrophic means that you also treat yourself cyncially, whether it is an attitude where everyone else is wrong but you are right or whether being a misanthrope can apply to both attitudes dependent upon the individual? I would count myself as a misanthrope in that I have a lack of confidence in most people to do the right thing given the choice, but at the same time I also have little confidence in my own abilities to do the right thing!).

A Nous La Liberte takes a different approach with the seduction of money shown as just one facet of life which people give too much importance over friendship and personal relationships, losing track of an important reason why people may want to make money in the first place, to facilitate their private lives. The rich friend is devoted to making money and being successful, with his personal life suffering until his poor friend without exactly meaning to "helps" him by destroying his business! And saves him from becoming one of those funny, powerful but also in a way pathetic people chasing after the money at the end of the film. It is like the money blowing away lets loose something in the crowd that the veneer of civility and respectability was built up to hide, and it is what the heroes are in danger of succumbing to. So even though money is very powerful in the film Louis and Emile escape and while poor in monetary and status terms have each other and their freedom from money trouble and are truly rich - in spirit!

The Killers is cynical in a way that A Nous La Liberte is not because it is suggesting that people are so enslaved in their need to get money, through fair means or foul that there is no room for other people in their lives - money has become all consuming. For instance the boss in the forties Killers is double or triple crossing everyone he knows. And Kitty Collins is seemingly only with him for the power (she in particular strikes me as someone who treats love similar to a person who buys a house as an investment rather than as a home - sorry for the analogy, I guess that shows that I've been doing too many house conveyances recently in my work, or seeing (and trying to avoid!) too many of those shows on TV about home buying!)

So personal relationships that are shown to be the true freedom of the pair in A Nous La Liberte are too far corrupted in the film versions of The Killers to be anything other than another trap laid for the hero in someone else's scheme. Nobody is appreciated for who they are but for what they are worth, what they can do for others - the kind characters are pushed to the fringes. For example in the 40s film there is the girl Lancaster drops and his police friend are pushed out of his life as they have no material use to the Swede, all they can offer is their love for him - but he can do without that as long as he has Kitty Collins.

Everyone is trying to get enough to keep the veneer of their respectable lives in place, but as has been pointed out everything in the sixties Killers is obviously fake from the sets to the poor back projection to the emotions which are overblown such as Angie Dickinson being hung out of the window, or the Angie Dickinson/Ronald Reagan/John Cassavetes punch up - the dream is a sham, there is no goal to be reached or to justify the actions the characters take. This surface gloss and fakeness seems perfect to me - the characters have exchanged their souls for the promise of a future, a woman, a life that was just an illusion, and the pursuit of money (and the consequences of it) has consumed their lives.

It is interesting that the character of the Swede as played by Burt Lancaster or John Cassavetes are all discovered working in dead end, low paid jobs, of course for the cover and anonymity but also perhaps as a suggestion that this anonymity is better than having a lot of power and always being afraid that it will be taken away from you. The acceptance that the character has not just of their death but of the circumstances of his life at that point is in stark contrast to the story driven by power, money and sex (and the desire for fame that the professions of the Swede as a boxer in 1946 and racing driver in 1964 would suggest) that will unfold in the back stories of the film versions.

I think Stuart Kaminsky goes into these themes in a better way than I can, but this packaging of the two films together with the Tarkovsky and reading of the short story make this (and I'm suprised to be thinking this as I had previously enjoyed but not felt strongly about the films one way or the other) a great Criterion release and worth a reappraisal if you want to do so.


Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Oct 27, 2006 7:27 am, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2005 11:07 pm 
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i had to chuckle seeing that i watched both films for the first time the other day, same day people starting talking about it again.

I enjoyed both films for different reasons and think it's a great two-disc set, double feature, and agree with the guy talking on the first disc about how the twenty-year lap between Hemingway's original story, the post-Depression-&-WWII version and the post-Korea, civil rights, television version really make each piece individual products of their times (I couldn't think how to word it better).

My only quesiton, though, is if Don Siegel's '64 version can be considered "film noir?"

And I wonder, more generally speaking, if there is something going on within today's society, such that there is a sudden interest in film noir. I picked this disc up the other day when I got the Fox Film Noir releases, and there have been a lot of other *big* releases in the last year and am wondering why? Have the studios really panned out the vaults of major films and are now moving to more limited-interest titles or is film noir gaining more respect (again) as a movement and reaching a wider audience? Maybe this needs a different thread, but it does relate to the Killers as this is one of the few noir titles from Criterion, who should be capitalizing on the phenomenon (if one exists).


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 12:06 am 

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Noir definitely does seem to be "in" these days. The WB film noir box was a huge hit, much bigger than anybody expected (that's why WB is doing another box this year, when they had originally planned to wait until 2006), and its success probably inspired Fox to launch a separate series for its own noir titles.

As to why the sudden interest in noir... I'm not really sure. The simplest explanation is that film noir is just really cool and badass. Another, related explanation is that film noir has heavily influenced a lot of the movies and comic books being made today -- or, in the case of Sin City, movies and comic books -- so viewers who wouldn't normally respond to older films respond to these films, because they recognize the style.

Re the Siegel version of The Killers -- I don't remember if this is mentioned on the disc, but the writer, Gene Coon, went on to become probably the top writer on Star Trek (though he also perpetrated that "Spock's Brain" episode, under an assumed name).


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 3:51 am 
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Milk, when I "resurrected" this post, I had just watched the three movies for the first time over the prior two days myself :)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 5:11 am 
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milk114 wrote:
My only quesiton, though, is if Don Siegel's '64 version can be considered "film noir?"

Stuart Kaminsky goes into this a little in his interview on the disc. He describes the 1964 version as "a 'white hot' film rather than a 'dark noir' film", with no noir features to be found in the TV style but still evident in the plotting and characters.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 5:56 am 
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milk114 wrote:
My only quesiton, though, is if Don Siegel's '64 version can be considered "film noir?"

Can be. But definitely shouldn't be. That is to say: it isn't. But then--some still might. Wrongfully.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 7:11 am 
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The 1946 Killers is discussed on the Out of the Past podcast.

skuhn8 wrote:
Can be. But definitely shouldn't be. That is to say: it isn't. But then--some still might. Wrongfully.

Yes that is true, Paul Schrader's essay on the disc details a lot of the key elements of noir and what he details as three specific periods with the 'official' film noir beginning in the early forties (e.g. the essay mentions Maltese Falcon) and coming into its own with the end of World War Two - ending in the early to mid 50's with stragglers such as Sunset Boulevard and Kiss Me Deadly being suggested for inclusion by Schrader. So in that sense the 60's Killers is a long way past the noir period (although Siegel was suggested as director of the 1946 version before Siodmak was finally chosen, so he would seem to have been in a group of directors that might have been thought of in the forties as being someone to go to in order to direct a film of this type).

We should remember however that these groupings are simply a way of identifying trends or elements in films and as such films can appear outside of these periods - once labelled 'film noir' the style and themes are not hermetically sealed off from the rest of film culture. So while it is not film noir in the strictest sense of the official canon, the sixties version seems to be looking at the same themes as noir (through a TV-production setting).

I wouldn't particularly agree that there is an unusual resurgance of interest in the genre in contemporary times as I think that noir themed films come and go in cycles. For example you have Chinatown the Robert Mitchum remake of Farewell My Lovely and Long Goodbye in the seventies, the remake of Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat, and Blood Simple in the eighties and The Hot Spot, One False Move, After Dark My Sweet and The Last Seduction in the nineties amongst others. It seems only natural that filmmakers will be playing around with this genre and reinventing it for their times. It seems like this is one genre of American film which is allowed to be relentlessly cynical, so that may be a reason for it to keep coming back - that and the style. So in that sense the term 'film noir' while only in the strictest sense applying to the forties and fifties films is a handy way of classifying in particular the core influential group of films and also identifying the themes which can allow the viewer and filmmaker to enjoy them in later films as well, or put them to use in their own productions.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:49 pm 
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How much of the actual script did John Huston contribute on the '46 version?

In Michael Walker's excellent chapter on Siodmak in The Book of Film Noir (sadly long OOP, but worth every penny of the $100 or so it fetches used online), he notes that Veiller's sole credit on the screenplay is due to Hollywood politics, and that Huston wrote much or all of it. From Siodmak's 1959 Sight & Sound interview: "His (Huston's) name didn't appear in the credits because he was under contract to another studio (Warners) ... but he wrote the script for us in his spare afternoons (with Tony Veiller cracking the whip occasionally)."

Huston, for his part, notes (in his autobiography An Open Book) only that he and Veiller wrote the script together. This could be modesty, or shrewd Hollywood gamesmanship (much like Hawks and Nyby denying that Hawks directed The Thing From Another World, but also tiptoeing around the subject and giving interviewers enough to draw conclusions).

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I will have to check out Walker's book

Sorry for the confusion. The Book of Film Noir (1994) is edited by Ian Cameron, and features essays on various films, directors, and scholarly topics, all written by authors such as Walker (and Ginette Vincendeau, Douglas Pye, Andrew Britton, V.F. Perkins ... many of the staff of the late lamented Movie). Some of the articles appeared in periodicals like CineAction, but all are new (or revised) for the book.

It's my favorite book on film noir (but Naremore's More than Night is 1A), and I can't recommend it highly enough.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2005 3:55 pm 
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Godot wrote:
Huston, for his part, notes (in his autobiography An Open Book) only that he and Veiller wrote the script together. This could be modesty, or shrewd Hollywood gamesmanship (much like Hawks and Nyby denying that Hawks directed The Thing From Another World, but also tiptoeing around the subject and giving interviewers enough to draw conclusions).

In some video interviews, Huston is less modest. In one included in the docu John Huston: The Man, the Movies, the Maverick, Huston gleefully relates that, long before it became common knowledge that Huston had worked on the script, Ernest Hemingway confided to Huston that The Killers was the only cinematic adaptation of his work that he truly liked. After Hemingway found out that Huston had been the one to write it (which is how Huston puts it in this interview), Hemingway cursed Huston for having let him say that without warning.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 1:42 pm 
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Film Comment has posted a nice profile of Lee Marvin on their website.

The Film Forum in NYC has been running a retrospective of Siegel's work including The Killers this week. Here's a nice write-up that appeared in The New York Times:

Quote:
An Auteur? Smile When You Say That

By DAVE KEHR
Published: March 19, 2006

ONE of the enduring enigmas of the movies is the nature of the politics behind "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the classic 1956 science fiction film directed by Don Siegel from a screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring.

For some critics, the film's fable-like account of a small town being taken over by "pod people" — exact but soulless physical duplicates of human beings that have arrived from outer space to conquer our tiny planet — is an unmistakable anti-Communist allegory, as befits the cold war atmosphere in which it was made. For other critics, the film presents a thinly veiled protest against the obsessive conformity of the McCarthy era, with the pod people standing in for enforcers from the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Supporting the latter view is the fact that Mainwaring, a gifted screenwriter whose work includes the 1950 anti-lynching drama "The Lawless" for the leftist director Joseph Losey, was himself briefly blacklisted; supporting the former is Siegel's early filmography, which includes the hysterically anti-Communist "No Time for Flowers" in 1952.

Audiences will have another chance to judge for themselves when "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" appears as part of a four-week tribute to Siegel that began on Friday at Film Forum in Manhattan. ("Body Snatchers" will get a long weekend to itself, Friday through Monday). But it is, of course, the ambiguity of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" that has given it such a long life — an ambiguity that is very much part of the Siegel aesthetic, up to and including his most famous film, "Dirty Harry."

That 1971 rogue-cop picture, which transformed Clint Eastwood from mere movie star into American icon, will conclude the Film Forum series with a one-week run (in a new 35-millimeter print) beginning April 7. Is Harry, the Miranda-trampling San Francisco homicide detective, a right-wing fantasy of ultimate police authority and contempt for the Constitution ("If anybody is writing a book about the rise of fascism in America, they ought to have a look at 'Dirty Harry,' " wrote Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times review), or is it a study in psychopathology that presents Harry as the moral equivalent of the unhinged serial killer he is pursuing? (The original newspaper advertisements promised a duel of two psycho killers: "Harry's the one with the badge.")

Siegel, who died in 1991 at 78, seems never to have made a public pronouncement on the issue. Like many directors of his generation, he preferred to hide behind the mask of the hard-nosed Hollywood professional. A product of the studio system at its height — Siegel started at Warner Brothers in 1934 as an assistant editor, became head of the montage department a few years later and directed his first feature, the engaging B picture "The Verdict," for Warner in 1946 — he continued to subscribe to the studio ethic until the end of his career in 1982. The assignments came down from above and Siegel unflinchingly accepted them, whether they were as promising as Budd Boetticher's script for "Two Mules for Sister Sara" (March 22 and 23) or as cringeworthy as "Jinxed!," the dire Bette Midler vehicle that proved to be Siegel's last film (and which Film Forum, discreetly, is declining to show).

Siegel's pose of unflappable professionalism led two of the most perceptive of French critics, Bertrand Tavernier and Jean-Pierre Coursodon, to this summary judgment in their influential 1970 book, "30 Years of American Cinema": "No style and less personality." But when Siegel connected with his material, the results could be dazzling. "Charley Varrick," which opened the series and is showing today, is perhaps the director's masterpiece, a bracingly amoral study of another professional — the title character, a crop-duster and part-time bank robber played with unusual restraint by Walter Matthau — who accidentally steals a cache of mob money and must outmaneuver a sadistic hit man (Joe Don Baker) in order to hold onto it. Matthau's shambling protagonist seems a stand-in for Siegel himself — a shrewd social outsider who is happy to allow others to underestimate him as long as he achieves his goals in the end.

The Film Forum series is full of small gems in which Siegel made similar connections to his heroes, irrespective of the side of the law they were meant to represent. "Riot in Cell Block 11" (March 29 and 30) marked Siegel's emergence from the B-movie pack in 1954 and stars Neville Brand as an inmate who cannily plays the media against a reform-minded warden (Emile Meyer) during a prison uprising. "Private Hell 36," on the same program, is a grim, sordid film noir set in a trailer park about two cops (Steve Cochran and Howard Duff) who decide to pocket some stolen money.

"The Lineup" (March 31 and April 1), ostensibly a spinoff from a now forgotten television series, stars Eli Wallach as a vicious killer in pursuit of a shipment of heroin hidden in a child's doll. If "The Killers" (1964, sharing the bill with "The Lineup") is a partial failure, it may be because the passive protagonist — John Cassavetes, as a race car driver in over his head with a gang of mail robbers led by a sneeringly villainous Ronald Reagan — is just too much of a patsy for the director. Siegel focuses his interest instead on the professional assassin played by Lee Marvin, a closet intellectual intrigued by the fact that Cassavetes did not run away when he showed up to kill him.

Did Siegel have a style? During his years in the editing room, he learned the advantage of carefully planning his shots, priding himself on getting the scene in the first or second take (a proclivity he passed on to his most famous student, Mr. Eastwood, whom he directed in five films) and leaving behind as little film as possible for studio functionaries to re-edit. Even when he is working with a television crew, as in "The Killers" (the film was planned as the first two-hour television movie, but was released to theaters when it proved too violent for the small screen), his cutting is amazingly detailed and precise, displaying an electrifying attention to the dense network of looks exchanged by the characters.

For the most part, Siegel was an eye-level director, who never passed judgment on his characters by setting his camera above them, and never pitched it below them to gaze up in naïve hero worship. But a large number of his films end with a strikingly similar camera movement, a crane shot that begins with a human detail (often a crumpled body) and pulls back into a rising perspective that, if not quite cosmic, imposes a much wider context on the story we have just seen. His signature can be read precisely there, in that slow, magisterial withdrawal from the immediate physical details of a story into a kind of eerie philosophical detachment. Siegel did not look down at his characters, but — more ambiguously, more resonantly — he often looked beyond them.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 8:08 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2008 10:06 am
Location: Ireland
Morbii wrote:
I liked the Tartovsky one better than the Siegel one, but I felt it would have been a LOT better had it used rembrandt lighting in noir style, like the Siodmak.

The Tarkovsky one reminded me, especially in the first scene, of 1950's TV plays: I'm thinking along the lines of Rod Serlings "Patterns"
(going purely from memory of a viewing some 30 years ago).

No clues to these eyes of the genius that he was to metamorphose into.

Sharp contrast with the burgeoning talent displayed in Polanski's marvellous shorts included with his Region 2 box-set.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:17 pm 
Big fan of the former president
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A really nice look at the promotional campaign for both films.


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 Post subject: Re: 176 The Killers
PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:29 pm 
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For sure a very interesting package, with not one not two but three versions of the story. I also wonder at times if it inspired follow Criterion film The Hit (1984). Two hit men, one seasoned and the other unrefined, go after a target who doesn't fear death. Anyone else see this connection?


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