Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Well-dressed tough guys Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager come to a school of the blind, knock some blind people around, and carry out the contract killing of teacher John Cassavetes. The older, philosophical Marvin wonders why Cassavetes didn’t even try to escape and accepted his death so passively; the younger, more casually brutal Gulager agrees to pal around with Marvin as he interviews people who knew Cassavetes, a former race car driver, and puts together his story. (Marvin has another motive: he knows that Cassavetes was involved in a million dollar heist in which the money went missing, and hopes to get his hands on some of the booty.) They discover that Cassavetes had been set to marry looker Angie Dickinson; when an accident causes irreparable damage to his eyesight, he leaves his career and her; some time later, the two renew their relationship, even though she's hooked up with gangster Ronald Reagan. Cassavetes joins up with Dickinson, Reagan, and his men for a mail truck heist. Double-crosses occur, leading to Cassavetes's fate, with Marvin and Gulager getting revenge for Cassavetes, though paying a high price for evening the score.

This is the second film inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s short story, and you may notice that I was able to use a few sentences from my summary of that movie in this summary, just changing the names. The first was an influential film noir; this one, in color and originally intended as the first made-for-TV movie but found too violent for broadcast, is closer in feel to the starker, more brutal crime films of the late 60's and early 70's. The beginning still comes from Hemingway, though not as recognizably as in the earlier film, and the narrative structure is similar, but this is not so much a remake as a re-working of the basics of the original. In the previous film, the two killers who don't know why their victim has been singled out for death are very minor characters; here, they drive the action, taking the place of the insurance investigator (Edmond O’Brien). Marvin, relatively soft-spoken, and Gulager, a hothead (and both fairly dapper and often wearing sunglasses), feel like characters who might have inspired Quentin Tarentino, and Marvin in particular gives a strong performance. Cassavetes and Dickinson are less mysterious than Lancaster and Gardner were, but both are fine. This was Reagan's last movie role and his first bad guy role—he's OK, though much of his performance feels phoned in. The movie is very violent, with poor Dickinson getting slapped around quite a bit; one scene in which Gulager punches her in the face is still startling after all these years. A rougher-edged movie that the 1946 version, and far away from the visual style of film noir, but a solid thriller that stands up well on its own. [DVD]


Nasim said...
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