Two professional hit men try to find out who hired them and why in Don Seigel’s star-studded, sun-drenched 60s crime thriller, that’s enriched by a John Williams score full of gritty, moody jazz and moments of dark and aggressive orchestral mayhem.
‘I gotta find out what makes a man decide not to run. Why all of a sudden he’d rather die.’
So muses hitman Charlie (Lee Marvin) after his high-priced victim Johnny North (John Cassavetes) gives in without a fight. Obsessed with the answer, Charlie and his hot-headed associate Lee (Clu Gulager) track down Johnny’s associates, and uncover a complex web of crime and deceit involving his femme fatale girlfriend Sheila (Angie Dickinson) and ruthless mob boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan).
Originally intended to be a TV movie, but pulled due to its overtly graphic violence, Seigel’s thriller gave Lee Marvin his finest role and was Ronald Reagan’s last movie before entering politics. And whilst the score’s exciting, dynamic, darkly jazzy main title is actually from the score for the 1958 film Touch of Evil by Henry Mancini, there’s still plenty to appreciate in Williams’ contributions. From moments of bass heavy suspense to bittersweet love themes, The Killers is an excellent early example of one Williams’ straight drama compositions.