Spawned as the pilot (Johnny North) of Revue’s projected series of two-hour films for television, but scratched when NBC balked at what was deemed an overdose of sex and brutality, this rehash of The Killers was redirected to theatrical exhibition, where it emerges a throwback to the period of crime and violence that monopolized the screen in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Gene L. Coon’s scenario is similar in basic structural respects, but different in character and plot specifics, to Mark Hellinger’s 1946 vintage elaboration on Hemingway’s concise short story. In this version, the ‘hero’ (John Cassavetes) is a racing car driver, which provides the background for some flashy track scenes. But Coon’s screenplay is burdened with affected dialog and contrived plotwork. Virtually nothing of the original Hemingway remains.
Of the actors, Cassevetes and Clu Gulager come off best, the former arousing interest with his customary histrionic drive and intensity, the latter fashioning a colorful study in evil, a portrait of playful sadism. Lee Marvin has some impact as another distorted menace, approaching his role with the cold-blooded demeanor for which he is celebrated. Ronald Reagan fails to crash convincingly through his goodguy image in his portrayal of a ruthless crook.