Editor’s Notes: The Killers & Woman In Gold are out on their respective formats July 7th.
The Killers (The Criterion Collection) is a double feature containing both theatrical versions of Ernest Hemingway’s short story. In the short story, a couple of gunmen wait in a lunchroom for a man they were hired to kill. While they wait, the victim lay sweating in his room, knowing the men were after him, but unable to move. The two film adaptations in this release both expend on Hemingway’s spare tale. The first version, from 1946, is directed by Robert Siodmak; the second, from 1964, is directed by Don Siegel.
In the earlier version, two hit men show up at a diner looking to kill Swede Anderson (Burt Lancaster). Through a series of flashbacks, Swede’s life is reconstructed and we learn why he’s been targeted. Swede is a prize fighter who’s taken a path of self-destruction when he gets involved with mobsters and femme fatale Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). The film is notable for its crisp dialogue, atmospheric black & white photography, and the screen debut of Lancaster. It’s a taut thriller with top-notch supporting performances by Edmond O’Brien (D.O.A.), Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, and frequent film noir character actor Charles McGraw.
The 1964 version stars Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the two hitmen. More brutal than the earlier film, it was originally intended for television but was deemed too violent for home audiences and released theatrically. Siegel abandoned the dark noir look and shot most of the color film in daylight. His film is especially effective in the opening sequence, in which the murder occurs in an asylum for the blind. John Cassavetes is the victim, Johnny North, and his unusual passivity in the face of death piques the interest of the killers. A tale of robbery and betrayal unfolds with Angie Dickinson as a sultry seductress who pretty much destroys Johnny and gets knocked around a lot. In fact, in one scene, she’s punched in the face by Gulager’s character; the fact that she’s a woman makes no difference. The scene is still pretty shocking.
Bonus content includes Andrei Tarkovsky’s short film adaptation of The Killers, made when he was a student in 1956; interview from 2002 with writer Stuart M. Kaminsky about both films; audio recording of Stacy Keach reading Hemingway’s short story; Screen Director’s Playhouse radio adaptation from 1949 of the 1946 film, starring Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters; 2002 interview with actor Clu Gulager; and a critical essay.
Woman In Gold
Woman In Gold (Anchor Bay) takes place in Los Angeles, 1999. Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) approaches lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) asking him to look into her claim to a famous work of art of her aunt painted by Gustav Klimt. Director Simon Curtis flashes back to the Anchluss era and Maria’s narrow escape from the Nazis. The young Maria is played by Tatiana Mislay.
Maria Altmann was a real person — a displaced Austrian-Jewish aristocrat who escaped Europe with her opera singer husband before World War II and spent years trying to recover a number of Gustav Klimt paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis. The most famous was an art nouveau portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, embellished with extensive drapings of gold leaf. It ended up in the Belvedere Palace, Austria’s national art museum, renamed Woman In Gold. Because is was considered a national treasure by the Austrians, a years-long legal battle ensued.
Ms. Mirren brings to the role both conviction and humor as a woman dedicated to reclaiming what is rightfully hers. Because of the painting’s value and its centerpiece status in Austria’s art collection, she is beset by one legal obstacle after another yet perseveres, hoping to reclaim her heritage and seek justice to what happened to her family. Her legal battle reaches the heart of the Austrian establishment and the U.S. Supreme Court and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include commentary by director Simon Curtis, making-of featurette, Stealing Klimt documentary trailer, and Neue Galerie New York press conference. Also enclosed is a digital HD copy.
For over 25 years, I was the Film and Home Entertainment Reviewer for "The Villadom TIMES," a New Jersey weekly newspaper, and have written for several other publications. I developed and taught a Film Studies program for two New York City high schools that included Film History, Horror/Fantasy, and Film Making.