Professional killers Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) stride into a school for the blind and shoot dead instructor Johnny North (John Cassavetes), who doesn't even try to avoid them. Charlie is intrigued by Johnny's behaviour, and although he knows better than to ask questions about his targets, he initiates a quest to find out more, fuelled by rumours that Johnny was involved in a heist of $1 million.
Charlie: It's not only the money. Maybe we get that and maybe we don't. But I gotta find out what makes a man decide not to run... why, all of a sudden, he'd rather die.
The Gene L. Coon script lines up most of the classic noir elements and executes perfectly. The film opens with a quick murder, Sheila is a perfect femme fatale capable of making any man bend to her will, Johnny is the ideal sap filled with passion but insufficient control, and Browning represents the shadowy power broker hiding behind a facade of respectability. Siegel adds plenty of oblique angles to complement the edgy action and witty dialogue.
A large part of the film centres on Johnny as an ace car driver, and the on-track and off-road action adds to the manic pace of the film. Siegel pushes rear-projection technology to its limit, and if the film has a weakness it resides in an ambition to capture exciting in-vehicle angles not matched by the available budget.
The supporting cast is deep and effective. Ronald Reagan (in his last film role) gets to play his first villain, and proves to be a surprisingly effective bad guy. Claude Akins and Norman Fell get bigger than usual roles and deliver better than usual performances.
Browning: I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles.
The Killers will not be satisfied until they get to the bottom of the story: why did Johnny North accept his death so meekly, and what happened to the missing million dollars. The road to all the answers is fast, frantic and littered with victims.
Charlie, to Sheila: Lady, I don't have the time.
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