Though sometimes unfavourably compared to the 1946 film noir masterpiece of the same name, director Don Siegel’s taut, terse adaptation of the Hemingway short story has its own hard-boiled benefits.
Siegel retains the flashback device but instead of a shadowy urban jungle, his compelling tale of double-cross and double-dealing is set in sun-kissed California, where two hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager) sniff a mystery when their latest contract embraces his lethal fate with unfazed resignation.
The film has real edge and is punctuated by shocking bursts of violence – indeed, it was made for TV but deemed too violent and released in cinemas instead.
The casting is also to die for: John Cassavetes as the hapless victim, Angie Dickinson playing against type as a devious moll and, incredibly, Ronald Reagan as the larcenous villain (so good in his last part before moving on to a more powerful real-life role).
But it’s Lee Marvin as the steely veteran assassin who’s the standout, portraying the kind of indefatigable antihero he would make iconic in John Boorman’s masterful Point Blank three years later.