Monday, November 11, 2013

Company of Killers (1971)

Originally produced for television but then, inexplicably, released to theaters, Company of Killers has a number of interesting plot elements but suffers from such herky-jerky storytelling that, among other problems, it’s almost impossible to determine which character is the protagonist. As a result, the picture ends up feeling like a teaser for a longer version in which the story actually has narrative flow. Plus, did the marketplace truly hunger for a G-rated underworld thriller? Anyway, the picture begins with Dave (John Saxon) reeling from a gunshot wound in a city park. Dave is taken to a hospital, where—woozy from anesthesia—he reveals his identity as a hired killer. Then, once Dave escapes from the hospital, police detective Sam (Van Johnson) must track the killer down before Dave completes his latest contract. Meanwhile, businessman George (Ray Milland) contacts operatives working for a gangster named John (Fritz Weaver) in order to hire a hit man (Dave, naturally) for the elimination of a boardroom enemy. The movie also crams in subplots relating to a nosy reporter (Clu Gulager), a gang moll (Susan Oliver), and other peripheral characters including a stripper and Dave’s intended target. Considering that the picture only runs a brisk 84 minutes, you can imagine how superficially each element is presented. Company of Killers has some quasi-interesting scenes, mostly involving Dave trying to evade capture and/or revealing the compassion that lurks behind his cold-blooded fa├žade, but the filmmakers tend to introduce potentially rich subplots without ever returning to them. What’s the point, for instance, of showing that the detective schedules a meal with his estranged daughter and her boyfriend, since the meal is never depicted? Company of Killers also suffers from ugly camerawork—think harsh lighting and jittery dolly moves—to say nothing of acting that borders on the amateurish. World War II-era heartthrob Johnson seems ridiculous playing a tough cop, and urbane character actor Weaver’s attempt at dese-dem-dose diction is laughable. Milland emerges unscathed, rendering his usual blend of reptilian charm and sweaty anxiety, while Saxon somehow manages to create genuine intrigue. Despite these minor virtues, however, Company of Killers is disjointed and unsatisfying in the extreme.

Company of Killers: LAME

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