original version of the remake with gene hackman. i don’t recall the remake too much. i remember it was decent enough, but nothing spectacular. this one, though, is.
it’s almost entirely about the script (read these over, for starters) and the acting, both are remarkable. marie windsor (who plays elisha cook’s wife in the killing) is as great as usual. she’s caustic, sarcastic and an all around pain. charles mcgraw is great as the copy assigned to protect windsor. his voice is awesome and his delivery in exchanges like this are great:
Walter Brown: You’re a pretty good judge of crooks, Mrs. Neall; the only place you slip up is with cops. I turned the deal down.
Mrs. Neall: Then you’re a bigger idiot than I thought! When are you going to get it through your square head that this is big business? And we’re right in the middle.
Walter Brown: Meaning you’d like to sell out?
Mrs. Neall: With pleasure and profit, and so would you. What are the odds if we don’t? I sing my song for the grand jury, and spend the rest of my life dodging bullets—if I’m lucky!—while you grow old and gray on the police force. Oh, wake up, Brown. This train’s headed straight for the cemetery. But there’s another one coming along, a gravy train. Let’s get on it.
Walter Brown: Mrs. Neall, I’d like to give you the same answer I gave that hood — but it would mean stepping on your face.
Walter Brown: Sister, I’ve known some pretty hard cases in my time; you make ’em all look like putty.
note: there’s a line spoken by marie windsor (“Well, use your own sink. And let me know when the target practice starts!”) wherein she accentuates the “target practice” much in the same way that anders does in welles’ “the lady from shanghai.”
characterization is pretty great. especially between the two cops in the first reel of the film. the first exchange they have in the cab on the way to pick up windsor is great. the entire first reel is tightly constructed and effective. fleischer establishes the main characters and their relationships very efficiently. he jumps right into the action (unlike the remake) and this is part of the reason the film is so good, and short (71 minutes). writers/directors should be required to watch the first reel of this film for precisely this reason.
also notable is fleischer’s use of a hand held camera in many of the sequences. since the majority of the film takes place on a train it made sense to use a hand-held camera. it adds a level of dynamism and movement that matches the subject matter. it looks good and was probably relatively new at the time.
man, this script is fucking great.