“She loved the excitement of fast cars… and the men who lived dangerously on and off the deadly racing tracks!”
Based on a book by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers follows racecar driver Johnny North (John Cassavetes) and his lady friend, Sheila (Angie Dickinson) as they become entangled in a mob scheme spearheaded by gangster Jack Browning (Reagan). Johnny learns that Sheila is romantically involved with Browning, who dominates and controls her with a combination physical force and expensive gifts. When Browning hires Johnny as a getaway driver for a robbery, Johnny and Sheila hatch a plan to get free of Browning’s clutches and make off with the dough.
The Killers by Don Siegel (USA, 1964, 93 min.).
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The Killers is notable for being Reagan’s last film before entering politics, as well as the only film in which he departs from his wholesome public persona to play a villain. In one startling scene, Browning (Reagan’s character) slaps Sheila (Dickenson) so violently he sends her clear across the room.
Browning undergoes a hasty reformation just before the film ends, leaving his life of crime behind to build a legitimate real estate development business. This turn of events serves no evident purpose in the film’s narrative, but it may have helped audiences to disassociate their image of Reagan from the act of clocking one of America’s most beloved actresses in the face. Reagan would become Governor of California in 1967, three years after The Killers was released.