Blu-ray Review: The Killer Elite (1975) + Noon Wine - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Recently, specialty label Twilight Time sold out their limited reissue of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It wasn’t surprising given that film’s passionate following, coupled with the fact that Twilight Time’s Blu-ray titles are limited to just 3,000 copies. With a director as extraordinary as Peckinpah, however, any reissue is worthy of special attention—even a lesser effort like The Killer Elite. While the 1975 film fails to really deliver on the promise of a Robert Duvall and James Caan team-up, the Blu-ray release is essential. A very rare Peckinpah classic makes its home video debut as a supplemental feature, the 50-minute made-for-TV Noon Wine.

Something of a lost production, Noon Wine originally aired in 1966 as part of the TV series ABC Stage 67. Peckinpah directed the project at a particularly low point in his career, when box office failures and on-set problems had made him a pariah. Starring Jason Robards (in a remarkably effective performance), Noon Wine helped restore Peckinpah’s reputation and earned him nominations from the Writer’s Guild and DGA. As mentioned by film historian Julie Kirgo in the liner notes, the less said about Wine the better. The story, about a farmer and his “invalid” wife (not really, as it turns out) who take in a transient farmhand, is outwardly simple. Thematically it explores loyalty, honesty, and ethics in one meditative package. Sourced from a second-generation video source, it may not be HD but it is worth the purchase price for Peckinpah enthusiasts.

In a way, the quiet brilliance of Noon Wine allows for The Killer Elite to be seen as the supplement, despite its top billing. Mike Locken (Caan) and George Hansen (Duvall) are hitman partners working for a shadowy organization, ComTeg, that carries out dirty deeds for the CIA (an opening title card slyly states that the filmmakers wouldn’t dare suggest such activities actually happen in real life). Caan and Duvall’s chemistry is infectious from the outset, but ultimately short-lived. George “retires” Mike abruptly by shooting him in the knee and elbow. Not fatal wounds, but the intent is to prevent Mike from walking or handling a weapon again.

Killer Elite cover (215x280).jpgMike’s struggle to regain his strength, coordination, and dexterity dominates the film’s first act and also constitutes its most compelling, coherent sequences. Improbably, given the nature of his injuries, Mike is back in action and given the opportunity to exact revenge on George, who is working for a competing agency. ComTeg didn’t believe Mike would ever be field worthy again, yet Mike proved them wrong after a lot of martial arts training. Speaking of martial arts, Elite ends up morphing into a ninja flick during its barely coherent third act. Burt Young (Paulie in the Rocky series) and Bo Hopkins have some fun as Mike’s hand-picked team. A scene involving a ticking car bomb and a yokel cop is hilarious. But unfortunately Elite winds up being an assembly of good moments trapped within a decidedly schlocky B-movie.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray offers a satisfactorily sharp visual presentation. Philip Lathrop’s cinematography is done solid justice, with only relatively minor print debris being an occasional (and mild) distraction. Somewhat less impressive is the DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack. The overall fidelity is fine, but you’ll need to boost the volume on your system to hear it well.

The great supplements lineup is led by the aforementioned Noon Wine, which comes equipped with an informative commentary track by historians Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and Nick Redman. The same trio provides an equally enlightening commentary for The Killer Elite. “Passion and Poetry: Sam’s Killer Elite” is a 28-minute featurette about the making of the film. “Promoting The Killer Elite” offers a slideshow of marketing images. There are also five minutes of TV and radio promos, plus the original theatrical trailer. Jerry Fielding’s score is available as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated track.

While The Killer Elite may be a very minor entry in Sam Peckinpah’s filmography, it remains fascinating. Paired with his acclaimed TV outing Noon Wine, this limited edition is definitely worth snagging while supplies last. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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