Company of Killers (1971)
It would seem that this was a made for tv film that received a theatrical release after all. Somewhat like Don Siegel’s remake of The Killers from 1964 which starred Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager. The common thread here is that Gulager also appeared in this film as a crusading newspaper reporter out to learn about a syndicate for hired killings.
There are a couple parallel plots going on here when professional killer John Saxon lets it slip while delirious in a hospital that he has killed men in his line of work. Van Johnson’s police inspector wants answers but Saxon bolts from his bed and runs off with blue eyed Susan Oliver before Van gets a chance to interrogate him.
Just as Saxon begins to hideout from the police, Ray Milland’s business is hitting the skids due to pressure from a competing businessman played by Robert Middleton. Through some shady meetings with the likes of Anthony James, Milland pays to have a hit ordered on Middleton. The syndicate in turn give the contract to Saxon. Thus the circle is complete.
The majority of the film focuses on the search for Saxon and the subsequent plot developments. Once given the contract Saxon’s killer begins to stalk Middleton to pick up his habits which consist of strip clubs and prostitutes.
Ray Milland’s character quickly realizes he’s in over his head after ordering the hit. The syndicate put the squeeze on him for money and properties leaving him little choice but to comply.
Van Johnson and his crew will have to pick up the pace if they are to find Saxon before he kills again. The first time they think they have their man, Saxon escapes under a hail of bullets leading to the death of a police officer. Now it’s personal and Johnson wants his man and little interference from our reporter Gulager.
The two biggest name players here are from the studio days. Van Johnson and Ray Milland. Both are well past their glory years and Milland is once again playing the cranky old bastard that seemed to become his forte later in life. He became so good at it he pretty much has me convinced he never smiled after 1970.
Most of the faces here are well known. Susan Oliver appeared in countless tv programs (Star Trek and Andy Griffith etc.) and even Brian Kelly of Flipper fame turns up here as well as the Doctor involved in the case.
It’s John Saxon as the caged hit man that interested me the most. Mainly because I have always gone out of my way to check out a film if I know he makes an appearance. It probably stems from the failed tv pilot Planet Earth that I fondly recall from my childhood.
The copy I found of this was a poor VHS tape marketed under the title The Hit Team if you need to add it to your personal collection.