Lineup, The (1958)

“Sounds like the usual M.O.: tourists — reputable travelers — being used as innocent smugglers.”

Synopsis:
Police detectives investigate a heroin-smuggling scheme in San Francisco.

Genres:

Review:
Don Siegel’s little-seen crime drama remains a taut, gritty thriller which deserves wider viewing. After a rather creaky beginning (in which the nature of the crime — surreptitious smuggling of heroin in unsuspecting passengers’ luggage — is established), things quickly become exciting, as we watch two psychopathic “middlemen” (Eli Wallach and Robert Keith) slyly rounding up their bounty at any cost. More often than not, this involves killing the passenger, if or when he discovers that something is awry — a task done with cold-hearted smoothness by Wallach, while creepy Keith waits nearby ready to document the poor sucker’s “final words” in his notebook. Siegel handles his multiple action scenes with finesse, and makes good use of on-location shooting in San Francisco; indeed, many locales no longer exist, thus making this an invaluable time-capsule glimpse of The City in the late 1950s.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Eli Wallach as “Dancer”, the psychopathic middleman
    Wallach
  • Robert Keith as Dancer’s less violent — but equally tenacious — partner
    Keith
  • Richard Jaeckel as the duo’s cocky young getaway driver
    Jaeckel
  • Creatively shot murder sequences
    Murder
  • Excellent use of San Francisco locales
    San Francisco
  • A truly exciting final car chase
    Action

Must See?
No, but fans of Siegel’s work will undoubtedly want to seek it out.

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One Response to “Lineup, The (1958)”

  1. Normally I don’t call a film a must-see unless there is something throughout the entire film to recommend it as such. Here’s an exception, because the last third of the movie – the last 30 minutes – is where director Siegel very much comes up to the plate, does what he does best, and makes the whole thing worth the watch.

    Up to that point (aside from the bang-up – literally – beginning), we have to deal with a script which, though constructed well, is pedestrian in the dialogue department. (Some of it is even sloppy. As noted, Keith writes down final words of victims; in one case, however, the final words are only the name of an employer, and Keith expounds on that without knowing context.) The mother-and-daughter segment is particularly troubling since it makes the mother look like a complete idiot (taking so easily to a stranger – Wallach – in the aquarium).

    Except for Wallach in ‘take charge’ mode, Siegel directs his cast in a rather perfunctory manner. We’re clearly not watching this for the performances.

    Along the way (again, as noted), there is a fine use of locales in exteriors.

    All is ultimately forgiven as the very tense – and detailed – set-up leads first to a very surprising twist, then to a breathless and brilliantly edited climax (overlooking the slight minus of rear projection usage).

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