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J. Russell Finch CEO & President
The Pacific Edible Seaweed Company
Fresno, CA.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

THE LINEUP 1957


"TOO HOT..TO BIG... FOR TV!"



   This excellent 1958 crime caper was based upon the then current San Francisco based police procedural TV drama THE LINEUP (or as its been refereed to "Dragnet by the bay"). The producers looking to perhaps emulate the success of the 1954 DRAGNET theatrical movie hired screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (THE NAKED CITY and ROUTE 66) and director Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11) to craft a feature film based upon the TV show. Like DRAGNET, THE LINEUP TV series had made the transition from radio to the small screen and stared Warner Anderson and Tom Tully as a pair of San Francisco based police detectives. For the large screen version Tully was replaced by the mean as hell looking character actor Emile Myer. A former New Orleans dock worker Meyer was discovered by Elia Kazan for his PANIC IN THE STREETS from 1950. Most famous for playing the crooked cop in 1957's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, he would also play a priest (!?) in PATHS OF GLORY (1957).
   For their movie version its pretty obvious Silliphant and Siegel have little interest in the two police detectives as the rather boring initial investigation is dispensed with quickly and we focus on the two main protagonists in the form of Eli Wallach and Robert Keith. Wallach plays "Dancer" a somewhat psychotic hit man and the cadaverous Keith plays Julian is his mentor who coaches him in the proper speech and procedures to their job and in a nice macabre touch collects the last words of the their victims. They arrive in town to track down a shipment of heroin that was smuggled in by unsuspecting travelers in various knick knacks. This was Broadway actor Wallach's second movie role after 1956's BABYDOLL and Robert Keith (father of Brian) had been married to Peg Entwistle who gained notoriety for committing suicide by jumping off the "Hollywood(land)" sign in 1932. 



  Hooking up with alcoholic wheel man Richard Jaeckel (GUADALCANAL DIARY) they begin tracking down the various unlucky recipients of the smuggled heroin and killing them, before running into a hitch involving a little girl & her doll, her mother and the gone missing drugs. Siegel (who had also directed the original TV pilot for THE LINEUP) sets up each one of the killings with a different & stylistic look including a steam bath, as shown in an off kilter angle in a mirror and a particularly nasty one involving a wheelchair - that rivals KISS OF DEATH for shocking audacity. There is also great use of actual San Francisco locations and landmarks and with Siegel's use of them (especially in a very well done car chase sequence), along with his great working relationship & co-operation with the S.F.P.D. would both come in handy in another 14 years for DIRTY HARRY. 
    Both Wallach and Keith are fascinating to watch in their roles with Keith grinning away creepily (his scenes with the small girl make your skin crawl) and gleefully writing down their victims last words, along with Wallach as the barely controlled (though losing it at the end) maniacal killer. An excellent movie that unfortunately sort of fell through the cracks before getting rescued by inclusion in Sony's excellent Film Noir Classics I which also includes THE BIG HEAT, MURDER BY CONTRACT, THE SNIPER and the very underrated 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (with Brian Keith). 





    

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