The Lineup (1958)

Two policemen track down a gangster who uses the luggage of unsuspecting travellers to hide and retrieve drugs.

A flexible description of a raw and quite immoral late period film noir.

The mix of elements in The Lineup make it more than a random 1950s crime flick.

Within you'll find some highly procedural police procedural; a psychopathic turn from Eli Wallach;  some weird cruelty and violence as packets of heroin are traced and chased around San Francisco; plus plenty great location shooting around the city itself.

Perhaps the message should be: come for Eli Wallach and stay for Don Siegel

This may have been 1958 but you'll see Don Siegel is keen to move on with a more permissive style of film-making; he includes heroin works, he has a man in a wheelchair flung from a balcony at a skating rink; he has a really neat silencer on Eli Wallach's gun, and he has the psychopath character played by Wallach too. 

Over all, this film noir is set in a darker city; not just a lawless city but The Lineup has shown that this urban environment is going crazy and is also capable of being evil for no reason; unless the reason is heroin. 

The heroin kills everyone brutally. It's value is stressed as more serious than any of the players can imagine. The cartel is never revealed, although we are gifted the glimpse of one of its players, 'known in the film as 'The Man'.

It's worth remembering that Don Siegel would be going to take the average cop story further with Madigan, Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Dirty Harry (1971). I think what Don Siegel brought in general could be summed up by the word excitement.

And you get a lot of excitement in The Lineup.

Eli Wallach's character Dancer is from the same playbook as Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo - the personification of the anti-social personality. He is more than someone who has fallen into crime. He is an unstable personality, a very certain type, although less common in film noir than might be normally imagined.

"There's never been a guy like Dancer. He's a wonderful, pure pathological study. He's a psychopath with no inhibitions."

Don Siegel's camera is constantly stealing new angles in The Lineup (1958). The film often blazes with his typical off-the-wall energy, before falling back into procedural mode. 

The off and on excitement is his very own recognisably edgy style, belonging to that plot-driven wild-man mode that Don Siegel made special in both westerns and crime films. 

Lt. Ben Guthrie: [Surveying the dead junkie's apartment] Looks like Warner was quite a traveller.

Insp. Al Quine: [Sardonically] And nothin' like the trip he just took.


Finally, psycho-filmic-geographical nuts love films like The Lineup, because of the great urban scenery; in this case San Francisco's still unfinished Embarcadero Freeway.

BONUS!  true collectors will love the fact that the aquarium featured in The Lineup, in Golden Gate Park, is the same aquarium which featured in The Lady from Shanghai (1947).

And around the fifty minute mark, Jaeckel, Wallach & Keith drive by the Nob Hill Theatre on California Street, which was located on the street level of the Fairmont Hotel. The marquee display shows their double bill is Deborah Kerr & Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember and Henry Fonda & Lee J. Cobb in Twelve Angry Men.

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