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.

San Francisco Nor by Nathaniel Rich
San Francisco Noir by Nathaniel Rich
San Francisco Noir -  The City in Film Noir from 1940 to the Present by Nathaniel Rich wears out a resepctable slab of shoe leather in tracking down some famous locations from movies ranging from The House Across the Bay (1940) to Twisted (2004).

The book revisits 41 movies, some of which are classic film noir, othres which might be better classed as late twentieth century crime shockers.

Although many of the locations are gone, or maybe didn't even exist in the first place (as in the case of The House on Telegraph Hill), San Francisco Noir doesn't linger too long on anyfilm, and offers much needed geographical analysis, as opposed to film criticism. 

The film criticism is there, but it's to the point, journalistic, and snappy.  This is from Nathaniel Rich's writing on Out of the Past (1947):

Rarely do movie stars have any difficulty faking a tear or a temper tantrum.  But few can convincingly act humble.  As Out of the Past's Kirk Douglas sai, "Making movies is a form of narcissism."  Robert Mitchum is the exception:  he was so skilled at self-deprecation that he convinced several generations of film  critics (another group not particularly inclined to humility_ that he was a bad actor.  His sleep-walk and his famously inert face—his eyes peering out as if from behind a mold of aspic—was readily misconstrued as a blank acting style.

Criticism of film that include criticism of film criticism can't be bad. But most of San Francisco Noir is about detail, and there are truly great short essays on Vertigo, Dirty Harry and Basic Instinct, the last of which is a film that Nathaniel Rich seems to know inside out.

Better still, Nathaniel Rich asks why so many film noirs are shot in San Francisco at all.  It makes sense that some take place in Los Angeles, because it is close to where the studios were, but what, he wonders, explains the great amount of film noirs shot in San Francisco.

Only the twelfth largest Amercian city in the 1940 national census, San Francisco was remote enough in the movie-going public's consciousness that the openings of many of the films set there in this period feel it necessary to begin with a civic primer.  "San Francisco: one of America's twelve great cities," boasts the narrator at the beginning of Chinatown at Midnight, perhaps hoping the message might resonate with viewers in some of the other top twelve cities, like Baltimore or Pittsburgh.

He argues that film-makers were drawn to San Francisco's strange mythology, as it always been known as a place of misfits, a rep dating back to the Gold Rush days, when San Fran was nicknamed 'with a mixture of derision and terror' as The Barbary Coast., because of its loose rule of law.

In the noir era this had changed, and although the city is glossy on the surface, violence and vice are hidden in every dark corner.

It's a great book, and even if it can make no sense of the bizarre use of San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon, it makes the best effort. 

Plus it's also a strong read because not only will it contain films that are not familiar to you, there really are facts in this book that you can only get here, and that is down to good ole fashioned legwork.

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