The Lineup (1958)

Directed by Don Siegel
Cinematography Hal Mohr

The Lineup is a 1958 American film version of the police procedural television series of the same name that ran on CBS radio from 1950 until 1953, and on CBS television from 1954 until 1960. The film was directed by Don Siegel. It features a number of scenes shot in locations in San Francisco during the late 1950s including shots of the Embarcadero Freeway (then still under construction) and the Sutro Baths.

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Another Don Siegel Triumph

Author: mackjay from Out there in the dark
6 February 2003

THE LINEUP is a very well-wrought B movie from the latter days of film noir. By this point in noir history, the dark shadows and oppressive environs were being supplanted by more location shooting and a look that generally derived from television-type production. THE LINEUP, in fact, does have a TV series connection.

Director Don Siegel (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, HELL IS FOR HEROES, THE KILLERS) seems always to display the basic mark of a good director: his film are never dull. THE LINEUP opens with a brief, exciting chase scene that grabs attention and sets up for the main plot. Siegel then paces the film nicely, slowly building to more excitement and interest.

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Eli Wallach is an inspired choice for a villain. He conveys plenty of insecure vulnerability along with a cold toughness. Among several memorable moments is the scene where Wallach takes the trouble to show a little girl how to use a telescope, amid his own near-panic and dread, as he is about to confront ‘The Man’. Undervalued Robert Keith is a bit shocking as a cynical, aging career criminal (“Women have no place in society, they don’t appreciate the need for violence” he tells a terrified female victim). Mary La Roche is very fine as that kidnapped victim. And Vaughn Taylor, great stalwart of so much film and TV, is fearsome as ‘The Man’.

Siegel takes full advantage of the beautiful San Francisco locations. This title can be added to the list of films that document a bygone era, by using locations that may no longer exist at all or as they are seen here.

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Don Siegel Was Tops Even Before “Dirty Harry”

8/10
Author: zardoz-13 from United States
16 June 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Long before “Thunderball” director Terence Young made his first-rate thriller about vicious drug dealers terrorizing blind, helpless Audrey Hepburn in her apartment after she brought back a doll stuffed with heroin in the 1967 Warner Brothers’ release “Wait Until Dark,” director Don Siegel made the minor league crime thriller “The Line Up” (1958) about American tourists returning from Hong Kong with souvenirs in their luggage that contain heroin. The catch is none of these unsuspecting tourists know that they are being used as mules by narcotics smugglers.

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Mind you, one of them is a sailor who knows that he has a ceramic horse filled with heroin. Anyway, the syndicate has hired a couple of out-of-town hoods, Dancer (Eli Wallach of “The Magnificent Seven”) and Julian (Robert Keith of “The Wild One”), to retrieve the narcotics from the tourists without either arousing their suspicions or alerting the authorities. However, nothing goes according to plan, and our anti-heroic protagonists find themselves wading through hot water. Siegel makes great use of many authentic San Francisco landmarks (see other user comments) in this gritty, realistic, but modestly made melodrama. A gay subtext pervades this thriller. The two thugs behave like a teacher and his student, and a scene is set in a steam bath room in the Seamen’s Club.

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Two flat-foot San Francisco cops, Lt. Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson of “Objective, Burma!”) and Inspector Al Quine (Emile Meyers of “Paths of Glory”), investigate this puzzling case. The clues gradually fall together. Meanwhile, our chummy out-of-town thugs run into trouble at virtually every turn after they receive their instructions from a dockside informant in a trench coat. Dancer is a trigger-happy psychopath with little patience for his victims, and his older, level-headed partner Julian likes to record the last words of their victims. Unlike Dancer, Julian doesn’t pack a pistol. Instead, he works at keeping Dancer in line. They have to track down three tourists and retrieve the heroin from them. “Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel does as good a job as can be expected from the contrived screenplay by advertising writer turned scenarist Stirling Silliphant who later wrote “The Towering Inferno” and received an Oscar for penning “In the Heat of the Night.” Unfortunately, Silliphant didn’t do enough research into firearms. The revolver that Dancer totes with a silencer is incredibly lame. Silencers cannot mute the discharge of a revolver because—unlike automatic weapons–revolvers have too many additional holes in them to vent the sound of the gun being charged. I guess that it looked good, but it isn’t really practical as a weapon, but then why let a little misinformation ruin an atmospheric flick. Dancer invades a luxurious, upscale, San Francisco home and guns down a foreign butler to get the heroin stashed in a cutlery collection.

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Later, they approach a ship worker who brought in a consignment of drugs. Predictably, he refuses to hand it over until he gets some more cash. This is the notorious scene where our lead antagonist lugs a revolver with a silencer into a steam bath and shoots the ship worker then recovers the junk. The toughest part for the villains comes when they have to locate a statue filled with heroin from a single mother and her daughter. Complications occur when Dancer and Julian learn that the daughter discovered the packet of dope wedged up into their exotic doll.

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The innocent little girl used the heroin to power her doll’s face. Julian warns Dancer that they cannot come up light on their deliveries. At the rendezvous where Dancer is supposed to deliver the narcotics, Julian suggests that he wait for ‘the man’ (played by Vaughn Taylor of “The Professionals”) to explain what happened. Julian doesn’t like the idea that Dancer and he will become as hunted as their prey if they don’t explain the shortage. Unfortunately, the Man isn’t impressed with Dancer’s story and calls him a dead man. An infuriated Dancer throws the Man—who pushes himself around in a wheelchair—off the second story at their rendezvous at a popular skating ring onto the ice. What distinguishes this brutal scene is the wheel chair guy strikes another guy on the skating rink below! You can see this when the crowd gathers around the two men. The scene is reminiscent of Henry Hathaway’s thriller “Kiss of Death” where psychotic Richard Widmark pushes an old lady in a wheelchair to her death down a flight of stairs.

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The chief flaw in “The Line Up” lies in its lack of closure concerning the show-stopping opening scene at San Francisco Airport. An upscale opera employee (Raymond Bailey, later of CBS-TV comedy series “The Beverly Hillbillies”) watches a porter steal his luggage and cram it into a cab. The frantic cabbie peels out of the airport, runs down a cop who manages to get off a lucky shot that kills the driver. Later, Siegel establishes that the cabbie was a junkie. Richard Jaeckel turns in a memorable performance as a local hood with a drinking problem who serves as their wheel man. The climactic car chase through San Francisco qualifies as pretty hair-raising stuff considering how old this police procedural is and it may represent one of the earliest usages of an unfinished freeway by the villains to escape their pursuers. Interested film buffs should peruse author Stuart Kaminski’s 1974 monograph “Don Siegel: Director” to learn more about the chase. Despite being in black & white, this thriller contains scenes where Dancer’s wounded victims leak blood on their hands and in the carpet. “Bullets or Ballots” lenser Hal Mohr, who was a San Francisco native, composes some scenic shots of the City by the Bay. One of the coolest compositions occurs when Dancer guns down an Asian butler on a staircase. Dancer appears in the foreground shooting off screen at the butler who we see reflected in a mirror in the background as he charges up the stairs.

Beats Dragnet

7/10
Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
23 December 2007

Tightly scripted, excitingly staged, and brilliantly acted by Eli Wallach, this is a real sleeper. It could have been just another slice of thick-ear on the order of the Dragnet movie (1954). But thanks to writer Stirling Silliphant, director Don Siegel, and actor Wallach, The Lineup stands as one of the best crime films of the decade.

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Someone in production made a key decision to shoot the film entirely on location in San Francisco, and rarely have locations been used more imaginatively then here, from dockside to Nob Hill to the streets and freeways, plus lively entertainment spots. The producers of 1968’s Bullit must have viewed this little back-and-whiter several times over, especially the car chase.

Colorless detectives Warner Anderson and Emile Meyer (standing in for Tom Tully of the TV series of the same name) are chasing down psychopathic hit-man Wallach and mentor Robert Keith, who in turn are chasing down bags of smuggled narcotics. Dancer (Wallach) is simply chilling. You never know when that dead-pan stare will turn homicidal, even with little kids. Good thing his sidekick, the literary-inclined Julian (Keith), is there as a restraining force, otherwise the city might be seriously de-populated.

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Cult director Siegel keeps things moving without let-up, and even the forces of law and order are kept from stalling the action. My favorite scene is where Dancer goes slowly bonkers at the uncooperative Japanese doll. Watch his restrained courtship manners with the lonely mother (Mary La Roche) come unraveled as he reverts to psychopathic form, while mother and daughter huddle in mounting panic at the man they so trustingly brought home. It’s a riveting scene in a film filled with them.

The Line Up is another of those unheralded, minor gems that has stood the test of time, unlike so many of the big-budget cadavers of that year or any year.

Exceptionally gritty and realistic–and hold on tight towards the end!

8/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
28 May 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first half of this very realistic and gripping crime film is very good. However, this is a case where a film keeps getting better and better–culminating in an exciting and rather violent conclusion. And, while this film isn’t exactly “Film Noir” in every way, it has many Noir sensibilities that will no doubt please fans of the genre.

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The film stars Eli Wallach, though interestingly enough he doesn’t even appear in the film for about the first 15 minutes. Instead, the film begins with a robbery gone bad in which, inexplicably, a tourist’s luggage is stolen and the getaway car runs into a truck and kills a cop! The crime is so violent and senseless–until the police understand the real reason why they needed the suitcase. It turns out that tourists are unknowingly transporting souvenirs that are actually filled with heroin–and the mob will stop at nothing to get the drugs back–and I mean NOTHING! Wallach’s job in the film is to retrieve these drugs and for a rather ordinary looking guy, he was amazingly cold and violent.

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He has no problem at all killing these tourists and ultimately he takes a mother and daughter hostage because they have inadvertently destroyed the heroin hidden in a doll. Instead of killing them, he takes them prisoner because he wants to prove to his superiors that he is not trying to cheat them. However, despite this, they don’t believe him–leading to one of the more violent and amazing confrontations I have ever seen on film. I made my jaw drop–as did the very end as well. For a 1950s film, it was super-violent and highly reminiscent of Noir.

Speaking of Noir, as I said this film had many of the usual Noir elements. However, its dialog was much more polished and less gritty than Noir and the lighting and camera angles were too normal and polished (like a TV episode) to be considered Noir by many fans. Still, despite me being a huge fan of the genre, I really didn’t mind as the film was still a thrilling and taut suspense film.

A highly underrated and under-appreciated little film that deserves to be seen.

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Another Great Police Story Directed by Don Siegel

7/10
Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
11 June 2016

In the harbor of San Francisco, a porter throws the suitcase of a passenger that has just arrived from Asia into a taxi and the driver hits a truck and a police officer that kills him before dying. The owner Philip Dressler (Raymond Bailey) explains to the police Lieutenant Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and Inspector Al Quine (Emile Meyer) that the content of the suitcase are antiques that he bought in Asia from a street vendor. However the police laboratory discover that one statuette has heroin hidden inside and the inspectors replace the drug per sugar and return the suitcase to Dressler, who is a citizen above suspicion. Meanwhile the gangster Dancer (Eli Wallach), who is a psychopath; his partner Julian (Robert Keith) and the alcoholic driver Sandy McLain (Richard Jaeckel) are hired by the kingpin The Man (Vaughn Taylor) to collect the heroin packages that have been smuggled hidden in the luggage of three other innocent tourists. They succeed to retrieve the two firsts, but the load of the third one vanishes and they panic. Meanwhile the police is hunting them under the command of Lt. Guthrie.

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“The Lineup” is another great police story directed by Don Siegel. The story is original and the action scenes in San Francisco are impressive for a 1958 film. The dysfunctional criminals are peculiar and Eli Wallach performs a psychopath killer; Robert Keith takes notes of the last words of Dancer’s victims in a notebook; and Richard Jaeckel is an alcoholic driver. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): “O Sádico Selvagem” (“The Wild Sadist”)

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