THE LINEUP— to counter NBC’s lucky strike with Dragnet, CBS had its own police procedural in The Lineup, which ran for 190 episodes from 1954 to 1960. Warner Anderson played a San Francisco detective who shared investigation duty with Tom Tully, replaced by Emile Meyer for this 1958 movie version. The dour ask-questions chatter that takes up the first part of the story is pretty dry (and obviously dated), but when the bad guys show up things accelerate with ever-increasing intensity. Stirling Silliphant’s script was superbly directed by Don Siegel, who lucked out in the casting of his stellar outlaw trio: Eli Wallach, Robert Keith and Richard Jaeckel.
“He pushed me too far!… So I pushed him just far enough.”
San Francisco detectives ‘Guthrie’ (Anderson) and ‘Quine’ (Meyer) begin to piece together clues that point to a heroin smuggling operation running from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate. Bodies start to pile up faster than you can say “psychopathic pals” after we meet hair-trigger ‘Dancer’ (Wallach), his smug mentor ‘Julian’ (Keith) and their cocky punk of a wheelman ‘Sandy’ (Jaeckel). They’re assigned by drug kingpin ‘The Man’ to recover stray parcels of the dope shipment. If civilians get in the way, well…
This was only 42-year-old stage actor Wallach’s second film (after Baby Doll), while Keith, 59 (father of Brian Keith) had delivered strong work throughout the decade, and Jaeckel, 31, had been a dependable presence since 1943’s Guadalcanal Diary. Their sparring interplay—and the teasing dynamic between Dancer and Julian—is fun-creepy, and when the action comes, director Siegel stages it memorably. That includes an insanely-timed stunt drive, stopping a speeding 1957 Plymouth Belvedere perilously near the edge/plunge of the unfinished Embarcadero Freeway. Further great use is made of the city’s locations—broad daylight noir—by cameraman Hal Mohr. *
Powering by in 86 minutes, it was little-seen in ’58 (133rd place, grossing $1,100,000), mostly ignored by critics; it’s now regarded as a classic. With Mary LaRoche, Raymond Bailey, William Leslie, Vaughan Taylor, Cheryl Callaway.
* We’re not sure if this was the first example of an “oddly close” hit man team, but Don Siegel again made ice-cool use of the notion in his 1964 remake of The Killers, with Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager having a depraved field day doing droll as deadly.
Siegel: “I try to make escapes and chases as hairy as I can. A near-miss is more exciting than one that’s too far. That chase was difficult and dangerous to do. Years later, when I returned to San Francisco to shoot Dirty Harry, a police sergeant came up to me and pointed at his grey hair, ‘You did that to me when we worked with you on The Lineup. I’ll never get over that chase. How we didn’t kill anybody, I’ll never know.’ And I didn’t know myself. The shot in which the car comes to a sudden stop at the edge of the unfinished freeway was no trick shot. There was a five-story sheer drop. We were photographing the action from the fifth-story window of the city’s YMCA. The stuntman who drove the car, Guy Way, had to be part insane. His girlfriend, doubling the mother, was in the car with him. She was hysterical for days after the shot. Dick Jaeckel was doubled by Way; the rest were doubled by other professional stunt people. There was no way we could protect them…Way knew what he was doing, but I was nervous as the San Francisco police. If a tire blew, or he slid too fast, they were all dead.”