Monday 24 March 2008

The Lineup (1958)

A porter throws Philip Dressler's suitcase into a cab down at the docks and the cabbie sets off at high speed before Dressler can get in. A quick couple of collisions and one dead cop later, the cabbie dies too and Lt Ben Guthrie and Insp Fred Asher have an investigation on their hands. The Lineup was a film version of a TV series that run from 1954 to 1960, with Warner Anderson and Marshall Reed reprising their roles. The villains, Dancer and Julian, don't appear in the series, and are played by Eli Wallach, Ugly from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Robert Keith, father of Brian Keith and boyfriend of Peg Entwistle, a failed actress who committed suicide by jumping off the H in the Hollywood sign.

We're in California in 1958, therefore this is a TCM showing courtesy of guest presenter James Ellroy and the whole thing revolves around heroin, the only difference from usual being that this is San Francisco not Los Angeles. Dressler was just one of many tourists fingered as carriers without their knowing it, the bad guys inserting the drugs into merchandise they bought in eastern countries and collecting it from them at a later date, after they'd carried them unknowing through customs.

The story plays very well indeed, very believably alternating between how the bad guys operate and how the cops investigate. I was really impressed with the matter of fact nature of Anderson and Reed, but then they'd been playing these characters for five years and 150 or so half hour episodes. It also plays tough, definitely for keeps and we're left in doubt as to how far people will go to get what they want. There are some brutally hard hits too, for 1958. While you can see more blood and tissue on any random primetime TV show nowadays, this one carried a punch.

Then again it's an early Don Siegel movie, he who went on to such lily livered wimp out movies as Dirty Harry, so maybe that isn't too surprising. I was really impressed about this film version of a TV series that I'd never heard of and really ought to seek out the series.

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