blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Lineup (1958, Don Siegel)

The Lineup is a spin-off of a TV series, an adaptation of a radio show. What is the difference between spin-off and adaptation? The movie has some of the same actors as the TV show, while the radio show didn’t share stars with the TV series. The movie came out before the series was even done running. It went on for a whole other season after the movie. I’m guessing the show didn’t tie into the movie’s events, but maybe there was a whole fallout episode where lead Warner Anderson tracks down whoever hired psychopathic hitmen Eli Wallach and Robert Keith.

The movie runs about eighty-six minutes—so three episodes of the show (until the final season, which went to hour-long)—but the police procedural part barely figures in once Wallach shows up. The Lineup opens with a taxi driver bumping a truck, then running over the traffic cop who tries to flag him down—before the taxi driver dies, shot through the window by another cop. There’s a lot of noise about how a passenger liner porter threw a suitcase in the cab before it raced off—without the suitcase’s owner (an incredibly game Raymond Bailey). Coppers Anderson and Emile Meyer investigate (Meyer wasn’t on the show—and didn’t join after the movie). Lots and lots of talk about the line-up; if only Bailey can identify the porter, they’ll be able to solve the case.

Except Bailey can’t identify the porter, which complicates the investigation because Anderson and Meyer found a bunch of heroin in Bailey’s suitcase. It looks like he’s just an unintentional mule for the real criminals, but they’ve got to be sure.

The entire investigation into Bailey, which involves Anderson and Meyer not just interviewing him but also having plenty of procedural scenes and consultations (including a quick appearance from series co-star Marshall Reed), has absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself. In fact, it’s never definitive Bailey wasn’t involved because we never find out anything about the original smuggling bit. Wallach and Keith are in town for a day; they’re supposed to get the heroin the bad guy—The Man—has had put into their luggage without their knowledge. Their driver was supposed to be the cabbie, who’s dead, so instead, it’s new guy Richard Jaeckel.

Wallach and Keith are vicious and cruel. Keith eggs Wallach on for most of the film, directing Wallach’s violent rage, but there’s a give and take to it. Keith wants Wallach to be an erudite hitman, just to show he’s better than their colleagues. It’s underbaked, but at least it’s personality. They’ve got three targets—a sailor, a wealthy couple, and a mother and daughter. It’s eight hours of work for the pair, and the film follows them from start to finish. The cops get lucky tracking them down, showcasing the benefits of living in a police state—when the bad men kidnap your daughter for her doll, you can thank the omnipresent, occupying police force for her rescue.

Though not in this case because, again, the investigation doesn’t have any bearing on the resolution. Even after multiple related homicides, the best they come up with is a couple of tan white guys. Sure, they’re in Frisco, but maybe somebody’s up from L.A. with a tan. And there aren’t any people of color in the movie at all, so they’re just looking for two guys. Swell detective work. When Anderson and Meyer show up for the finish, the movie doesn’t even pretend they’re interesting. Director Siegel (who also directed the first episode of “The Lineup” TV show) is having way too much fun with Wallach, Keith, and Jaeckel. And the locations. Siegel loves shooting on location, all over San Francisco, with some gorgeous sequences–great black and white photography from Hal Mohr.

The Lineup’s a solid programmer. Wallach’s great, Keith’s great. Mary LaRoche’s good as the mom. The front stuff with Anderson and Meyer drags, with the locations doing the heavy lifting, but Wallach is captivating. Keith’s transfixing, but it’s one of those “what’s the bad guy going to do next” type pictures for Wallach. Siegel really leans into it.

It never made me curious about the show, however. And the resolution’s grandiose but a little pat, narratively speaking. Stirling Silliphant gets the sole writer credit, even though it feels very Many Hands. But it’s a solid programmer.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: