The Lineup (1958)

Thelineupmovieposter6nfIn style if not entirely in execution The Lineup exhibits some similarities to Murder by Contract from the same year. Both films choose to take hit men as their main characters and it becomes a surprisingly intriguing way to look at a crime. Because the killers are a certain brand of sociopath who make film criminals all the more compelling based on not only on the way they carry themselves or the actions they take but the very words that leave their lips.

For the modern viewer, it’s very possible to miss the fact that The Lineup was a Dragnet-like detective show of the 1950s and this film installment carried over some of the same hallmarks from the program.

The police lieutenant is played by a no-nonsense Warner Anderson who utters every word as if he has marbles crammed in his throat. The other man (Emille Meyer) is what you expect from a second fiddle, a bit more flabby, a rounder face, and a funny intonation to his voice. Still, together these two men represent the arm of the law in San Fransisco, only two hardworking men in a vast force of crimefighters.

Don Siegel does well in all facets of the film from the opening mayhem on the streets of San Francisco that set the groundwork for all the rest, guiding the plot through the rhythms of procedures, hits, crime scenes, and casings. The climatic scenes on the Embarcadero pack the type of gratifying wallop you would hope for.

Meanwhile, Stirling Silliphant’s script has an odd cadence to it that’s particularly entrancing. It’s not hardboiled patter and that’s perhaps signified best by the fact that we meet our two main villains mid conversation on an airplane. One lauds the use of proper grammar and diction while the other, an out of town killer only known as Dancer (Eli Wallach) reads a grammar book to improve himself. After all, who’s ever heard a killer who knows their subjunctives?

From one end we follow the police as they look into a few big payloads of heroin that are being shipped in from Asia using unsuspecting tourists. There are no solid leads but they have enough competency to know something is up. They do all the things that they’re supposed to in order to nab the wanted parties. But it’s not that simple.

Because we also see a bit of what’s going on with the other side of the law. Dancer and Julian (Robert Keith) are called in to retrieve the payloads for a shadowy Mr. Big orchestrating everything from the background. And these are two of the most peculiar criminals you’ve ever known.  Dancer’s a bit of a tough guy and he’s almost never caught without his trusty briefcase that carries his silent killer. He’s not about to take any flack from their chatty wheelman (Richard Jaeckel) either.

Except Dancer listens to Julian, an older fellow (obsessed with last words) who seems to serve little purpose except to be Dancer’s constant voice of reason and his coach giving him pep talks and guidance from every location. First, a Seamen’s club near the Bay, then a local residence, and finally an aquarium where they track down their last unsuspecting carrier, a young mother (Mary LaRoache) traveling with her little daughter.

But all great crime pictures must have some kind of twist, a wrench in the plans or an about face and The Lineup likewise begins to tear at the seams. Except it actually begins to mean something because in some ways we’ve built more of a connection with the criminals than the good guys.

With its surprisingly authentic images of San Francisco preserved from the 1950s, you can definitely trace a line between this film and Dirty Harry another Siegel picture that made extensive use of SF’s iconic terrain as well. Silliphant also graduated to several big crime films most notably In the Heat of the Night. But there should always be a place for smaller gems like this because they must differentiate themselves from the pack in the ways they draw up their characters and how they choose to rehash themes that have existed all throughout the tradition of gangster flicks and film-noir. That is the only chance they have to be remembered. The Lineup certainly stands out amid the fray.

3.5/5 Stars

Review: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

themagnif1“Nobody throws me my own guns and says ride on. Nobody” ~ James Coburn as Britt

People always resonate with stories of valor, honor, and bravery. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war film, a tale of samurai, or a western. Thus, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai rather seamlessly became The Magnificent Seven, one of the most reputed westerns of the 1960s.

In theory & practice, it has everything you want in a western from a stellar cast to thrilling gunfights matched by one of the most epic soundtracks ever coming out of the annals of cinema.

But although it’s script is not exactly taut, you can hardly accuse The Magnificent Seven of being superficial. Its characters and its narrative are too satisfying for such a claim. After all, who wouldn’t want to see such a company as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Bucholtz, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughan, and Brad Dexter? You have “The King and I,” “The King of Cool,” and about every other figure you would want in a good shoot’em up. They were seven who fought like 700.

In not completely splitting with its samurai roots, this western deals in moral codes and issues of honor perhaps more closely than even many of the best known western. The main issue here is that this laconic and sleek gang is brought together to defend a small Mexican border town made up of farmers against a bandit and his band of marauders. What causes men such as these to take on such a dangerous and in many ways such a one-sided job? For some it’s money (because they have none), some want the excitement, and for others, it’s something different. But all that matters is they all go into this together – some of the deadliest guns prepared to duke it out.

themagnif3Into the valley road the seven rather like the light brigade, at first simply preparing to train up and prepare their little village of farmers to fight back against the brutal outlaw Calvera (Eli Wallach). But there’s something that happens over time. When you spend time in close proximity with people, eating their food and sharing their shelter, it’s hard not to build a bond — a connection that holds you there. At first, it seems of little consequence when the enemy gets beaten back, but everyone knows they will return with a vengeance.

Ultimately, the seven are betrayed and are given a clear choice. They can keep moving on or turn back the way they came. It’s just a small inconsequential town, but they cannot turn their back on it, even when they were betrayed. They grapple with what’s good, what’s right, and what’s rational, and then make their decision. It goes against all reason and yet into the valley road the seven together (eventually).

themagnif2And we get the final skirmish with guns blazing, bullets flying, and lives being put on the line. Here is a film where the final body count deeply matters. Not so much of the enemy, but of our heroes, because each one chisels out a little niche for themselves. Everyone has worth and importance even as they jockey for screen time and it pays off in the end. They fight with honor just as they die with honor. Perhaps it might seem futile, but not without significance. The little village is left in peace to live out their days in tranquility. Calvera’s final words echo in their ears: “You came back – for a place like this. Why? A man like you. Why?”

Elmer Bernstein’s score is masterclass. Majestic, grand, playfully prancing about, and at the same time eliciting a grin from any boy who has ever dreamed of the Wild West. Furthermore, there are so many characters to idolize, because this film made ensemble action films the style along with the likes of The Great Escape, The Professionals, and The Dirty Dozen to name a few. This has always been one of my father’s favorite film’s and I can completely understand why. It has gunfights, bad guys, and good guys, quips, and tricks. But at the most basic level, it’s a striking parable about moral codes, personal pride, and the sacrifice that goes along with such things.

4.5/5 Stars

The Misfits (1961)


The Misfits is a film directed by John Huston and starring the likes of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, and Eli Wallach. The story opens in Texas where a young woman is getting a divorce in Texas with the support of another divorced woman. After she goes through with the proceedings she feels bad but her spirits are lifted by a mechanic and then an aging cowboy who both find her extraordinary. She and the cowboy move into the half-finished home of the widowed handy man on his urging. Rosalyn and Gay slowly become closer and then he resolves to rope some wild mustang for money. Later, they go to a rodeo and meet Gay’s friend Perce who takes part in the dangerous proceedings. After a night on the town, he eventually joins the other two men in their endeavor. However, when they actually begin Rosalyn is horrified by the whole thing. In the end, Gay is back with Rosalyn but not without a great deal of strife over the horses. In many ways this film can be seen as prophetic and it certainly is historically important because it was the last film of both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Gable looks haggard and Monroe seems highly emotional, possibly hinting at their imminent deaths. Both the acting and the Arthur Miller script were commendable, and I think a good deal of credit has to be given to Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter for their performances as well.
 
4/5 Stars

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as the title characters, this is a memorable Spaghetti western. Angel Eyes (Cleef) is on the prowl for a man who stole some gold. Meanwhile Tuco (Wallach) is on the run until three bounty hunters confront him. However, Blondie (Eastwood) is the one who turns him in and then helps Tuco escape after he picks up the reward. Finally, the two accomplices split up on bad terms. The next time Tuco turns the tables capturing Blondie and marching him through the desert. While on their journey they learn where the gold is hidden. First they have run ins with Angel Eyes an the Union army and then they got caught up in a Civil War skirmish. The two of them endure it all and go to the cemetery where the gold is. There they have the final showdown with Angel Eyes in epic fashion. This film is great because it is exciting, it features an iconic Ennio Morricone score, and it has great cinematography which is a trademark of Sergio Leone. An Italian western may seem strange but Leone somehow makes it work.

5/5 Stars

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

544c6-magnificent_originalIn honor of my Dad’s birthday I wanted to review his favorite movie of all time.

Adapted as a western from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Yul Brynner is a hired gun who agrees to take a job from Mexican farmers protecting their village from bandits. Gradually, he enlists the help of old friends and new acquaintances who are all handy with a gun. Working with the village men, they are able to deter the bandits. However, the threat of the marauders returning has the villagers scared so they turn against their hired guns. In a fit of bravery, Brynner returns with the others fighting desperately to liberate the village. They are ultimately victorious, but not without causalities with four of the men dying. These men were the seven who fought like 700 and they did something seemingly ludicrous because it was the courageous thing to do. This great cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughan, Horst Buckholz, Brad Dexter, and Eli Wallach. The score by Elmer Bernstein is one of the best. If you want to see a good western then look no further.

4.5/5 Stars