director Don Siegel
On the police procedural side of a crime flick, Don Siegel’s San Francisco-set The Lineup manages to fall enough into noir to qualify in that classification. However you want to approach it, it’s a pretty great movie.
Interestingly, it was a film version of a television show of the day, but one that really diverged from its TV counterpart. Warner Anderson plays Lt. Guthrie from the show, but he’s got a different sidekick in Emile Meyer. Writer Stirling Silliphant shifted the focus from the Dragnet-like cops to top-billed villains Eli Wallach and Robert Keith, and that is where the movie really thrives.
Wallach is great as Dancer, the killer protégé oozing violence, and Keith is excellent as his handler/tutor, obsessed with the last words of their victims, recording them in his little notebook for posterity. They’re tracking down unsuspecting travelers who have unknowingly smuggled heroin into the country and relieving them of their hidden drugs and often their lives.
But as much as Wallach and Keith are the stars, Siegel delivers one of San Francisco’s best movies as well, capturing some amazing shots of now long-gone pieces of the city. The biggest star of these locations is Sutro’s, which by the time of the filming in 1957 was no longer a bathhouse but a massive museum/penny arcade/skating rink and much else. It would burn down in 1966 and be eradicated and left to ruins ever since. It’s remarkable to see inside it, but it also features for one of the best scenes in the movie, the showdown with “Mr. Big”.
But that’s not all of the SF sights now bygone. The finale features a great car chase through the Presidio that ends on the then under-construction Embarcadero freeway which would be damaged in the 1989 earthquake and disassembled thereafter. But also the scenes turn to the Steinhart Aquarium, remembered so well from Orson Welles’ noir The Lady from Shanghai (1947). That too is gone, replaced with our modern Academy of Sciences. There are exterior shots that include the whole plaza and the old DeYoung & Asian Art Museum. There is also the Embarcadero YMCA (playing the Seaman’s Club).
Sorry to go on to such extents but it’s a fantastic use of the city as well as a wonderful document of the city as it was at the time. A great thriller with action and character (and characters!) Totally highly recommend!