At its start, Don Siegel's The Lineup comes across as an unusually well-written, smoothly directed police procedural. Opening with a sharply constructed suitcase snatching at a busy train station, the movie quickly introduces us to Lieutenant Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and his partner Al (Emile Meyer, whose speaking voice sounds uncannily like that of John Spencer), a pair of middle-aged, seen-it-all cops. The two have an easy partnership, and though their dialogue is sometimes overly expository, the way they enter rooms, and relate to other cops is strikingly natural and realistic, showing the attention to detail that a big studio like Columbia could afford to give even its smallest pictures in the late 1950s.

As Ben and Al wend their way through the bag-snatching case, they discover drugs hidden in the stolen bag, and their suspicion gradually shifts from the thief (who killed a cop while fleeing the scene) to the suitcase's owner (a smarmy, too-smooth opera singer who has "guilty" written all over him, and yet somehow isn't), and finally to a large crime syndicate, victimizing innocent travelers by turning them into drug mules who unknowingly import product from Asia. Just when the movie seems to be settling into a typical police procedural mold, however, the camera shows us Eli Wallach on a plane, studying grammar. His name is Dancer, and he's an unsophisticated thug trying to learn how to fit into the upper classes; he's with an associate named Julian (the wonderful Robert Keith, a long way here from the tough-guy cop he played in Guys and Dolls just three years earlier), who is older, smartly-dressed, and George Sanders-aloof. And, suddenly, everything changes.
categories Reviews, Cinematical