Star in the Night
The Nativity in an auto court shed on the desert one cold night.
Academy Award for Best Short Subject (two reels).
75 years of German aggression, under Bismarck, the Kaiser and the Führer, interspersed with periods of “phony peace” (cp. Capra’s Here Is Germany).
A tremendously bracing résumé of World War II caps the narrative.
Necessity of Occupation, necessity of vigilance at home.
Academy Award for Best Documentary (short subject).
The locked door murder is a tale of such complexity as to elude the awareness of any reviewer, as far as it goes.
The providential superintendent (Scotland Yard, 1890) fails of a witness on his staff, who replaces him on the death by hanging of an innocent man. The guilty party dies, the new superintendent is revealed as a fool.
The alibi is a minister of the gospel gone to Wales, as supposed, actually New South Wales.
The mine owner’s nephew kills his aunt to run the mines his way, badly. The MP for Brockton opposes him on behalf of the wretched miners. The new owner dies, the MP is set to be hanged (his mistress and alibi, Lady Pendleton, is languishing on the Riviera).
A music hall artiste leaves the paltry owner for an artist, a friend of the disgraced superintendent.
That’s enough to get the gist of the story, an epic tale never lost sight of by Siegel in his carefully constructed initial magnum opus.
Crowther, on the other hand, issued an opinion on behalf of the New York Times, “unimpressive”.
The Big Steal
The plot, which is simplicity itself (U.S. Army payroll theft sends lieutenant into Mexico after civilian, and captain after lieutenant, with the civilian’s girl a complicating factor), confused Bosley Crowther so that he felt obliged to dismiss the film as “casual”.
Capra, Hitchcock, Huston and Hawks are the major influences, with Tourneur for the casting (Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer) and Siegel well ahead of the game in this screwball film noir.
Night Unto Night
The elements of the composition are those of Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach, the structure is applied by Medak in The Changeling.
Considering the fate of Renoir’s film, the last verse of Psalm 19 (the first two are spoken in this film and give the title) Is remarkable, “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight...”
A scientist in Chicago hath the falling sickness even unto the haunted widow of a Coast Guardsman torpedoed just offshore from home “on the east coast of Florida”. The artist who makes a living from the covers of romance novels has an exhibition of his paintings, the widow’s frivolous and hateful sister doesn’t get the sack, as you might say.
T.M.P. of the New York Times, “somber hodge-podge... most blatant... sympathetically uninspired... considerable murky talk... dark mood drama... obtuse screen play... indecisiveness...” Variety found the leading lady “not enough to carry the film,” the leading man “lacks depth,” moreover “Don Siegel’s direction is strained and strives too much for dramatic effects...” Leonard Maltin, “somber, unconvincing...” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “a sop to conscience.”
Riot in Cell Block 11
Siegel sees it through to the reforms that were needed all along, it’s mainly a matter of sufficient logistical support to maintain a prison at a proper level, a simple proposition.
He runs the whole gamut of a bad prison system and a chain of riots even before this one, which stints nothing of the inmates in their brutality and desperation.
A terrible, insightful film, very observant of the same old conditions time and again, endless variants tell every possible strain, and there is the psychological angle here, including the homosexual.
The view is of prison as sufficient unto itself, as in Dassin’s Brute Force.
private hell 36
The precipice of a cop and a girl and stolen money, enough for Peckinpah in Ride the High Country to ponder the temptation and even the equivalence, enough for Siegel to take the plain case of two Los Angeles Robbery detectives and an incidental witness to a deadly New York holdup.
The girl has her motives, her histoire as the French critics would say, huh? The touching thing is that she makes herself understood just before her police dick gets himself killed for her.
The title is a rented trailer where they stash the loot, one dick does and gives the other a key.
A woman and diamonds, a junkie and dope, a correlation might be determined, mistakenly or not.
Bosley Crowther (New York Times) thought the subject was “non-controversial” and therefore uninteresting, “an honest policeman is the best policeman.” Twenty years later, Lumet had to deal with it.
Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) fares little better but appreciates the thought, “Siegel’s direction... is impeccable.”
Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) cries fie to “artsy pretensions”, and you know what they are.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Eternal vigilance as the price of liberty.
“Quarter after quarter the liquidation of the world goes on” (René Char).
Baby Face Nelson
The little guy out of Joliet won’t do a job for Rocca, who sprung him, the union man is torpedoed anyway and the little guy is framed. He kills Rocca and joins up with Dillinger, who dies at the movies.
Baby Face is number one on the public enemy list, he runs up a string of robberies with his gang, turns on them and prepares to retire abroad with his girl, who used to front for a speakeasy, she gets a real close look at the little guy and wishes it away, the Feds knock him down and she finishes him off, remembering the incident.
“Fooey,” said Bosley Crowther, New York Times (Variety had no idea). Portrait of a “psychotic”, according to Geoff Andrew in Time Out Film Guide. “Revisionist”, says Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), looking ahead to Dirty Harry, not Charley Varrick.
The drug trade flows into San Francisco harbor in the luggage of unsuspecting tourists back from the Far East (cp. Benedek’s Port of New York). Location shooting calls the roll of likely targets, which includes the Seaman’s Club with its shipshape décor (cp. Kubrick’s The Seafarers), a Romanesque mansion on Jackson Street, the Mark Hopkins Hotel, Steinhart Aquarium, Sutro’s, and Cliff House.
An unfinished double-decker freeway is the endpoint of the scheme executed by a Miami psychopath (Eli Wallach) and his mob trainer (Robert Keith), a collector of last words.
The school bus in Dirty Harry makes an early appearance here, in a lineage right between Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter and Young’s Wait Until Dark (the ice-skating rink at Sutro’s just anticipates Richardson’s The Entertainer).
The mastermind is Vaughn Taylor in a wheelchair, as again for Siegel on The Twilight Zone (“The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”).
The Gun Runners
From Key West to Havana for the revolution, the deal is fixed.
Siegel has Curtiz and Hawks behind him for the general layout from Hemingway.
The check bouncer turns into the man whose credentials are money or a gun, then a pirate on the high seas.
All the skipper wants is home and the wife, even though “there ain’t no money takin’ slobs fishin’.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide has it as “modestly effective”.
In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris expresses the opinion that “Audie Murphy’s stone-faced virtuousness in The Gun Runners seems beyond any director’s control.”
The pirate buys the paper on the skipper’s boat and forecloses, forcing the issue.
“I tell you, the way they run this government, I wish I could run it for one week, for just one little week.”
“That’s all we’d need, now.”
The blonde at the bar drinking Cuba Libres is as much the key as the Swede who’s a front bought and paid for, which is why in Woody Allen’s Bananas the revolutionary government declares Swedish the new official language.
That’s what the skipper’s wife says to him, “you and your face.”
A beautifully detailed Western in its surface attentions, to go along with fine psychological ramifications of consanguinity.
It’s situated right between Maté’s Branded and Penn’s Little Big Man, and has an even larger issue than a squaw man in Texas when the Kiowa get a new chief.
Hell Is for Heroes
The anecdote takes place in a town on the Siegfried Line, Montigny. The barmaid slept with the Third Reich, now she cuddles up to an American. The conversation is interrupted, as the action shifts to the front line.
It becomes a question of a German pillbox, again there is conversation, again an interruption. The final image (an Irwin Allen sacrifice) has consequences for Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
The Twilight Zone
An amazing and characteristic use of zoom introduces him, champ contre champ repels his niece until she triumphantly enters a two-shot as he perishes, the will provides for a robot like a metal Michelin man with a tin-can head under a bell jar, it replicates the domineering habit of his personality, suffered to win an inheritance consisting primarily of this.
Refracted at a slightly different angle, the same material represents “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”.
The Self-Improvement of
The Twilight Zone
A young slum rat climbs out of his hole to win the hand of a social worker, but his sharp dealing along the way proves to be his undoing.
The ease with which the surreal device is introduced and maintained is a benchmark of the series. He is in the hospital with a broken hand from striking out in despair, an old man with a chest cold is in the next bed, they compare notes and jokingly offer to trade. It happens while they sleep, the rat leaves the hospital with a slight cough and the old man now has a set of bones that won’t heal, instead of the mere risk of pneumonia.
The rat trades his youth for a fortune and buys it back piecemeal from young persons for a pittance. Now he’s a smartly-dressed well-spoken rat with a proposition, but she wants a man with compassion, like her father.
The rat makes one more deal, now he has everything, but the compassionate father is now fresh out of that commodity, and shoots him.
The diner, where everyone goes to eat the dinner, is now a school of the blind, as befits a tale that is told.
A particularly modern, elegant building overlooking MacArthur Park is another one of the foci, and so is Riverside International Raceway.
Siegel, who is among other things a great student of Hitchcock, is on the lot at Universal with great lashings of violence meted out in the starkest and most poetical sense, as this is a film made of elegance, science and violence at their own rate.
A distinctive analysis of the Kafka theme from Hemingway describing a man who kills his driver and his two hired assassins out of devotion to a girl who likes a winner.
There’s nothing left after that.
It has received what are called “mixed” reviews.
The joke is a U.S. Mail robbery.
The director is a fry cook.
Stranger on the Run
The thing about a complicated technique is that it allows you to express a complicated thing competently. Dean Riesner’s teleplay is such an item, Siegel’s direction follows suit.
A patch of town beside the tracks, a company town, a railroad town (Denver and Great Western), more company lawmen than citizens (spot of trouble with a cattleman nearby).
The deputies (Sal Mineo, Tom Reese, Zalman King, Rodolfo Acosta) keep a whore in a shack a short walk away. They’re killers, cutthroats, vermin with a badge.
The whore has a brother in prison, another man (Henry Fonda) gets released and hops a freight train to this town, Banner, having been asked to help her leave.
He’s broke and a drunk, the whore’s murdered, he’s accused.
A widow’s son (Michael Burns) establishes the tenuous link to High Noon by accepting a badge in the posse and later returning it. His mother (Anne Baxter) takes a shine to the stranger.
Lloyd Bochner is the company man who hires.
The style is out of nowhere, as befits the tale. Siegel’s technique is brought to bear in all its panoply, zooms and cranes, close studies, far vistas.
The elder deputy (Dan Duryea) takes the boy under his wing, both look up to the man in charge (Michael Parks), described as “one of the real ones” in a West already fictionalized. He knows his men for what they are, the railroad casts a blind eye.
The details and ramifications are many, so the technique is detailed and ramified.
A way out from Stranger on the Run, having as its basis Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, and setting forth the terms for Coogan’s Bluff directly, leading to the formulation of Dirty Harry, the rules.
You lose your gun if you don’t play by them, or you become more human, and that makes you a better cop.
It’s too tempting to bust down doors and have your way, it’s a mistake and gets you killed.
The analysis entails so many facets and viewpoints and angles that Howard Thompson (New York Times), who was expecting a “punchy, suspense tingler”, was sorely disappointed.
The title sequence has a view of New York that’s true and authentic and vivid, the note is set, the film launches out with its wild complexity on a single matter, not to give the game away.
From the directorial standpoint, Siegel’s opening gambit is precisely the sort of thing Minnelli did with The Band Wagon. Mostly, Coogan’s Bluff is very erudite and subtle, and Siegel has to find time to work out all its implications, so the first scene has to carry all or so much of the weight. Structurally, it’s bound to the final scene.
New York is rather bureaucratic and very screwy, so Deputy Sheriff Coogan runs a bluff and gets his prisoner out of Bellevue’s jail ward for extradition. The gang simply mugs him at the Pan Am Building.
Coogan tracks the scofflaw through the mother (such a good boy, gives her things), the girlfriend (a regular at The Pigeon Toed Orange Peel) and the gang at Pushie’s Pool Parlor. All to have him released in custody according to protocol, as Coogan was told to begin with.
You can see this paralleling Bullitt’s personal quest, with a distant and humorous formal echo of Huckleberry Finn. It requires subdued work, you might say, from Siegel. The overall impression is what counts. He has a POV shot from the pool table where Coogan is fighting off thugs. A conversation aboard a New York Airways helicopter coming in for a landing is filmed airborne. Siegel’s best is last, Julie in autumnal red waving in a long aerial shot to Coogan.
New York is seen from an eminence, with the Hudson River and The Cloisters in the background, amid bare trees, a city more horizontal than usually pictured.
That opening scene (with its suggestion of the peace-pipe) recalls the desperado who was handcuffed to a Wild West lawman’s wedding bed. What the lawman’s wife felt is unknown.
Two Mules for Sister Sara
Story by Budd Boetticher, elaboration by Albert Maltz, music by Ennio Morricone, cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa, direction by Don Siegel, starring Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood, filmed in Mexico.
The main point of interest, watching this magnificent spectacle, is Siegel’s organization of Figueroa’s cinematography within his great slashing technique. High skyscapes and broad vistas are replaced by high horizons that produce a high concentration of azure, bouncing around and reflected here and there on the ground from high angles. The deep backgrounds are there, and great scrutinizing close-ups, but the middle shots in tight, sustained concentration give the crusty hallucinatory landscape of cactus and ruins the right appeal.
The purity motif allied with revolution makes an interesting case vis-à-vis The Battle of Algiers, for instance.
Southern ladies at a girls’ school during the Civil War are beguiled by a wounded Union corporal into caring for him, jealousies break out, he is beguiled by them into dropping dead.
Criticism found this deficient as a psychological study, men and women in wartime being only one of its aspects.
Clayton’s Our Mother’s House (and even Nelson’s Father Goose) is a certain kind of precedent, also Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.
Miss Martha’s extraordinary dream of herself and her junior partner in bed with the corporal ends as Christ with his Mother and the Magdalen like the painting in her room.
The effect of falsification induced by an opening montage of Civil War photographs with the corporal in one of them, and by having the ladies voice their thoughts on the soundtrack, seems to have brought about a distracting giddiness in the Variety reviewer.
For the battle of the sexes looked at from an angle there is Malle’s Black Moon, Siegel has the sexes of the battle.
The two main factors are Siegel’s profound understanding of Hitchcock and his own creative freedom brought to bear, as you might say, upon it (above all, Siegel has understood what John Huston achieved with his camerawork in The Night of the Iguana). A perfect example has Callahan ordered by “Scorpio” to turn and face the cross on the hill. Siegel cuts to a POV in extreme close-up of the surface of the cross, then tilts up to a long shot of its apex. Gunplay ensues, Callahan stabs Scorpio in the thigh, and on this Siegel cuts to a medium close-up of the latter turning toward the camera and shrieking in pain, a shot introduced in Number Seventeen and varied in The 39 Steps.
A key element is revealed in the precisely-filmed shots of a police helicopter curving around the city, with a cut to a POV airborne over the rooftops, which in Baghdad-by-the-Bay are also those of The Battle of Algiers.
Another key structural scene might also seem inconsequential, the attempted suicide averted by Callahan and which leads to an explanation of his nickname (“every dirty job that comes along”). For the criminal, life is something of a game. The serious person is put at some disadvantage by this weird perception, until he realizes differently.
An unusual form cast in two parts, like Les Préludes or Waiting for Godot. After Part One, which concludes with a shot so spectacular it had to be developed out of Rhapsody in Blue (dir. Irving Rapper), Part Two injects the most curious phenomenon in the psychopath’s idiosyncrasy, he pays a boxer to beat him up so as to disqualify Callahan on grounds of brutality. And then of course (his previous kidnap victim, a girl, having been found dead), he commandeers a school bus full of children.
The final scene opens like the very end of Vampyr, a mill with heaps of stuff. Scorpio dies because, like Edward G. Robinson in The Stranger, Callahan doesn’t need any tricks. In the end, he discards his badge like Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Siegel’s monumental dexterity, virtuosity and wit are evident throughout. A quick searching long-lens tilt-and-pan flawlessly done, the little gag on Rear Window, the camera tilting up from the flag (during the kidnap sequence) to the cloudy skies and descending upon City Hall, etc. One of Eastwood’s starting points is in the night exteriors on the Marina. Black skies, focus out on background lights, the predicament in the foreground...
The well-rounded world of the copper-bottomed “combine” vs. a crop-duster who is “the last of the independents”. It ends with a buyout, of course.
A surprising amount of material earlier appears in The Big Steal and is candidly reworked, shifting the locale north of the border.
The bank is a money-laundering operation for the Mafia, there is no going back after a robbery.
The combine cancels itself out, leaving the cash to a nullified opponent. The New York Times called it “an intelligent action melodrama” but not “literate, poetic, or even reasonable.”
The Black Windmill
Russian weaponry in Northern Ireland identifies a Cold War front, MI6 allocates a large sum for it, the top man on the beat (up for head of service) arranges a kidnapping to purloin the allocation as ransom (he’s “about to be axed” for a younger man).
The victim is an operative’s son, the Major goes in undercover against the very sabotage ring that has kidnapped the boy.
A simple story. Nora Sayre echoed the Major’s wife by criticizing the character for being professionally blasé (New York Times).
The boy and his schoolmate are seen and identified as the children in Hamilton’s Battle of Britain.
The simple condition is that hearing four lines of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” drives Soviets wild enough to go to war, and long after Stalin, a clerk in KGB Records is calling Soviet agents up and reading Frost to them. What the new regime wants, in a spirit of détente, is an end of people reading Robert Frost to their operatives.
This negative sort of form (see Bullitt) is deployed in a sort of anti-Nabokov tour of America, with a sense of pictorial structure to match. This depends on clear photography and accurate colors, so practically every shot is keyed on primary colors, and modulates through a variety of tones in a generally organized scale for each shot sequence. All this gives Siegel tremendous recessive compositions (on John Portman’s Regency architecture, for example), or minutely organized color fields (Sandburg’s office, q.v.).
Apart from this, there is a long lens mostly used for transitions, and one tour de force. At the end of the opening scene (the KGB arrest), Strelsky says to Malchenko, “If that is true, then God help us.” “God?”, says Malchenko. Siegel cuts to a long-lens exterior of their limousine driving away, seen through windowpanes, follows it up the snowy road, then tilts up to towers and onion domes in the distance, and as he pans over amongst them, a very large one obtrudes in the foreground. This he follows to the top, where there is a crucifix.
Escape From Alcatraz
A steady progress toward Un Condamné à mort s’est échappé, and finally “a tip of the hat.”