A spin-off from a TV series that was itself based on a popular radio show, The Lineup is a solid little noir that takes a little while to find its feet, allowing viewers to see a little bit of actual police work, but finally settles in and buckles up for a speedy journey along some dangerous roads on the way to a superb, and inevitable, confrontation.
It all begins with a crash, one that results in death and the discovery of some smuggled heroin. The police eventually accept that a number of people entering America are unwitting drug mules, with the heroin often inside some souvenir. Viewers are then introduced to the decidedly dangerous Dancer (Eli Wallach) and Julian (Robert Keith). Driven around town by Sandy (Richard Jaeckel), these two men are going to be responsible for collecting drugs and delivering them to their next destination. Things don't go to plan, as is so often the case in any crime movie, and Dancer and Julian end up trying to make use of an unsuspecting mother and daughter (played respectively by Mary LaRoche and Cheryl Callaway).
Directed by Don Siegel, who is probably best known for his work with Clint Eastwood, this is an enjoyably unflinching slice of crooked unpleasantness. Written by Stirling Silliphant, a writer with a hell of a lot of entertaining hits in his filmography, everything works when viewers are eventually shown that Dancer and Julian are the main characters. Their actions allow us to see the criminal operation that has been described in dialogue between different authority figures, and they don’t have any edges softened as they start to interact with innocent people who don’t deserve to be drawn into their plans. It may not be as good as any one of the movies Siegel made during the last full decade of his career, but The Lineup definitely benefits from his ability to make slick entertainment featuring some tense set-pieces that give most of the screentime to people you wouldn’t ever want to meet in a dark alley.
Wallach and Keith are excellent, generally cool and business-like, but also able to act relatively normally when they are trying to put someone at ease in their company. LaRoche and Callaway are also very good, completely oblivious for a while to the danger they are in without seeming annoyingly stupid. Everyone else does what is asked of them, and Emile Meyer and Marshall Reed as the main cops trying to crack the case, but the film is at its best whenever Wallach and Keith are front and centre, which is fortunately for most of the runtime.
Get through those meandering early scenes, tolerate the supporting characters that you won’t really care for, and the film turns into something much better (about 15 minutes in, although I wasn’t clock-watching). It’s not one of the greats, lacking any real twists and turns on the way to the tense final sequence, but it’s certainly one I would recommend.
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