A Siegel Film: Edge of Eternity (1959) and Private Hell 36 (1954)
The seventh in a series of appreciations of the work of director Don Siegel, courtesy of the current retrospective of his work at New York's Film Forum.
Edge of Eternity is in color. Victoria Shaw gets pulled over by Cornel Wilde's deputy. She sashays out of the covertible, tight-corseted and smiling. Chinese lanterns shimmer on her dress. They distract me. That red is really red. They trade some charming B-level innuendo but it doesn't matter - shit that shit is red. So it's like this: a poorly plotted, dramatically inert, competently performed whodunit becomes very entertaining because of Ms. Victoria Shaw's outfits. And sometimes her lipstick. The print was that good. Absolutely gorgeous.
Cornel Wilde is your basic disgraced cop seeking redemption in a small town - but that small town happens to lie next to.....the Grand Canyon! Helicopter shots! More helicopter shots! And a badass climactic fight on a tram running across said canyon. The camera held the shot of the body tumbling gracefully to its death far longer than usual. Is that Siegel peeking through with that shot? Who cares! He's no auteur - he's a craftsman, unable to mold the materials to his personality - so the quality of his collaborators dictates the quality of his work. Here he's got shit, so the movie's shit - except for the colors, Jack Elam, the Grand Canyon, and a falling body. Not negligible pleasures, but none having to do with Don Siegel's influence.
Private Hell 36 offered a bit more. Co-scripted by and starring Ida Lupino, Siegel has superior stuff to work with here, and the result is a satisfying noirish dirty cop tale. It begins with a spectacularly violent fight in a drug store when chest-haired Cal (Steve Cochran) notices a cardboard cut-out tip over in a display window. It's a nice little detail, a tiny, graceful motion that sets into motion the guy's self-destruction. He enters, unsavory characters appear, and a vicious throw-down commences. They toss each other through every piece of furniture in the store: table, bar, dresser - until Siegel cuts to the exterior, the cardboard cut-out tips over again, and is followed by the two beasts rolling out the window. It's a fabulous action scene.
But yes, our pal Cal has some sticky fingers, and lifts some cash from a crime scene in order to please the tastes of sardonic nightclub gal Ida Lupino, who is fabulous here, who's every phrase cracks with the weight of experience. She speak-sings a tune to Steve at her club, and it broke my tiny little heart. Cal's wuss partner Jack (Howard Duff) can't take the heat so gulps down scotch sweatily while snapping at his besweatered busty wife Francey (Dorothy Malone - who I knew I'd seen before, and just discovered was the horny sister Marylee in Written on the Wind). The pace lags after the money is snatched, as the movie ditches the characters to emphasize MORALITY, but whatever, I had my fun before then.