1000 Movies to Own #1: The Lineup

The Lineup debuted in 1958 and stars Eli Wallach (Dancer) alongside Robert Keith (Julian) as a hitman duo sent to San Francisco to retrieve packages of heroin stuffed inside ornamental dolls – brought into the country by unsuspecting tourists returning from vacation in China. Dancer and Julian dispatch their unknowing drug mules, but things go awry when a little girl finds one of the packages in her doll and accidentally destroys it before they can find her. The missing dope throws everyone’s plans off, putting their shipment short and putting them on the outs with their unsympathetic mafia bosses.

The movie is directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame – as well as 1964s the Killers and a number of other notable Clint Eastwood vehicles. The screenplay was written by Sterling Silliphant, who got his most notable screen credit for his treatment of In the Heat of the Night along with a wide variety of other film and television writing work.

Apparently the Lineup was intended as a spin-off from a 1950s police procedural TV show of the same name, but Siegel’s interest in focusing on the hitmen as the principal characters and the casting of Eli Wallach really make what could be seen as a routine cat & mouse thriller something much more engaging. The film marked Wallach’s second cinematic role of his long career, after working principally in television.

It’s not notable for any awards it won or great place it holds in cinematic history, but at just an hour and twenty six minutes, it’s a tight little crime movie that neither wastes time nor momentum as tension mounts on all sides of its central characters.

Blast of Silence (1961)
The Killers (1964)
Murder by Contract (1958)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Nightfall (1956)