Don Siegel began his career cutting slick montages during the late 1930s and early 1940s – Blues in the Night (1941) is especially trippy – before getting periodic shots at directing after 1945. The Big Steal (1949) with Robert Mitchum is especially fun, but it wasn’t until 1954’s Riot in Cell Block 11 that Siegel would finally enjoy regular assignments, moving through sci-fi (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), war (Annapolis Story), crime (Baby Face Nelson), and youth dramas (Crime in the Streets).
Along the way came an Elvis western – Flaming Star (1960) – and several TV shows, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that Siegel became known as a master of crime films with flawed characters on both sides of the law. Madigan (1965) was especially glossy, whereas Dirty Harry (1971) was gritty and unrelenting in depicting a detective whose stance in a moral grey zone drifted into areas harbored by the serial sicko he was hunting.
Twilight Time’s release of Edge of Eternity (1959) is ostensibly a whodunnit, and like the similarly desert-set Violent Saturday (1955), it deals with a criminal plan that goes awry, and a local cop with a bruised past who must rise above his perceived shortcomings and essentially save the town from crooks.
What makes Edge a little more intriguing is the setting of a dying mining town – a stark contrast to the boulder-blasting kinetics of Saturday‘s boom town and dense population. That city’s town core is packed with cars, busy shoppers and kids, whereas Edge‘s Main Street is more modest, and surrounded by withering homes and industrial ruins of its glory days.
The cops in both films have been emasculated by past events, and the respective criminal events prove to be fortuitous in allowing each lawman to face fears and move forward – a lesson told with more melodramatic scenes in Saturday, whereas Siegel’s point is implied purely and cleanly through a tense fight on a dangling mining gondola that still holds its own 48 years later.
Don Siegel made great pictures before Dirty Harry, star Cornel Wilde (Leave Her to Heaven) was an able, affable actor before he transgressed towards the director’s chair (The Naked Prey, Beach Red), and Burnett Guffey was an extraordinary cinematographer, and master of widescreen composition.
Coming next: The Learning Tree (1969), a later film shot by Guffey, and Gordon Parks’ first feature film.
Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Category: EDITOR'S BLOG