Stars – Cornel Wile, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Victoria Shaw, Mickey Shaughnessy,
Director – Don Siegel
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Don Siegel is a director of tough crime films. He’s got a wonderful way of getting the most out of unusual locations. Most of his films snap and crackle with energy. His characters do not suffer fools and take no guff from anybody. He also made Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Some of his peers like Sam Peckinpah get a great deal of deserved attention. Yet the man who made one of the most iconoclastic action films ever with Dirty Harry (1971) is simply not near as well recognized as he should be. Film fans like us will want to check out everything he has done. Much of his work is pretty easily available and well worth a look. But this one, Edge of Eternity despite some poor pan and scan showings on TV remains a film of his that gets almost no attention at all. I’ve got a paperback book from 1974, Don Siegel: Director by Stuart Kaminksy that celebrates the director. If there was any mention there at all it got very short shrift. Being a huge Siegel fan the opportunity to see this film in all of its true Cinemascope glory was a real treat.
The film starts off with a thrilling plane ride through the Grand Canyon. This is the real deal. It looks gorgeous and just a little bit foreboding. We see a man in a suit scanning the distance with binoculars. He is right at the edge of a cliff. Another guy sneaks up and takes the brake off his nearby car. He gives it a push and tries to run the first guy off the cliff. He misses and the car sails hundred of feet to the ground below. After a brutal fight the first guy sends the second over the edge to his death. A very short while later we see that man in a suit hung from the rafters in a cabin with his hands tied behind his back. We’re two murders in and the picture has hardly even started. What follows next is a long interlude with deputy Cornel Wilde taking his time to slowly work the case and pursue an attractive girl he gave a speeding ticket to. Wilde was a handsome leading man well known to Film Noirs fans for Leave Her To Heaven (1945) and The Big Combo (1955). The film is only 80 minutes long and the bulk of it is spent with Wilde as he questions people and drives through the beautiful winding roads in Arizona.
That long middle section has a wealth of warm and friendly character actors. Jack Elam runs the single car tramway that rides from one cliff to the hole in the wall bat cave across a huge gorge. The car travels hundreds of feet in the air suspended by a cable. This is one scary ride and you just know that it will feature in the climax of the film. Edgar Buchanan is Wilde’s boss. He’s familiar from tons of TV Sitcoms in the 60s like Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies. A nicer boss you couldn’t wish for. Mickey Shaughnessy is on hand as the amiable local bar tender. He is always buying drinks for everyone and letting local drunks sleep it off in the back room before driving home. Shaughnessy has a natural outgoing style that suits this role perfectly. This middle section behaves like one of those ninety minute detective shows that used to be on TV in the seventies. Siegel punctuates this interlude with a startling POV stabbing knife murder of an old man. The end of the film takes place as expected with a fight on the tramway car. It is a corker. We get a mix of excellent matte work with the stars looking fierce and front and center. The true stars are the stuntmen who dangle from this small cable car as they punch and kick at each other in plain view of The Grand Canyon all around and below them.
It is worth noting that although Siegel was usually found working in crime pictures he makes the whole early and middle section of this film work so well. After that first sequence the story settles into to a very relaxed portrait of a small southwestern town. Everybody knows everybody. People are friendly, for the most part. We see Cornel Wilde engage in an easy banter with the people he meets. He even states that he likes to mix business with pleasure when he takes Victoria Shaw out on a date. They stop off so he can question a few folks on the way to dinner. Siegel surprisingly handles this kind of thing very well. Maybe he is glad the film is not so well known otherwise he may have found himself working with Edgar Buchanan again on multiple episode of the TV show Petticoat Junction. Siegel did not direct a great deal of episodes for TV. His best work there was The Killers (1964) a feature with Lee Marvin which was released to theaters. Baby Face Nelson (1967), The Line up (1958), and Hell is for Heroes (1962) are much more what we think of as his style at that period. He did his share of star vehicles like Hound- Dog Man (1959) with Fabian and Flaming Star (1960) with Elvis Presley. One has to remember that he was a working director for hire; sometimes under contract and others times looking for work. Like most directors that came up like he did he was not always able to choose the kinds of projects he wanted to be remembered for. Work was work and his did his share of paying the bills. When we look back on his career we tend to cherry pick the ones we like. This is a great opportunity to catch a rare Don Siegel picture.
Video – 2.35:1
The colors are amazingly vibrant . Detail is strong save for a tiny bit of shimmering in the mountain side as the plane flies though the canyons. Siegel has said that he did not prefer to work in the Cinemascope format yet his work here with Burnett Guffy is very sturdy. The opening murder at the edge of the canyon, the subsequent killings and that last sequence have plenty of suspenseful shots. Guffy is most well know for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) but his earlier work on The Sniper (1952) is equally impressive.
Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Nick Redman.
The two historians carry on an amicable chat about the film and how this work fits in with Siegel’s career. They are both knowledgeable and obviously fans of the director.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good / Excellent