The structure is akin to Waiting for Godot, two couples brushing against each other in a modernist abyss. The first duo is erected on Dragnet Bressonisms, a pair of stone-faced police inspectors (Emile Meyer, Marshall Reed) tracking down contraband in tourist’s knickknacks, clipped flatfoot patois ("What’s your rundown?" "We have him under 24-hour stakeout." "Sounds like the usual MO"), tours of ballistic labs and customs offices. The film’s motor doesn’t get running until 20 minutes in, when two black-suited, sun-burned Miami gunmen fly into the Bay Area. The rubout artist (Eli Wallach) is "a wonderful, pure pathological study," his wizened mentor (Robert Keith) corrects his grammar and collects his victims’ dying words. Their wheelman (Richard Jaeckel) pretends not to be impressed while driving the visitors from one bloody rendezvous to another. "Crime’s aggressive, and so is the law." Everybody is a dedicated employee in a business, a wry joke appreciated by Don Siegel in a scrupulous study of the San Francisco topography. Familiar spots are suddenly peculiar -- the Seaman’s Club is viewed through thick sauna vapors (a choice shot: revolver with silencer wrapped in towel), the Steinhart Aquarium is a panoply of flat, undulating panels surrounding a sinister pick-up. The sci-fi of Siegel’s body snatchers is not far from this city, with its violence and pokerfaced perversities (a stash of heroin is hidden inside a Japanese doll, the gangster reaches under her dress for it). Sutro’s Museum sets the stage for the virtuoso climax, a reworking of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent built around multi-level setups, a skating rink, school children, and the collision between Wallach’s nervous hostility and an underworld Mock Turtle on a wheelchair (Vaughn Taylor). Wallach’s doomed rebellious impulse segues into a car chase and the precipice of unfinished freeways, furious sketches for Dirty Harry. With Mary LaRoche, William Leslie, Raymond Bailey, and Cheryl Callaway. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce