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    Siegel's Edge

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    “Schooled in the tough, no-nonsense Warner Bros. tradition of Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks,” Peter Bogdanovich wrote in his 1997 interview compilation Who the Devil Made It, Don “Siegel over the years brought his own personality and imagination to bear on a number of genre films that are as precisely executed as they are unconventional in their implications. The steady escalation of his budgets in his last two active decades in no way spoiled the unpretentious, exciting quality of his work. His vision was often bleak but depicted without cant, and distinguished by a remarkable sense of visual storytelling. Siegel claimed to be that ‘antisocial outcast’ himself – yet he was far more sophisticated and artistic-minded than the material he generally dealt with, giving all of it the extra tension of opposites.” Around the midpoint of his 43-year Hollywood career as a montage editor/director/producer, Siegel told Bogdanovich in 1968 after completing filming on Coogan’s Bluff (the first of five collaborations with Clint Eastwood), he started work on a movie that “had a nothing story, but the most horrifying and horrendous sequence over the Grand Canyon in the trolley that I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I was more nervous on that picture than on anything I’ve ever done. Remember that the story is not good and it’s made cheaply and I question the cast, but at the end the sequence in the bucket – it was once called The Dance of the Bucket – the sequence of the Grand Canyon, I guarantee your hands will be absolutely wet. Every shot was death, literally death, and we didn’t kill anybody!” The filmmaker of The Big Steal, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Lineup, Dirty Harry, The Shootist and the Twilight Time Elvis Presley vehicle Flaming Star (1960) was referring to Edge of Eternity (1959), a nifty, compact location-lensed thriller, about murders, cover-ups and a nerve-frying high-wire climax, that ought to be better known. Shot in striking Eastman Color and Cinemascope by two-time Academy Award® winner Burnett Guffey (From Here to Eternity, Bonnie and Clyde), Edge of Eternity stars Cornel Wilde as a loner deputy sheriff in a dying desert burg who stumbles – step by step, suspect by suspect – across a plot to steal silver from a local mine operated to extract its valuable cache of a major fertilizer component: bat guano. Beautiful Australia-born Victoria Shaw (co-star of the TT title The Eddy Duchin Story) plays the independent-minded daughter of the mine’s owner, veteran Edgar Buchanan plays the wily sheriff who has Wilde’s back and two character actor greats who inject welcome humor, Mickey Shaughnessy as a comic bartender with plans to beat it out of town when he strikes it rich and Jack Elam as the oblivious, nose-to-the-ground mine foreman. Several aspects of the production made matters edgy, as the filmmaker recalled in Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Don Siegel: Director: “Cornel Wilde, whom I have a great deal of respect for and who is a pretty good director himself, had a detached retina throughout the picture…a very serious and painful thing. And Victoria Shaw, who is terrified of heights, was very unhappy…She literally had to be carried up steps to locations with her eyes closed. Fortunately, she was supposed to look frightened and she did because she was.” About the hovering bucket car finale: “Guy Way, who doubled for Mickey Shaughnessy,…actually dangled from that bucket, 1,500 feet in the air. To shoot that, Guffey and I had to take a helicopter to a small plateau where there not only had never been any two-legged animals like us, but there had never been any four-legged ones either. The helicopter went away and we wondered what would happen to us if he crashed and didn’t come back. Between filming that scene and getting the equipment together, we planned an escape route. When the helicopter did come back I asked the pilot to follow the route we had planned and discovered that it led to a sudden drop of over 1,000 feet.” Fortunately, nothing dropped that wasn’t supposed to. Packing majestic, open scenery, solid action and diverting byplay into a brisk 80 minutes, Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray features an Audio Commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Nick Redman, plus Daniele Amfitheatrof’s noteworthy score on an Isolated Music Track. Straddle the Edge of Eternity in ravishing 1080p February 14. Preorders open February 1.