Don Siegel | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling
| Visual Style | Rankings
Films: Star in the Night
| The Lineup
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Don Siegel is a Hollywood film and television director, active from the 1940's to the 1980's.
Don Siegel: Subjects
Communication and Information:
- Places to stay (desert motel: Star in the Night,
landlady's apartment house with three roomers: The Verdict,
Sheriff's office with sleeping room for Sheriff and deputy: The Duel at Silver Creek,
hotel after prison, doctor's place, lodge in country: Baby Face Nelson,
motel where hitmen stay, sailors' building, hotel: The Lineup,
upscale hotel lobby: The Gun Runners,
motel where victim stays: Edge of Eternity,
ladies seminary: The Beguiled,
widow rents out room to hero: The Shootist)
- Poolrooms (heroine works at poolroom at start: Baby Face Nelson,
fight: Coogan's Bluff)
- Drug stores as crime scenes (start: Private Hell 36,
Baby Face Nelson)
- Big-shot government officials with upscale offices (District Attorney: Count the Hours,
Customs official: The Lineup,
Coast Guard officer with OK office: The Gun Runners)
- Courtrooms, often sites of failed justice (The Verdict,
Count the Hours,
Edge of Eternity)
- Bathtubs (hero splashing after just out of prison: Baby Face Nelson,
hero and girlfriend: Coogan's Bluff)
- Phones (phones in prison, switchboard: Riot in Cell Block 11,
police call boxes on street, phone booth room at Seaman's Club: The Lineup,
line of phone booths where hero is attacked: Coogan's Bluff,
tape recorded phone call: The Black Windmill)
- Other communication technology (prison loudspeaker, microphone: Riot in Cell Block 11,
loudspeaker summons police to office, intercom: Private Hell 36,
telegraph: Paper Gunman,
police teletype: Edge of Eternity)
- Newspaper reporters (threatens D.A.: Count the Hours,
covering prison riot and looking for sensation: Riot in Cell Block 11,
cynical about false stories in press: Paper Gunman)
- Objects thrown through windows (bouquet with warning note: The Verdict,
rock with note saying to leave town: Count the Hours,
bomb thrown in German pillbox at end: Hell Is for Heroes)
- Calendars (on wall with Nativity painting: Star in the Night,
on Sheriff's office wall: The Duel at Silver Creek,
on police Lieutenant's wall: Private Hell 36,
shows dates for people arriving by ship: The Lineup)
- Maps (on police Lieutenant's wall: Private Hell 36,
Customs Office: The Lineup,
map of Cuba and Florida Keys shown in credits, map of Cuba harbor: The Gun Runners,
Sheriff's office: Edge of Eternity,
police wall-map with lights, scale model of city: Dirty Harry)
- Pregnant women (young couple who need help: Star in the Night,
accused man's wife: Count the Hours)
- Housewife-like hard-working women seen as good (Dusty: The Duel at Silver Creek,
Teresa Wright: Count the Hours,
Francey Farnham: Private Hell 36,
hero's hard-working wife: Paper Gunman,
gang leader's waitress mother: Crime in the Streets,
hero's mother: Flaming Star)
- Housewives hanging clothes to dry (hero's wife: Paper Gunman,
hero's wife: The Gun Runners)
- Glamorous "feminine" well-to-do women seen as bad (femme fatale Opal: The Duel at Silver Creek,
hero's girlfriend Paula: Count the Hours,
Eva: The Gun Runners)
- Greedy women (femme fatale Opal: The Duel at Silver Creek,
farm woman Gracie: Count the Hours,
Betty Field: Coogan's Bluff)
Men and problems:
- Aging men (Scotland Yard hero: The Verdict,
aging Sheriff, older men murdered: The Duel at Silver Creek,
cop heroes: The Lineup,
cop Richard Widmark: Madigan,
gunfighter hero: The Shootist)
- Villains who are ruthless about shooting people (The Duel at Silver Creek,
Count the Hours,
Baby Face Nelson,
The Gun Runners)
- Law official protagonists who believe it's fine to torture crooks (Sheriff and deputy: The Duel at Silver Creek,
Harry: Dirty Harry)
related (hero slugs Knowles to extract information: The Big Steal)
- Man who have macho gun confrontations with other men: (seen as bad done by bullying anti-hero: Paper Gunman,
seen as good done by Dirty Harry: Dirty Harry)
- Alienated people who are separated from humanity (bitter motel owner with problems: Star in the Night,
vicious prisoner Mike: Riot in Cell Block 11,
crooked cop: Private Hell 36,
hero who idolizes gunslingers: Paper Gunman,
pod people: Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
hitman: The Lineup)
- Men who refuse to share their tormenting problems with their wives (cop Howard Duff: Private Hell 36,
hero John Smith: Paper Gunman)
- Prisons (Newgate Prison: The Verdict,
country prison: Count the Hours,
prison drama: Riot in Cell Block 11,
criminal protagonist released from prison at start: Baby Face Nelson)
- Alcoholism (Peter Lorre: The Verdict,
driver: The Lineup,
ship's mate: The Gun Runners,
brother: Edge of Eternity) related
(drunkenness leads to imprisonment of Colonel: Riot in Cell Block 11)
- Career problems (hero struggle's to run desert motel: Star in the Night,
hero dismissed from Scotland Yard: The Verdict,
lawyer has trouble getting clients and facing people in small town: Count the Hours,
warden threatened with job loss at end: Riot in Cell Block 11,
hero can't keep jobs: Paper Gunman,
hero has financial problems running a boat-for-hire: The Gun Runners,
hero fired from Denver police job: Edge of Eternity)
- Silverware as expensive purchase (bought by rich people abroad: The Lineup,
gift from crook: Coogan's Bluff)
- Toys (bought by cowboys as presents: Star in the Night,
gives away hero at shootout: Private Hell 36)
- Metal bird figures (small figurines used to symbolize claim jumping gang: The Duel at Silver Creek,
statue near hero's body at end: The Shootist)
Don Siegel: Structure and Story Telling
- Films narrated by a supporting character (Sheriff: The Duel at Silver Creek,
police Captain Dean Jagger: Private Hell 36)
- Omniscient narrators (opening documentary segment: Riot in Cell Block 11,
TV series narrator does this episode too: Paper Gunman)
- Films that rework other Siegel films (main mystery of Count the Hours reworks opening mystery case of The Verdict)
- Metaphors for Cinema (calendar painting turns into film image: Star in the Night,
portrait drawings: The Verdict,
lineup room, aquarium: The Lineup)
Don Siegel: Visual Style
- High open areas (working on high sign: Star in the Night,
view from bell tower at start: The Verdict,
high walkways at prison: Riot in Cell Block 11,
roof where hero and gangsters walk at start: Baby Face Nelson,
sailor descending from ship on crane, Sutro's resort building, unfinished freeway: The Lineup,
upper deck of boat, tower shown behind Siegel's name in credits: The Gun Runners,
hayloft in barn: Hound-Dog Man,
Grand Canyon, tramcar: Edge of Eternity,
roof of shed where hero fights: Flaming Star,
jumping from roof to roof in New York City: Madigan,
hero jumps from pool table to pool table: Coogan's Bluff,
rooftop in credits, window washers in early shoot-out, Harry in cherry-picker: Dirty Harry)
- Infrastructure (small bridge and platform at silver claim: The Duel at Silver Creek,
small pedestrian bridge near lake: Count the Hours,
water tank at start: Crime in the Streets,
prison gate at start: Baby Face Nelson,
pier, opera house, Custom House, unfinished freeway: The Lineup,
docks: The Gun Runners,
bridge in city over tracks: Madigan,
walkways near the Cloisters museum: Coogan's Bluff,
rooftops and bridge-between-roofs Harry walks on during credits, water main erupts in early shoot-out: Dirty Harry)
- Glass doors (funeral chapel: The Verdict,
opera house entry: The Lineup,
Sheriff's office: Edge of Eternity,
hotel lobby: Madigan,
police offices: Dirty Harry)
- Staircases where dramatic events occur (Peter Lorre shoots on stairs: The Verdict,
outdoor sidewalk stairs with confrontation with Jack Elam: Count the Hours,
prison corridors: Riot in Cell Block 11,
opening gunfight on sidewalk full of steps: Paper Gunman,
staircase inside Rocca's at start: Baby Face Nelson,
hero arrested on steps outside Betty Field's: Coogan's Bluff,
circular staircase at seminary: The Beguiled,
stairs where body hauled off from swimming pool at start: Dirty Harry)
- Ramps (leading down from hero's silver platform at start: The Duel at Silver Creek,
used by killer's car to leave crime scene at start: Private Hell 36,
on dock: The Gun Runners)
- Tracks on the ground (white lines on parking lot in final tableau: Private Hell 36,
trolley tracks at start: The Lineup,
train tracks: Madigan,
streetcar tracks in town's main road: The Shootist)
- Very large walled areas (alley at start: Private Hell 36,
rumble locale at start: Crime in the Streets,
opera house lobby: The Lineup)
- Lights (sign with star: Star in the Night,
gas light and candle, lanterns in graveyard: The Verdict,
police lights shined on Jack Elam at end: Count the Hours,
lights in prison isolation corridor go off, flashlights, spotlights, blinking lights in command center: Riot in Cell Block 11,
lighted drug store shop-windows at night: Private Hell 36,
passing train indicated by lights flashing on people at station: Paper Gunman,
rumble locale at start lit up at night: Crime in the Streets,
hero unscrews light bulb: Baby Face Nelson,
light test in police lab, blinking light on police car at end: The Lineup,
red-and-blue sign, police wall-map with lights: Dirty Harry)
- Mirrors and killings (opening murder seen both directly and in mirror: Count the Hours,
servant's killing seen in mirror: The Lineup)
related (woman interrogated by man in mirror: The Verdict,
hero threatened by William Bendix in the mirror: The Big Steal)
- Fog and mist (fog in London street at start, mist in graveyard: The Verdict,
tear gas used to quell riot: Riot in Cell Block 11,
steam bath: The Lineup)
- Curving furniture (bar in saloon: Private Hell 36,
curving lines on wall behind bar, round tables and barrels and round stove in bar: Paper Gunman,
elaborate saloon furnishings: The Shootist)
- Checkerboard patterns (Steve Cochran's tie: Private Hell 36,
gunslinger plays checkers at start: Paper Gunman)
- Overhead camera angles (just before rumble starts: Crime in the Streets,
from highway at end: The Lineup,
bridge, alley: Madigan,
dance floor: Coogan's Bluff,
crowds on street below Harry in cherry-picker: Dirty Harry)
- Elevated camera angles that show map-like views of areas (hero and father's claim at start, bad guys move to sabotage hero at start: The Duel at Silver Creek,
rural scene with dead robber and police arriving on road above, 2nd last shot at trailer park: Private Hell 36,
train station at start: Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
roads and landscape: Edge of Eternity,
view of town when hero says farewell at end: Flaming Star,
aerial view of small Western town and train: Stranger on the Run,
swimming pool on roof at start: Dirty Harry,
view of town: The Shootist)
- Complex camera movements (Greenstreet moves through street to Scotland Yard at start: The Verdict,
at Sutro's along mezzanine: The Lineup,
romance between Inger Stevens and Warren Stevens: Madigan,
Harry walks around roof at start: Dirty Harry)
- Vertical pans (down skyscraper and elevator door at start: Private Hell 36,
down Fonda's apartment house, up outdoor stairs at finale: Madigan,
up skyscraper at start: Dirty Harry)
- Red (red scarf used to murder, Johnny's shirt, villainess' ribbons at start: The Duel at Silver Creek,
Fabian's sweater: Hound-Dog Man,
decorations behind bar, Sheriff office interior, heroine's dress, rails in restaurant, Eli's home in red-brown, red brick Kendon house: Edge of Eternity,
Steve Forrest's reddish-brown shirt, Forrest's blanket with red sections near end: Flaming Star,
exterior of Richard Widmark's precinct house, nightclub wall: Madigan,
red pool room: Coogan's Bluff,
Harry's red sweater and red curb in early shoot-out: Dirty Harry,
hero's scarf: The Shootist)
- Yellow (villainess' pale-yellowish dress and hat at start: The Duel at Silver Creek,
tramcar, mystery man's car at start, heroine's convertible: Edge of Eternity,
victim's yellowish swimsuit at start: Dirty Harry)
- Police and official uniforms (1890 London: The Verdict,
Mexican official: The Big Steal,
country police: Count the Hours,
prison guards: Riot in Cell Block 11,
LAPD: Private Hell 36,
New York City: Crime in the Streets,
prison guards, armored car: Baby Face Nelson,
San Francisco, mounted policeman: The Lineup,
Florida, Cuba soldier, Coast Guard: The Gun Runners,
Deputy hero in Arizona: Edge of Eternity,
New York City: Madigan,
hero as Sheriff in Arizona: Coogan's Bluff,
San Francisco police chief: Dirty Harry)
- Other uniforms (convicts: Riot in Cell Block 11,
uniformed elevator operator at start: Private Hell 36,
porter uniforms: The Lineup,
boat captain hero's khaki uniform: The Gun Runners)
- Tuxedos (singer in Cuba nightclub: The Gun Runners,
Warren Stevens: Madigan)
- Leather jackets (hero's shiny black leather Western jacket: The Duel at Silver Creek,
police in other county: Count the Hours,
truck driver at start, sailor waiting outside steam room, motorcycle cops towards end: The Lineup,
jackets of crooks in pool room, Don Stroud: Coogan's Bluff)
- Shiny clothes (policeman's wrap: The Verdict,
satin uniform jackets for gang members, silver jacket of rival leader: Crime in the Streets,
shiny shirt of musician in Cuba nightclub, evening gown, Eva's outfit: The Gun Runners,
mystery man in shiny gray suit: Edge of Eternity)
- Men with their shirts off (hero with wife: The Gun Runners,
hero as Native American: Flaming Star,
hero with Susan Clark: Coogan's Bluff)
Here are ratings for various films directed by Don Siegel. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
- Star in the Night **1/2
- The Verdict **1/2
- The Big Steal *
- The Duel at Silver Creek *1/2
- Count the Hours **
- Riot in Cell Block 11 ***1/2
- Private Hell 36 **1/2
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers ***
- Crime in the Streets *
- Baby Face Nelson (first half) **1/2
- Baby Face Nelson (second half) *1/2
- The Lineup (first half) ***
- The Lineup (second half) *1/2
- The Gun Runners **
- Edge of Eternity **1/2
- Flaming Star **1/2
- Madigan ***
- Coogan's Bluff **
- Two Mules for Sister Sara *
- The Beguiled 1/2
- Dirty Harry 1/2
- The Black Windmill **1/2
- The Shootist **
- Jinxed! **1/2
Star in the Night
Star in the Night (1945) is a short film, which retells the story of the Nativity in the U.S. Southwest.
It is touching and emotionally involving.
The film is set in a desert motel and lunch room. It shows Siegel's fondness for hotels and places that
house transients, often poor and socially alienated.
Star in the Night contrasts people who are bitter, and who have lost "normal" social feelings,
with an ideal ability to relate to others. Such a contrast will later appear in the alienated crooked
cops getting separated from humanity in Private Hell 36, the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
and the alienated hit man in The Lineup.
The large high lit-up sign that gives Star in the Night its title,
anticipates the red-and-blue sign in an early scene in Dirty Harry.
For more Siegel storytelling involving light emanating from machines,
see the light test in the police crime lab in The Lineup.
The Lineup (1958) is a late example of the semi-documentary
crime thriller. The police sections especially follow the cops around in almost documentary fashion.
In addition The Lineup features three standard components of semi-documentary films:
Unlike some semi-documentaries, no one from the police goes undercover.
Nor are the police especially militarized here.
- A government team. In The Lineup, the San Francisco police.
- The team uses high technology. In The Lineup, a visit to the police crime lab.
- A finale in a spectacular industrial or technological area. In The Lineup, an unfinished freeway.
The police good guys in The Lineup, go after a gang of dope smugglers.
Influences on The Lineup:
The contrast between the puzzled but ordinary local gangster (Richard Jaeckel)
and the way-out imported hitman (Eli Wallich) will recur in Irving
Lerner's Murder by Contract (1960).
- There are elements of
Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947) here,
including a murder in a steam room, and a really vicious gang of crooks.
The gay milieu of T-Men also recurs in The Lineup, with
characters with a vaguely gay background: the opera impresario, the sailors.
- There are echoes of Henry Hathaway's
Kiss of Death (1947): the man in the wheel chair.
- And Orson Welles'
The Lady From Shanghai (1948): the aquarium.
Forward camera movement in corridors
Siegel likes to move his camera forward along interior corridors.
This occurs both in the opera house, and in the Seaman's Club.
Wheeling Pans: revealing Architecture
He also includes pans in the interior of buildings, as well as
exterior locations. His pans sometimes reveal whole aspects of
facades, which wheel into view as he pans. These pans and tracks
have a majestic quality, as large, imposing panoramas of building
architecture are displayed.
The Lineup is most notable for its San Francisco location
Horizontal zones - in pans. Siegel often organizes his
images into a series of narrow horizontal zones. These zones extend
from one side of the screen to the other. They form of series
of thin parallel stripes. Siegel often makes these parts of panning
shots. The zones keep extending through the whole length of the
pan, so that at any given moment, the zone exists beyond the left
and right hand boundary of the screen. The zones tend to be much
thinner and more narrow, than those of other directors. And more
numerous: zone after zone will be layered into a shot. It makes
for a complex image, with many different kinds of activity going
on in each zone. The zone can include people or spectators, as
in the early shots of the port. It can also include different
kinds of architecture or roadways.
Verticals. After the horizontal zones are set up, Siegel
likes to introduce strong verticals into the composition as well.
These can be towers of buildings, masts of ships, columns or pillars
in front of buildings: Siegel loves such column structures on
official locations. They can also be tall, repeating windows,
telephone poles, or trees. These verticals often make their appearance
after the horizontal stripes are introduced.
Curving lines on the ground. Siegel also likes curving
lines extending along the ground, from the foreground to background
of the shot. These are road sections, train tracks, car lanes,
and other ground lines. These tend to be curved, not the straight
perspective lines favored by some directors.
The big finale of The Lineup consists of a car chase along
a highway. This takes the position of the "industrial location"
finale of the semi-doc paradigm. It is not quite industrial. But
it does involve a large, engineered object, in this case the highway.
There are construction aspects here: part of the highway is unfinished.
And it does take us to a high height: another popular characteristic
of semi-doc finales.
The finale combines two visual motifs from earlier in the film:
This combines the bands-stripes structure with the curving line
structure of Siegel's images.
- It is constructed of narrow stripes: in this case, the various
lanes of the highway. But only sometimes do these lane-stripes
form horizontal bands in the frame.
- At other times, the lanes stretch out as curves from the front
to back of the image.
The finale also embodies two other elements of the film's style.
It has background panoramas of San Francisco. And it shoots from
high elevations, looking down towards the ground.
The car chase finale was probably pretty hot stuff in 1958, and
even still in 1968, when Andrew Sarris praised it in The American
Cinema. But since then, it has been endlessly imitated. It
seems to be the source and archetype for every freeway car chase
made since that time. The half-built freeway, ending in mid-air,
even shows up again in Speed (1994).
Links to Dirty Harry
The Lineup has basically the same plot as Siegel's later Dirty Harry:
"Psychopathic mass-killer in San Francisco kidnaps and threatens to kill little girl,
while San Francisco police try to catch him."
I confess I find both The Lineup and Dirty Harry hard to take,
with their sick violence. I especially dislike Dirty Harry,
and am floored by its seemingly eternal popularity.
I can't stand Clint Eastwood either.
The police in The Lineup, however bland and boring,
are at least trying to accomplish something.
But the film keeps veering back to Eli Wallach's killer.
I just don't like this character or want to see him.
Siegel's Police Films: the prototypes for 1970's TV cop shows
Madigan (1968) is another of Siegel's long line of films
about the police. These mix crime action, police procedure, and
looks at the personal lives of cops. Siegel's films emerged after
the main run of semi-documentary films
had come to an end in the early 1950's. Siegel's police movies
partly build on this tradition. But they are also lower key and
less glamorized in their treatment of the police. Siegel's policemen
tend to be more like ordinary human beings, and less like heroic
members of elite crime fighting units, as in the semi-docs.
Siegel's films in turn seem to be a principal model for the American
TV crime shows of the 1970's. Siegel's films are closer to such
TV police dramas, than are any other Hollywood feature films.
Their tone of macho but gritty cops coping with mean streets and
tough conditions in the precinct police house seems directly ancestral
to TV drama. Even the "look" of Madigan, with
its deglamorized squad rooms and tough looking suits for the men,
seems like a blueprint for later TV. The fact that Madigan
came out of Universal Studios, the home of so much American TV,
might also have something to do with this continuity of style.
There are few ordinary male characters in Madigan. Everyone
is either a cop, crook, street informer, or some with at least
some connection to the criminal underworld. The women are entirely
wives or girlfriends of cops or crooks. This too will be imitated
in TV police shows. They purport to show us "the street",
a place where all the men are tough, and where everyone is either
a cop or a crook. Whether such a place actually exists, or whether
it is simply a fantasy of the filmmakers of the era, is an open
The film intersperses the police melodrama, with man-woman interactions,
showing the cops relate to the key women in their lives. This
plot structure also recalls such earlier Siegel films as Private
Hell 36 (1954). The temptation for cops to go on the take
in Madigan also recalls the earlier film.
Siegel's cop films tend to end tragically. The male cops' professional
life overflows in bad ways, swamping the beneficial personal relationships
they have established with women.
Boxes: rectangular Regions in the composition
Much of Madigan takes place against architectural backgrounds
- both the interior and exterior shots. These backgrounds tend
to be made up of rectilinear areas: they have the form of a series
of boxes put together. The backgrounds tend to be highly complex,
with a large amount of variation present within each shot's background.
The backgrounds look like a piece of modernist sculpture. They
remind one of the Constructivist works created in early 20th Century
Russia, and of the sculpture of De Stijl in Holland, both also
made up of rectilinear solids. The boxes create both the strong
verticals and strong horizontals that Siegel loves in his shots.
The film's interiors are also chosen to provide elaborate rectilinear
effects. The hotel corridors at the end have enormously complex
valences and grids along their upper walls. They seem like a piece
of complex sculpture. Siegel underscores them, by having his police
jump up and unscrew the ceiling light bulbs, thus calling attention
to the upper walls.
And the bar has an unusual inner wall blocking off the booths
- another one of Siegel's corridors. The booth with the suspect
also has a huge rectangular pillar. Both the pillar and wall add
to the rectilinear effect. One suspects that Siegel chose this
bar, precisely to get the wall and pillar.
The architecture emphasizes three dimensional effects. Siegel
likes to make parts of the image deeper than other parts. This
mixture of shallow and deep areas is pleasing in itself. It also
gives a sense of 3D: the variety of depth underscores the three
dimensional nature of the architecture. Siegel likes corridors
in the midst of the background, stretching away from the viewer.
These corridors include alleys outdoors, and passages within the
walls inside. Such corridors add a sense of 3D to the image. They
allow the viewer's eye to imagine paths taken from the front to
back of the corridor.
The up-the-staircase shot at the film's beginning recalls film
noir, only with an extra long and narrow stairway opening for
the widescreen era. The staircase well can be seen as a variant
on the "corridor" effect used elsewhere in the film.
Siegel likes to shoot down his corridors from both ends - views
that are 180 degrees from each other. This can lead to striking
explorations of the corridors. And occasionally a bit of confusion
about which direction we are looking in the corridor.
Three corridors are especially beautiful:
The Bridge. Near the opening, we see the pedestrian bridge
over the tracks from two directions, one pointing straight down
the street towards the bridge entrance, and a shot 180 degrees
in the opposite direction, from within the bridge itself.
The train scene at the beginning involves 3D effects. The train
and streets are on two levels, with an outdoor staircase going
down. And the train and street are perpendicular as well. This
makes for a complex geometry extending along all three axes. The
region is visually fascinating. The bridge forms another of the
The Alleys. At the end of the film, Siegel creates a major
corridor area, of the outdoor alleys outside of the hotel, where
the police stake out the villain.
Siegel shoots in both directions in the alley. It is often confusing
to know which direction Siegel is pointing his camera, here. The
confusion is mild - the viewer knows that Siegel is aiming either
one way or the other, and the variety adds surprise, variety,
and a pleasant intellectual puzzle for the viewer at each new
shot. It definitely does not follow the "180 degree rule",
which states that filmmakers should always photograph a set from
one side of an imaginary line. Instead, Siegel is all over this
alley, from all directions.
The outdoor alleys are enormously complex. They curve away from
a central point, before straightening out, and forming long straight
alleys at an obtuse angle to each other. Siegel uses the two alleyways'
angle to form a series of striking panning shots and compositions.
The alleys include train tracks on the ground, making a series
of lines on the ground, which Siegel photographs from a
slightly elevated angle. These recall ground tracks in The
The alley is sometimes shot with a series of horizontal zones
that recall The Lineup, as well. We see a band of buildings
in the upper part of the shot, a band of street in the lower part
of the shot. (Siegel creates a similar horizontal-zoned effect,
in the earlier scene outside the bar, where the cops think the
bad guy might be hiding. We see buildings in a horizontal zone
above, the wide empty street in a horizontal zone below.) As in
The Lineup, Siegel likes to combine such zone effects with
Interspersed with the alleys, are photographs of the upper sections
of buildings overlooking the alleys. These show some of the most
beautiful and complex architecture in the movie. They are a climax
of Siegel's interest in three dimensional, rectilinear constructs.
The Hotel Corridor. Near the film's end, Siegel also shows
the interior corridor of the hotel's top floor itself.
In the hotel corridor, Siegel first has one shot from one end
of the corridor, then a second shot taken from the other end of
the corridor, in a complete reversal of orientation. It adds a
striking progression to the two shots.
Madigan is carefully designed in color. Each section of
the film has some dominant colors, which occur in broad swathes
of the background and the clothes. The colors range from the bright
to the subtle. Each section has its own color harmony. The colors
help outline different regions of the background architecture,
and bring out its structural features:
- The Captain's Party sequence is full of blue, accented with
- The alleyway at the end is full of off-greens.
- The exterior of Widmark's precinct house is full of shades
- When the two Stevens head towards the car, Inger is in white,
while Warren wears a black-and-white tuxedo outfit.
One of the shots at the end shows various street signs, through
one of Siegel's alleys. The signs are in shades of white. Siegel's
view cuts off much of their lettering, converting them into an
abstract pattern of white rectangles. It is a striking, Mondrian-like
Camera Movement: Pans and Long Takes
Madigan is full of panning shots. It also mixes these in
with more complex kinds of camera movement. A shot can consist
of a fusion of an elaborate camera movement, and a pan. Siegel
is flexible and inventive.
Siegel prefers to work within a longer, moving camera take, when
possible. The big romantic encounter outdoors, between Inger Stevens
and Warren Stevens, consists of just two long takes. One has the
characters walking from the hotel to the car; the other shows
the action within the car itself. Both involve complex camera
movement. The first shot starts out as a track, moving forward
with the characters. Then it turns into a pan. The second shot
keeps adjusting itself, as the characters find new positions within
the car. The steering wheel and the seat of the car also provide
the sculpture-like, 3D geometric forms favored by Siegel in his
Other car scenes in the film also have their characters adjusting
their positions: Don Stroud lies down in the back seat to avoid
being seen. Siegel is inventive with body postures throughout
the film, also showing people in bed and in chairs.
There are some vertical pans in Madigan, usually
linked to architectural backgrounds:
- The camera pans down the outside of Fonda's apartment house,
eventually picking him up on the balcony. He is finishing getting
dressed - one of many scenes of characters dressing in the film,
climaxing in Widmark's failed attempt to put on body armor at
the end. The apartment house has several floors: these provide
the horizontal zones beloved of Siegel.
- At the finale, there is a vertical pan up an outdoor staircase,
following a policeman as he ascends. This staircase is within
a recessed area between two buildings: one of many alleys and
corridors throughout the film.
Both shots are more than vertical pans. The apartment house shot
has some horizontal sweep over New York City before its downward
pan. And the staircase shot looks as if it begins with an actual
upward movement of the camera, although this is hard to tell for
Costumes: Suits and Hats
The police are always in coats and ties. They might take off their
jackets, revealing white dress shirts, but they rarely loosen
their ties. It gives a very formal effect. They are intermixed
with uniformed officers, who also tend to be formally dressed
and immaculately groomed. We see a large variety of New York police
uniforms in the film, always of the dressiest kinds.
The men in suits always wear hats, and the uniformed officers
always wear huge police caps with gleaming black visors. By 1968,
most American men had stopped wearing hats entirely - President
John F. Kennedy had made hats for men obsolete during his term
of office (1960-1963). Such hats would become a symbol of traditional
policemen - men in other professions stopped wearing hats. By
the 1970's, Karl Malden on the police TV show The Streets of
San Francisco would always wear a hat, as part of his characterization
of an old-fashioned, traditional cop. This led to a million jokes
by TV host Johnny Carson, about Karl Malden's hat. There is one
striking shot towards the end of Harry Guardino without his hat;
he is surrounded by other cops, all either in suits with hats
or uniforms with caps.
Please see my article on the private eye TV series
where the cops are always in suits and ties, or in dressy uniforms.
The informer played by Don Stroud shows his hippie like non-conformism
by wearing his hair just a bit long, and by wearing dark turtlenecks
with his gray suit rather than a white dress shirt and tie. This
is as informal as fashion gets here! Siegel is careful to keep
off-screen the real extremes of 60's fashion, which were in full
flower by 1968. It creates a whole stylized world, very different
from what men were really wearing in the era. In this, it recalls
a bit the similarly well-suited men in the crime thriller
Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967).
And such early police semi-documentaries as
He Walked by Night (Anthony Mann, 1948).