Drug Busters

Classic San Francisco plays host to The Lineup, a story of the international drug trade roping in unknowing tourists. It’s sightly, loaded with landmarks, off-setting the harsh reality of heroin profiteers.

One dealer is played by Eli Wallach. He’s stellar, part of (what was then) a new breed of violent criminal. For 1958, The Lineup doesn’t shy from violence. Wallach’s casual use of silencers and willingness to engage with police turns west coast streets to the era of Chicago mobsters. Wallach partners with Robert Keith, a more experienced crook, holding to baseline criminal morals and attempting to pass them to his younger cohort.

That doesn’t work. Greed overtakes Wallach. He starts enjoying each kill and finds excuses to shoot. The Lineup’s slow boil reaches a crescendo as Wallach stares down a little girl who used the heroin to powder her doll. There’s enough madness instilled in Wallach to believe he’ll snap. Unlike other crime films of the era, The Lineup doesn’t show lavish heroics. It’s brash, hardened, and cold. Wallach’s increasingly brash behavior introduces authentic stakes into this story. The bodies he leaves behind make it clear he will pull the trigger.

That it happens amid an everyday setting under California sun makes The Lineup seem especially morbid

Based on a TV series (then still airing alongside the movie), Marshall Reid makes the screen transition to this adaptation. He’s part of a two-man detective squad, filling The Lineup’s opening 20-minutes with typical procedural drama. At times, dialog deals more in expository explainers as to the crime than character. One scene speaks directly to politicians as to the lack of people watching San Francisco’s docks.

Luckily, the police disappear for a while. Wallach commands the middle act in an unusually complex villain role. The Lineup becomes a movie about how desperation and anger bubble up. It brings innocent people, distrust, and confusion into this story. That it happens amid an everyday setting under California sun makes The Lineup seem especially morbid.

This leads into a grandiose finale, making use of now classic cars swerving through streets as driver Richard Jaeckel tries ditching the cops. It’s loaded with tension, climaxing with a near silent stand-off on an expressway still under construction. Innocent victims end up trapped in the fray, Wallach snapping in a frenzy of greed and arrogant defiance. Although this drug ring stops, The Lineup’s litany of bit players suggest this wasn’t a trade soon to fall apart.


Despite sharing disc space with two other films in Mill Creek’s Noir Archive 3 Blu-ray set, The Lineup is given A-tier attention. With only a few compression rough spots, the transfer displays clear, precise grain structure. This absolutely looks like film. A speck here, a scratch there barely matter. The Lineup holds a stable and clean HD presentation.

Note the entire movie takes place under bright exteriors, emboldening contrast. Gray scale excels. As needed, black levels reach full depth, but it’s brightness that makes the boldest statement. Highlights push extremes yet with no loss of detail. If anything, west coast sunlight draws out more texture.

Given the visible definition, The Lineup’s scan looks recent. Resolution is striking. Close-ups resolve facial texture to extremes, even compared to today let alone for 1958. Clothing brings out fabric, and exteriors represent San Francisco’s skyline gorgeously.

The only fault comes from softened chemical dissolves, and that’s not a fault so much as ’50s era processes.


As with the rest of this set, DTS-HD mono suffices, rendering dialog clearly. It’s clear enough to make out dubbing done for a number of exterior shots. Precise and pure audio replication keeps a firm baseline, never wavering.

Scoring captures rich highs as needed. Even a few lows reverb cleanly.



Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Lineup
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A tale of drugs, greed, and obsession, The Lineup approaches the topic with an authenticity that was rare in the 1950s.

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