Classic, if wildly underappreciated, this B-pic from Don Siegel, meant to cash in on a then popular tv police procedural of the same name, got lost in the shuffle. TV fans wouldn’t pay, everyone else figured it was just the tv show on a big screen. They all missed out on a dandy thriller. Siegel runs it as a San Francisco picaresque, with loads of cool locations as a couple of pathological hit men (explosive El Wallach; implosive mentor Robert Keith) track down a list of tourists & locals who have no idea they’ve been used to smuggle packets of pure-grade heroin into the country, hidden inside toys & antiques innocently carried back to the States. Dealing out one crafty suspense sequence after another, each set in a picturesque San Fran locale, Stirling Silliphant’s script moves right along, skipping a first act so we never see the initial arranged purchase. (Something a bigger budget might have played around with. Remake, anyone?) But what really sets this apart are the characterizations. Not the police, they’re standard, pulled in from the tv show. But those unknowing drug ‘mules,’ solid citizen, seaman or tourist. Plus Richard Jaeckel’s flask-sipping pro driver. Most of all, the superb teamwork from Wallach (self-improving his grammar out of a book when he's not toying with a gun), and from Keith, in a career peak perf, as his mentor (a steadying hand who turns terrifyingly psychotic, showing his pathological underbelly when things go wrong). Siegel, working brilliantly with vet cinematographer Hal Mohr, gets just about everything out of his cast & material. Already in his late 40s and ready for the big time, he’d bounce in & out of mid-budget features & tv before breaking onto the A-list a decade later with Clint Eastwood in COOGAN’S BLUFF/’68.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/CONTEST: There’s a serious goof involving the little girl who finds a hidden bag of heroin inside her antique Asian doll. Name it to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choice.