Edge of Eternity (1959)
With Don Siegel directing there’s one thing we can be assured of and that’s an opening scene that grabs you by the throat in this murder/mystery action thriller.
That opening scene takes place alongside a cliff of the Grand Canyon where one man attempts to run another down by releasing the hand break of a parked car that goes hurtling over the edge. While the car falls to it’s death the intended victim doesn’t. It’s the attacker who will be hurtled to the canyon floor after the two men tussle. As strong an opening as this is against a beautifully captured Grand Canyon in Cinemascope, the film opts for a local Deputy played by Cornel Wilde chasing down an attractive woman speeding by in a convertible played by Victoria Shaw as a follow up. This after Tom Fadden pleads with him to come back to a municipal office where the survivor of the opening scene’s attack is awaiting help from local police.
Following Wilde’s “hot pursuit” of a beautiful woman who appears as if she’s the one doing the catching, he goes with Fadden to the municipal office and finds the stranger in town has been brutally murdered. And so begins the mystery of just who is this well dressed “John Doe” minus any identification and what was his reason for being in town.
With no leads Wilde goes about questioning a few folks in what’s left of the town he patrols that was once a big mining operation. With the mines closed since the war it has evolved into a near ghost town. Among those who’ll we’ll meet are shop keeper Dabbs Greer, the bar keep Mickey Shaughnessy and the police chief, Edgar Buchanan who prefers to stay in the background and let his one time big city detective handle the case. We’ll learn that years previously Wilde was a big city detective now looking to live a quiet life since the death of his beloved wife.
The trail leads innocently enough to Jack Elam working a trolley car across the canyon to an old mine. And no Elam’s not a heavy this time out though that’s the first thought that probably just crossed your mind if you haven’t already seen this Seigel outing. Jack does have a missing employee to report which will in turn lead to the man’s wristwatch being found. This prompts a search of the area by plane leading Wilde to both the wreckage and the body of the man from the film’s opening sequence. Now he has two deaths to investigate and a third one on the way when the innocent Fadden is also murdered in a P.O.V. shot that clearly identifies the killer as someone within the small community as Fadden welcomes the friendly killer into his office.
As Wilde continues to dig into the background of the John Doe at the morgue he’ll also get to know Miss Shaw better as the film’s 80 minutes goes whistling by. It’s quite clear that she has her bonnet set on landing the likable leading man as a future husband and Wilde seems to be receptive to her charms. It’s also convenient as far as the plot is concerned that her father owns the closed mine. A gold mine that is still rich with ore. It’s a matter of business and waiting out the price per ounce to increase before re-opening. When it’s revealed that the John Doe was a high ranking member of the Miner’s Corporation, Wilde is getting closer to the truth.
Not wanting to reveal just who the killer is I will say that the location shoot above the canyon makes for a dynamite conclusion as Wilde and our villain will go toe to toe in the cable car high above the canyon floor. Sure Wilde and the killer are filmed with a back screen projection for the close ups but bravo to the stunt men who did the location battle with a police helicopter in the shot as well as Miss Shaw’s double who has been taken as a hostage to keep the thrill level at a maximum.
More than anything we should all deliver a big round of applause to the “dummy” who makes the fall to the canyon floor once the battle above is lost.
The beauty of the Grand Canyon is evident in the stunning blu ray transfer from Twilight Time. It got me thinking that in the days before our computer world where things are seconds away, there’s a good chance that this might have been the first opportunity many audiences worldwide had a chance to see the Canyon photographed so strikingly. It’s that impressive!
By this point in his career, Wilde, was also directing films with three under his belt though this time he was strictly for hire. Watching it I’m once again reminded of how solid of a leading man he could be in action oriented films. I don’t hear his name bandied about much anymore but if you’re not familair with his work I would encourage one and all to look into his many fine film roles and directing efforts.
Eternity is another solid example of Siegel’s work. His films are much “harder” than many of his contemporaries. Eternity came on the heels of a pair of 1958 gangster oriented films, The Lineup and The Gunrunners. He’d do well following that trend in the decade ahead with The Killers, Madigan and Coogan’s Bluff. From there Dirty Harry was just around the corner.
Edge of Eternity is easy to recommend for a variety of reasons. Siegel, Wilde, a wonderful set of character players and of course the Grand Canyon itself.