The older I get, the more I like watching films from the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, especially the mid-1950s. I like revisiting my favorites from that period and continually discovering new films from that time, be they westerns, dramas, crime movies, historical epics, musicals, sci-fi, horror, etc. It was a unique period for filmmaking, as Hollywood was undergoing a transition from the studio era, its ironclad contracts and ownership of theaters to one of independent production, independent theater chains, a loosening of the Production Code, more location shooting and greater acceptance by the public of foreign films. The old guard was still turning out exemplary work, as seen in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and King Vidor, all of whom had gotten their start during the silent era, while younger directors with bolder visions and new stylistic approaches had emerged during and after the war, including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger. In addition, a host of new talent was emerging from television, Broadway and documentaries and quickly finding their way to Hollywood, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Altman. These overlapping waves of directors offered an unprecedented talent pool the likes of which Hollywood has never seen since. It’s no coincidence that a group of French film critics developed the auteur theory around this time.
Don Siegel would have turned 100 today, October 26, 2012. He’s a film director who has 49 directing credits on IMDB, 36 of them feature-length films, and is probably best known for INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and DIRTY HARRY (1971), his two most talked-about films and, arguably, his two best. He happens to be one of the very first directors I began following as a budding film buff in high school, when I saw COOGAN’S BLUFF as a sophomore and, a year-and-a-half later in my senior year, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. Then I saw THE BEGUILED and DIRTY HARRY in my freshman year of college and recognized how well Siegel and the star of all four of these films, Clint Eastwood, worked together. This was even before my grounding in the auteur theory, which happened a little later and led me to seek out Siegel’s earlier films on TV and in revival theaters. These included THE BIG STEAL, THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, THE LINEUP, FLAMING STAR, HELL IS FOR HEROES, THE KILLERS, and MADIGAN, which I had missed in theaters in 1968. At some point during all of this, I learned that Siegel had directed INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, which I’d seen at a film screening (on 16mm) at a youth program in church when I was about 12 or 13 and had liked very much.