EDGE OF ETERNITY (director: Don Siegel; screenwriters: Knut Swenson/Richard Collins; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Cornel Wilde (Les Martin), Victoria Shaw (Janice Kendon), Edgar Buchanan (Sheriff Edwards), Mickey Shaughnessy (Scotty O’Brien), Jack Elam (Bill Ward), Tom Fadden (Eli), Rian Garrick (Bob Kendon), Alexander Lockwood (Jim Kendon), Wendell Holmes (Sam Houghton); Runtime: 80; Columbia/Thunderbird; 1959)
“It’s weak on plot, but strong on setting up the proper grim psychological mood for its story to unfold.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A bland modern day western mystery story set in a mountainous ghost town in Arizona and filmed in lush CinemaScope. Director Don Siegel tells his story with workmanlike efficiency, as he follows Deputy Sheriff Les Martin (Cornel Wilde) around on the job. Les is a former Denver hotshot homicide detective, who messed up a murder investigation when his wife died and he was fired. After drifting for awhile, the over-qualified cop with a law degree is hired by veteran Sheriff Edwards (Buchanan) to help him out during this election year.
In the opening scene, Martin is flagged down by old-timer Eli, who is living in a mine shack of the old Kendon gold mine. Eli stays on as a repairman, even though the mine is no longer in operation. Eli tells the sheriff he saw a well-dressed man running toward the mine office, but the sheriff decides to track down a speeder in a Thunderbird convertible instead. Janice Kendon (Shaw) is an attractive redhead, who flirts with the cop when ticketed after the cop chases her down.
Later it’s discovered the man Eli saw is hanged in the mining office. He’s called John Doe because he can’t be identified, it is only known that he’s probably an easterner and when he registered in a nearby motel he signed in with the fictitious name of R. E. Wallis.
Martin visits the site where a work crew is digging bat guano, used as a fertilizer, and shoveling it out of the Grand Canyon mountain by hoisting it on to a tram. The work foreman, Bill Ward (Elam), tells Martin the watchman Charlie Piper is missing. His body is later found on the canyon bottom, and his death is labelled as another homicide.
With two unsolved murders and this being an election year, the slimy county attorney, Sam Houghton, puts pressure on the sheriff to solve the case.
Meanwhile, Martin goes into the town saloon and chats with the friendly barkeeper Scotty O’Brien (Mickey Shaughnessy) to see if any strangers came by. While there he meets Janice’s drunken brother Bob (Garrick) and decides he’s in no condition to drive, so he takes him home. This gives Martin a chance to meet Janice again and her retired mine owner dad (Lockwood). Martin finds out that Bob is very unhappy living in such a dead spot and that by profession he’s a geologist. This also gives Martin a chance to make a formal date with Janice.
But things get even hotter for the sheriff’s department when Eli is found dead, and the county attorney makes politically biased charges about the incompetency of his political opponents in the sheriff’s department.
Martin gets his first break in the case when Janice identifies the suit worn by John Doe as made exclusively by a New York gentleman’s tailor. When they track down the tailor, they find out the owner’s a large stockholder in Kendon’s gold mine. It also turns out that someone is stealing small amounts of gold from the mine without blasting, and smuggling it out by small airplane to be sold in Mexico. Stealing gold in this way is called high-grading.
The film concludes when the lawman Martin traps the killer and his hostage, Janice, on a tram that dangles precipitously over a deep gorge in the Grand Canyon. A fight ensues on top of the tram, where the ruthless killer falls to his death.
This low-budget thriller is good on atmospheric shots of the barren landscape that mirrors the loneliness and despair of all the main characters. It’s weak on plot, but strong on setting up the proper grim psychological mood for its story to unfold. The killer’s greed and vicious streak can be related to how the landscape has him trapped somewhere he doesn’t want to be.
REVIEWED ON 3/1/2002 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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