Siegel, Don: Director Collaborating with Eastwood

Born October 26, 1912; died April 20, 1991.

Don Siegel is best known for the sci-fi Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), five films with Clint Eastwood, including the police thriller Dirty Harry (1971) and the prison drama Escape from Alcatraz (1979), and John Wayne’s superb final film, the 1976 Western The Shootist.

Born to a Jewish family in Chicago, he attended schools in New York and graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, England.  For a short time he studied in Paris, before moving to Los Angeles.

Siegel worked in the Warner film library after meeting producer Hal Wallis, and later rose to head of the Montage Department, where he directed the opening montage for Casablanca.

In 1945 his two shorts, Star in the Night and Hitler Lives, won Oscar Awards,  launching his career as director.

He often transcended the limitations of budget and script to produce interesting works.

He made the original (and best) version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1956.

He worked with Eli Wallach in The Lineup, and with Elvis Presley and Dolores del Río in Flaming Star (1960).

He cast Steve McQueen in Hell Is for Heroes and Lee Marvin in The Killers (1964) before directing five films with Eastwood that were artistically and commercially successful. These included the policiers Coogan’s Bluff and Dirty Harry, the Albert Maltz-scripted Western Two Mules for Sister Sara, the cynical American Civil War melodrama The Beguiled and the prison-break picture Escape from Alcatraz.

He exerted influence on the career of Eastwood: Unforgiven is dedicated “for Don and Sergio.”

He collaborated with composer Lalo Schifrin, who scored five of his films: Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick and Telefon.

Schifrin composed and recorded what would have been his sixth score for Siegel on Jinxed! (1982), but it was rejected by the studio.

Siegel helped the career of director Sam Peckinpah, who in 1954 was hired as a dialogue coach for Riot in Cell Block 11.  The film was shot on location at Folsom Prison. Siegel’s location work and his use of actual prisoners as extras influenced Peckinpah. He worked as a dialogue coach on other Siegel films: Private Hell 36 (1954), An Annapolis Story, (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Crime in the Streets (1956).

Decades later he asked Peckinpah to direct 12 days of second unit work on Jinxed!. Peckinpah accepted, and while his work was uncredited, it led to the hiring of Peckinpah as the director of what would become his final film, The Osterman Weekend (1983).

Siegel has a cameo role as a bartender in Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me, and in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a pale remake of Siegel’s own 1956 film–he appears as a “pod” taxi driver.

In Charley Varrick starring Walter Matthau (in a film originally slated for Eastwood), he has a cameo as a ping-pong player.

He died at the age of 78 from cancer.

Filmography

  • Casablanca (1942 montage director, uncredited)
  • Star in the Night (1945 short)
  • Hitler Lives (1945 documentary short, uncredited)
  • The Verdict (1946)
  • Night Unto Night (1947)
  • The Big Steal (1949)
  • The Duel at Silver Creek (1952)
  • Count the Hours (1953)
  • China Venture (1953)
  • Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)
  • Private Hell 36 (1954)
  • The Blue and Gold (1955)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • Crime in the Streets (1956)
  • Baby Face Nelson (1957)
  • Spanish Affair (1957)
  • The Gun Runners (1958)
  • The Lineup (1958)
  • Hound-Dog Man (1959)
  • Edge of Eternity (1959)
  • Flaming Star (1960)
  • Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
  • The Killers (1964)
  • The Hanged Man (1964)
  • Stranger on the Run (1967)
  • Coogan’s Bluff (1968)
  • Madigan (1968)
  • Death of a Gunfighter (1969)
  • Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
  • The Beguiled (1971)
  • Dirty Harry (1971)
  • Charley Varrick (1973)
  • The Black Windmill (1974)
  • The Shootist (1976)
  • Telefon (1977)
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
  • Rough Cut (1980)
  • Jinxed!(1982)
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