Anniversary Post: Don Siegel

Don Siegel

These anniversary posts are hard. At least they are now. And today, I’m really reaching. You see, on this day, 20 April, in 1991, the director Don Siegel died. Not that I need an excuse to gush about him.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

For the psychotronic fan, Don Siegel is mostly known as the director of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Of course, we all hate that tacked on “happy” ending. But if you’re quick with a remote control, you can start it at 2:55 and kill it right before the dissolve when Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is on the highway shouting, “They’re here already! You’re next!” (That’s at 1:18:10, according to my copy.)

The 1978 remake is excellent, but the only way that it really improved the original is in demonstrating the original ending of Bennell losing his mind on a crowded road was the optimistic ending. Screenwriter WD Richter and director Philip Kaufman left no doubt: we are screwed!

Charley Varrick and Others

Don Siegel directed a lot of other great films. He’s probably most remembered for his films with Clint Eastwood: Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, and Escape from Alcatraz.

But my favorite Siegel film is Charley Varrick. That has as much to do with Howard A Rodman’s and Dean Riesner’s screenplay as anything else. But given that Siegel also produced the film (as he often did), he should get part of the credit. And as a director, he makes it all work and never gets in the way of the story.

I think of Siegel as I do George Roy Hill: a really successful director who worked widely with some of the biggest stars of the time but before the job had the kind of cachet that turned film directors into the modern equivalent of novelists. There’s nothing flashy about Siegel. There is no “Siegel style.” He just created some of the best films ever made.

Image cropped from Don Siegel via IMDb under Fair Use.

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