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My five favorite Siegel films follow.
5. Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) Siegel is a tremendously underrated director of actors, as evidenced by this western and the stunning performances he gets from Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine, who are both essentially in early self-parody mode. Another unique wrinkle: the story was originally conceived by Budd Boetticher, although the final product doesn't bear much resemblance to his style.
4. The Shootist (1976) Though famous for featuring John Wayne in his very last role—and rightfully so, as it's easily one of the best performances of his long career—this contemplative western is also notable for being one of Siegel's most somber and reverential films.
3. The Lineup (1958) Of course, the climactic car chase alone is worth the price of admission, but its appeal derives less from the inherent sensationalism of a thrilling action sequence than from Siegel's masterful use of spatial design and continuity editing.
2. Riot Block in Cell 11 (1954) A grim and starkly naturalistic prison drama that doubles as a Platonic survey of institutionalized living. Siegel was a formalist, but he deftly handles the weighty thematic material here—including interactions between the discontented prisoners, the sympathetic prison guards, and the tyrannical state officials—with the same precision as his most successful action set pieces.
1. Charley Varrick (1973) Siegel's greatest crime thriller, featuring an endearingly miscast Walter Matthau as a small-time crook who accidentally rips off a bank run by the mafia. The way Matthau, as the titular Varrick, is able to evade and deter the mafia's constant pursuit verges on slapstick comedy, culminating in the famous "biplane versus car" set piece that's as thrillingly constructed as it is ludicrous—the logical precursor to a similar scene in the recent Fast 6, which ups the ante to the nth degree.