Thrillingly shot in Cinemascope in and around the Grand Canyon, director Don Siegel’s actioner Edge of Eternity (1959) stars Cornel Wilde as a hard-jawed deputy with a past, suddenly dealing with a plague of murders. There’s mystery, there’s romance (Victoria Shaw is the tough, attractive woman with whom Wilde teams), and above all there are thrills, including a climax shot by legendary cinematographer Burnett Guffey to rival any cliffhanger ever put on screen. Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score – available on this Twilight Time release as an isolated track – provides heightened suspense.
There's something about a movie that knows how to keep things simple that I really appreciate. It's not that I don't like my films complicated filled with nuanced characters, but if the story at hand doesn't call for it, why bloat the film? Don Siegel, much like Howard Hawks, knew how to tell a compelling thriller without bogging the film down with unnecessary character minutia. From 'Riot in Cell Block 11' to 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' to 'The Escape From Alcatraz,' Siegel knew how to establish characters without having them establish and constantly reestablish their motivations. His 1959 thriller 'Edge of Eternity' starring the always great Cornel Wilde and the terrific Victoria Shaw is another example of how Siegel efficiently and effortlessly managed story and character to create a compelling thriller.
Life around the Grand Canyon is pretty simple and slow. Not many people live there year-round, and those who do keep things pretty quiet. That's exactly how Deputy Sheriff Les Martin (Cornel Wilde) likes it. The war effort essentially put the town in a dead standstill and it never really recovered. With the gold mine essentially closed, the only thriving industry is the collection of guano from the numerous bat caves that line the walls of the canyon. Things get exciting when Les meets the beautiful Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw). Her father is the owner of the shuttered mining operation making her flashy style and fast car something of an oddity. In spite of himself, Les can't help but be more than a little attracted to the woman. Their budding romance is interrupted when a string of mysterious murders threatens the safety of the town - and the security of Les' job. With little time and few clues, Les will have to get to the bottom of this mystery as quickly as he can.
'Edge of Eternity' is old-school filmmaking at its finest. It's a lean little thriller with great and colorful characters that knows how to set up the plot, establish tension, and then get out of the way without overstaying its welcome. At a lean 80 minutes, the film doesn't shortchange plot points nor does it bog itself down. The characters have their respective back stories to give them the edge they need to be relatable to the audience without becoming dour meditations. We know early that Les' history as a cop in Colorado and his bungling of an important murder case weighs on his mind when the bodies start to pile up. When the town learns of his past, there's more weight on him to solve the crimes quickly. The backstory is used to mount the stakes and add tension, not turn our lead into a mope as so often happens with modern movies. His past is his motivation, not his weakness.
All the while, as the film delves deeper into the mystery and the deaths start mounting, it smartly peppers the clues to the killer's identity. It smartly sets up the film's climax without tipping its hat at things to come. The audience is kept in the loop to what is going on, but you never quite feel like you're smarter than our hero. Personally, I hate it when I'm ahead of the detective in a big mystery flick of this sort. If you're ahead of the game you're just waiting for the main characters to catch up and that can become exceedingly boring real quick. As we get to know the major players and pieces of the plot become clearer, we're never quite given the whole picture. Characters you think would be in on the crimes turn out to be smart red herrings and the actual criminal's identity is a nice twist without being too fake or forced.
Don Siegel was in his element with 'Edge of Eternity.' Working from a screenplay by Marion Hargrove (writing as Knut Swenson) and Richard Collins, Siegel deftly crafts a no-frills thriller that never fails to entertain. It's a simple and easy detective yarn that takes on a big landscape being shot in and around the Grand Canyon that leads to a high-wire thrilling climax. The film never feels the need to over complicate things or overstay its welcome. It's a popcorn thriller. The kind of movie where you've finished your bucket of buttery goodness inside the first twenty minutes and forces you to keep going back to the kitchen for more. It's just pure entertainment from start to finish.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Edge of Eternity' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time and is limited to a run of 3,000 copies. Pressed onto a Region Free BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy clear Blu-ray case. The disc loads to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet containing stills from the film and a terrific essay from film historian Julie Kirgo.
'Edge of Eternity' arrives with a strong 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Shot in Cinemascope, this transfer does exhibit many of the same weaknesses of other Cinemascope transfers where optical effects tend to be a bit softer with a heavier grain field. Thankfully those sequences don't distract from everything this beautiful film has to offer. Wide shots and middles tend to look the best - especially the numerous vista shots of the Grand Canyon that show the expanse and depth of the landmark. The big climax moment is a real stunner during the wide shots. Details are wonderfully rendered allowing full appreciation of facial features and costuming details, as well as the impressive scenery. Colors tend to skew towards the warmer golden tones, but primaries allow for plenty of that bright natural pop you want to see from deep blue skies and vivid reds. Skin tones are tanned and healthy throughout. The source elements for this transfer were in terrific shape as there doesn't appear to be any age-related wear and tear of note. All around this is a beauty of a transfer that offers up some terrific scenery for a tight little thriller like this.
'Edge of Eternity' gets a lot of mileage out of its English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono audio track. Dialogue is presented cleanly and clearly without any distortion or interference. Sound effects also come through with a nice natural presence featuring the right amount of echo and spacing one would expect to hear at a desert location such as this. The score by Daniele Amfitheatrof is nicely layered into the mix without overpowering the proceedings until the big action moments where it packs a hell of a punch. Imaging is fairly restrained, even when the action picks up the audio is still a very front/center sort of affair as the film plays things more conversationally saving the bulk of the action for the big climax. Levels are set just right so once you have it at a comfortable volume, you should be good to go.
Audio Commentary: Film Historians Nick Redman and C. Courtney Joyner provide a solid commentary track highlighting the film's production bits and bobs but also discussing Siegel's impressive career.
It's nice to see a movie that didn't overstuff the goose. 'Edge of Eternity' may be tight, lean, and mean without a lot of complexities, but in the hands of director Don Siegel, the flick is an exciting winner. Twilight Time has done a great job bringing this film to Blu-ray sporting a terrific A/V presentation. Bonus features may be slim, but the commentary by Redman and Joyner is top notch and there's nothing quite like listening to an isolated score track. Don Siegel devotees will absolutely want to add this one to the collection. Newcomers should get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Recommended.