The Sammy Hogarth Comicular, “straight to the top”, a live ninety-minute television revue, “never been done before”, represented as in rehearsals and then broadcast to forty million people.
This is a live broadcast, Serling takes advantage of the congruity. Surrealistic compression is his forte on the production side, the writer under pressure is a dead rookie soldier from the Bulge, critics circle like buzzards, the studio is a maelstrom, the star is a maniac, Frankenheimer’s cameras are caught up in the frenzy of the moment.
The star is a genius, the writer is tired, the critics are “fleas”.
The off-camera madness has a backstage pedigree and a foreglimpse of Resnais’ Providence.
Clash By Night
Frankenheimer’s approach has been to understand the key of Odets’ style in this play as a forced simple directness on the surface, to which a chorus of unseen associations is superadded or within which it is revealed. Frankenheimer plays to this key exclusively in broad straight lines and continuous, often very close work with the actors.
The Gogolian chorus appears, invisibly, Mae’s first husband (“a Pennsylvania politician”), Earl’s ex-wife (“a burlesque dancer”), Jerry’s late mother (“an old Polish song about a little house you want to get back to”). These unseen characters mirror the action, a love triangle.
Jerry is a carpenter, Earl a projectionist. Earl dies in the booth, Mae is locked out on the spiral stairs below, the cinematic blossoming does not take place (“this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon,” says Borges, speculating on the Great Wall of China).
The performances by E.G. Marshall, Kim Stanley and Lloyd Bridges are beyond heroism and subtlety, they match Frankenheimer’s direction note for note.
The Young Savages
A paranoiac, a moron and a joiner, all under the ægis of a street gang in Italian Harlem called The Thunderbirds, stride into Puerto Rican Harlem and knife a blind harmonica-player to death. The victim is later determined to have been a “warlord” in The Horsemen, another gang. Each gang accuses the other of using heroin, among other interesting details.
The D.A. is running for governor, a prima facie case brings forth an indictment of first-degree murder. Clean justice, newspaper justice, is hard to obtain. The prosecutor does his best in court to settle the matter.
The function of the courtroom is seen as the revelation of truthful evidence, which is then placed before the jury, whose decision is acted upon by the judge.
“Doesn’t provide much valid drama or do much good,” said Bosley Crowther in the New York Times. Variety agreed, saluting Frankenheimer’s direction nevertheless in a sort of way.
Crowther specifically objected to the prosecutor, an assistant district attorney named Bell whose father changed his name from Bellini, the son married outside the neighborhood and moved away, he might have married a girl who is the mother of the joiner, she wouldn’t have him, and so on in a characterization that is of the greatest significance except to Crowther.
“Zorro” of The Horsemen likes Picasso, the dead boy’s sister is a witness and a hooker since she was fourteen, they’re all kids, it’s an unattractive and very sordid mess, the same New York it was thirty years earlier, looked at a little more intently perhaps yet exactly the same way, but Crowther only knew what he read in the papers, he tells us.
All Fall Down
The great whirl of Kelly’s Invitation to the Dance ends with Frankenheimer’s title, on much the same grounds.
Inge (from the author of Midnight Cowboy) sets into a complicated labyrinthine pattern his characters, a ladykiller and a mankiller, and lets them destroy each other very amusingly, in a surrealistic way, especially considering the family lights and tokens surrounding them.
Variety was content simply to miss the boat, Crowther gave himself a brass band for the occasion.
Birdman of Alcatraz
The curious point of unaccountability in the death of an inmate during the Alcatraz prison riot is the point of contact with Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades.
Dassin’s Brute Force prepares the analysis, which is practically a diagnosis from Walsh’s White Heat.
The record of a “surprising conversion”, the question of rehabilitation.
Variety and A.H. Weiler (New York Times) thought of it as breaking the mold, Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide) “a likeable film.”
“Overlong”, says Halliwell’s Film Guide, “and rather weary”.
The Manchurian Candidate
It’s Laurence Harvey because it’s Hamlet, the particular flashback style utilized is by Welles in Citizen Kane, a major analysis is given to Sternberg’s Jet Pilot.
Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead offers a slightly different angle on the play. Josie/Rosie gives the simple parallel Shaw/Marco. The poetic lists are provided by Marco’s reading matter and the suspect lineup at the Department of Defense.
The ladies of the garden club give yak dung to our GIs in Manchuria, “tastes good like a cigarette should”, and suffer one or two to be killed for experimental purposes.
The candidate is a paid Soviet agent and no. 2 on the party ticket for November. The ghost he emulates is Abraham Lincoln. There is a touch of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (first version) in the final planning. Altman’s Nashville echoes the outcome.
There is a strange mirror of the outward structure in Russell’s Women in Love with its parallelisms. The final despairing shot is taken up in Smight’s Harper.
Brainwashed, Manchuria is understood to be New Jersey.
A fulsome critique of McCarthyism.
Seven Days in May
“I’m gonna tell you the damnedest story you ever heard.”
“Site X, Mount Thunder CP. Site Y, Ecomcon.”
Gen. Walker is mentioned, also Sen. McCarthy.
Given the choice, Jefferson said he would rather have a newspaper in front of him than a government on top of him. Ecomcon stands for emergency communications control, the linchpin of a military takeover. The material is extensively reworked from “The Parallel” (dir. Alan Crosland, Jr. for The Twilight Zone).
The objection is to peace with the enemy in a time of nuclear weapons. Ecomcon is to seize television and radio and telephone communications.
The chairman’s former mistress offers “the truth, which is very rare.”
Neame’s commentary is telling in sufficient ways (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), if critics haven’t noticed. Frankenheimer has another use for the material as biography (George Wallace). The Articles of Constitution are identified in the opening titles with the pending days of the action, patriotism is certainly the ultimate resource of a scoundrel, anyway.
The actors are all the finest, Frankenheimer puts them all in the wind with an absolutely precise technique that salvages from the wreckage of democracy a plain statement of refusal that ends the conspiracy once and for all, concurrent with Lumet’s Fail-Safe and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Deflection of a Resistance group in Paris to a non-military objective.
The connoisseur and the Maquis, the latter is plied with “the national heritage” and “the glory of France”, which he repeats as “the pride of France”.
The systematic arguments as a way of understanding the predicament also figure in Neame’s The Horse’s Mouth.
Real trains (one goes off the track and jars the camera). Real art, anyway the crates being carted off to Germany like Langlois’ cans of film are stenciled with the great names of French painting. And when Labiche is faced with his last dilemma, hostages on the locomotive, one is liable to be reminded of Godard’s idea for a Holocaust film, a study of train schedules and secretaries typing them up in offices.
The German officer gives out three reasons for his plunder. To the curator at the Jeu de Paume, he proposes that the work will be transported to a safe place. His commanding officer learns that the cargo is more valuable than gold. Labiche is told that “beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it.”
The Train begins at the same time as Clément’s Paris brûle-t-il?, and Frankenheimer compresses all the harrowing effect of Carné’s elucidations (Les Enfants du paradis) into a single title, “1511th day of German occupation”.
The balletic method of filming locomotives and train switches is like juggling with ten-ton barbells, camera movement is delicately polished, sound editing is an essential component.
The film has special significance overlooked by Canby, who could not figure out its center of gravity. Art? Resistance?
The maddest of all hallucinations is engendered by Frankenheimer in black-and-white shots of trains and clocks like a famous picture-book on Relativity.
The opening scene at the Jeu de Paume, closed to the public and guarded by a machine-gun emplacement, is reflected in a central sequence of Litvak’s The Night of the Generals.
It will be seen that the problem for Frankenheimer is to rise to his occasion, otherwise there is only Didont’s query to the curator, “don’t you have copies of ‘em?”
The question is neither Art nor Resistance, though both are answered, but Von Waldheim. “I need an audience,” says Russell’s Gaudier Brzeska just before the story of the little bird, the farmer, and the fox.
All the art in question is identified as degenerate by Colonel von Waldheim himself, a loyal Nazi and an admirer. The old engineer is put to the wall for sabotage, whereupon Frankenheimer launches into a machine-shop demonstration of casting and fitting a part at once applied to the damaged locomotive (a sequence seemingly related to Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, a key point related to the main inspiration of Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai).
The Longest Day is an observable influence, but a gag from Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers (Labiche returns to the Hôtel de la Gare, opens a door and sees Germans racing toward it) varied with consequences for Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (Captain Schmidt opens the caboose door and sees Pesquet’s engine bearing down on him) suggests another source of inspiration (Annakin’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines has yet another variant, coincidentally), Spinet’s resemblance to Mrs. Lopsided is of the utmost importance.
Stationmasters’ offices anticipate Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains. A carefully monumental theme of Art has one of its divagations portray the ruse from Metz to Rive-Reine.
The calmly perfect acting is led by Burt Lancaster laconic as Bullitt, athletic as Keaton or Fairbanks or Lloyd, under the Occupation a top railroad man and Resistance fighter who is averse to the Jeu de Paume’s mission. His movements are mainly downward, until he lies amongst foliage beside the reflective stream along the tracks in the final scene.
The stationmaster’s nephew at Rive-Reine climbs to the roof before dawn to set off the air-raid signal as a diversion to the Passover painting of the railroad cars (following on the “gesture” of a French division sent to liberate Paris, a delay), is shot and falls, this movement is repeated by Labiche as he limps up the steep hill and slides down the other side to the tracks.
The final image of dead hostages and crated paintings beside the train halted between the river and the road along which Labiche returns to Rive-Reine is punctuated only by the sound of the boiler expiring and Jarre’s Gallic tune (the editing is a Hitchcockian assemblage of motionless shots, with one tracking on Labiche’s wounded right leg as he pauses briefly beside a crate of Braques). It sums up the sort of experience Frankenheimer had of creating works as vital and excruciated as this one.
William Carlos Williams’ celebrated and misunderstood lines,
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
simply mean, “where there is no vision, the people perish,” not to put too fine a point on it.
DeMille’s The Ten Commandments for the characterization of Labiche and the structure. De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief is an important citation. The route to Germany leads through Verdun and Metz.
“I have left nothing undone” (Poussin), death of Didont.
The story of a banker who becomes an artist (cp. Story of a Love Story). The plastic surgery is from Cocteau’s Orphée (“what shall the marble say when it is struck?”), the sad fate from Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.
Critical misapprehension ended where it began, with the Dionysiac ritual that is precisely what it claims to be, not a satire.
The film went into the tank, Frankenheimer never recovered, and it is always the same with Frankenheimer.
The invincibly weird camerawork has at least escaped notice as a vital stylization tending toward a new expression and a new style in a very difficult film, otherwise the insult would be too absurd. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The strange, unreal sport, part business, part chic, part divertissement, part tradition, part something else again.
The three major aspects of the film have been praised, condemned, and ignored, they are Frankenheimer’s camera style, the drama, and the visual plan.
The first has been amply described, helicopter shots, camera-mounted cars, it is able to show a driver and then pan right 90° to view the banked curve ahead over the right front wheel, maintaining the level horizon. Monte Carlo, especially, receives a beautiful analysis of aerial and ground shots.
The remarkable drama is a compilation of four stories (like the Somerset Maugham Quartet) conducted simultaneously and concurrently. Robert Alan Aurthur’s screenplay, a decade after Edge of the City, is of the same detailed character and stamp, its richness and complexity as independent strands individually correlated, and the minute construction of each story on solid lines with increments of consideration in each element, make for the formal necessity of Frankenheimer’s split-screen conjunctions at various points.
The very wide screen, finally, is given a sense of horizontal trajectory as the basis of many a shot, typically in exteriors, whether the camera is moving or not. Interiors, by contrast, acquire the view of complicated obstacles, corners, etc. The main exception is a medium two-shot (Saint and Montand) against a black sky.
Just before the end of Tsarist Russia, a handyman from the shtetl travels to Kiev and runs smack into a pogrom. He then meets Potiphar’s daughter and deals with corrupt accounting practices at his employer’s brickworks. Arrested for sexual assault, he is about to be released (charged only with the misdemeanor of living among the goyim) after the girl is questioned by the examining magistrate, but the prosecuting attorney steps in with a new charge, ritual murder.
A boy messing about the brickworks has tuned up dead, investigation reveals his mother and the brutish lover she blinded with carbolic acid were dealing in stolen goods, the talkative boy was drowned in a tub, stabbed afterwards, and left in a cave.
The handyman is charged with using the boy’s blood to make Passover matzoh, not charged but imprisoned in hopes of a confession, which is sought with beatings and torture. The effete but honest examining magistrate is hanged in the cellblock, the effeminate and cynical Minister of Justice sees a political advantage in the persecution, it unifies the people against someone who is not the Tsar.
Frankenheimer’s preparations are thoroughgoing and meticulous, the entire film could be watched for the décor alone, and within it he has set portraits and dramatic scenes that exhaustively tell the tale, of which critics understood not one word.
Ebert explained the problem in a lecture to Frankenheimer. “Archibald MacLeish said a poem should not mean, but be. It is a lesson John Frankenheimer should learn.”
The examining magistrate reaches a very useful conclusion early on. “It isn’t madness that turns the world upside down. It’s conscience.”
The Gypsy Moths
This is probably Frankenheimer’s greatest film, though critics were bored (Variety, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Halliwell’s Film Guide, Time Out Film Guide) and saw next to nothing in it.
The “cape stunt” is Simon Magus in Victor Saville’s great work, The Silver Chalice.
Bridgeville, Kansas. “We have a college, we have a college and a missile base, typical little American town.”
The aerial tummelers leave it to descend toward it at terrific speeds for two bucks fifty per head from the townspeople.
Sun or rain on a screen door or porch screen has exactly the expressiveness it ought to have, like everything else in this picture.
The influence on the opening sequence of Lewis Gilbert’s Moonraker is evident.
The Extraordinary Seaman
A work of genius so extraordinary even French critics could not take its measure.
Such things as Keaton’s The Navigator, Mankiewicz’ The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Huston’s The African Queen, the adroit use of wartime newsreels in most apposite counterpoint, and indeed the whole point of the film, seem to have been lost on private and professional filmgoers.
That is too bad, because subsequently Columbia was bought by Sony, which issued a research paper declaring film to be inherently “a perishable medium”, and now “film is dead”, says Lumet.
I Walk the Line
A study of mortal ennui and the cure, which is dumping the deputy in the lake behind the Federal dam that drowned the childhood home.
Frankenheimer doesn’t finish this, he leaves the integers to add up in the spectator’s mind.
Under the sign of Kafka, an allegory (reduced in production from a three-and-a-quarter-hour roadshow arrangement).
The one-legged horseman is the same image as in Renoir’s The River, arrived at by attrition as in Cocteau’s Orphée.
Twenty-five days were spent shooting the main Afghan sporting event, ended by an all but invisible personage unhorsing the hetman’s son.
He takes the road less traveled, receives the horse, and makes his own way.
Among filmmakers, few can understand how this was achieved, Huston probably.
The reviews are cretinous. Palance is a known quantity, Sharif is one of the great actors, Taylor-Young is sublime, all the cast are perfect.
Frankenheimer’s direction has the same flawless, heroic acuity.
The same formulation as in Reindeer Games.
Story of a Love Story
Impossible Object by Nicholas Mosley, the author of Accident (dir. Joseph Losey).
Mallarmé to begin, “l’espace a pour jouet le cri: ‘Je ne sais pas!’” Musée Bourdelle, the speaking works... “Would you like a drink? Would you like lunch? Would you—?”
Cf. Pinter’s Betrayal (dir. David Hugh Jones) and Frank D. Gilroy’s Once in Paris... variously. L’Impossible objet, Histoire d’une histoire d’amour, cf. Buñuel’s Cet Obscur Objet Du Désir.
“The game in the cellar,” cf. Plath’s The Bell Jar (dir. Larry Peerce), which is as much as to say the answer is Paris, at home it’s Joseph in the well. “The Extra Person”. The question is whether or not a modus vivendi can be reached, you can’t work in Toronto and live in New York, says Glenn Gould, it has to be the other way round. “I never know what’s true and what isn’t with you.” English writer, American wife, French mistress (married). The climax takes place in Morocco to be sure but not the ending, “did you think that was the end?” Whither all roads lead. “Où?”
“You expect me to be like God.” The imaginative realm, “crappy astronauts!” Hippolyta. “Where did you get all this?”
“From the junkheap of my mind,” she says with Yeats. Cocteau’s Orphée, carved by circumstances. “What is the good of being a witch and a magician if we cannot work miracles?”
“They gave good value in the old days.” The original title, “the point is that life is impossible. A mirror is held to the back of your head, and you see your hand move in the opposite way from what you intended.” The plumber in the attic on “suffering children”, the writer’s wastepaper basket that won’t hold water. Magritte’s La Condition humaine. “What’s it about?”
“God. God in a bed-sitter.” A thief in the night. “You always think you can work miracles.”
“Don’t you want me to exorcise it?”
“You do what you want.”
“I have a great longing for order and stillness, I do not like chaos.” Shelley’s misadventure, the Mallarméan shipwreck, certainly the “don du poème” that for Hume “fell stillborn from the press” (cf. Smight’s Rabbit, Run).
The Frankenheimer styling (his most beautiful) is kept to a minimum or applied to the regulation of three or four styles simultaneously, Chabrol, Robbe-Grillet, Fellini, Losey if you like (The Romantic Englishwoman for “tu veux tout”, from Baudelaire as throughout), perhaps Hans Richter (8 x 8), to convey the several dimensions of the story that make the “threefold security” of George Roy Hill’s Slaughterhouse-Five seem child’s play, if you will (there is also Resnais’ Providence, Je t’aime Je t’aime as well).
Set designs Alexandre Trauner, cinematography Claude Renoir, score Michel Legrand. A film that was to have been directed by Losey, but due to a falling-out over The Assassination of Trotsky went to Frankenheimer (who, in the words of a scholar, “dramatically changed it”) and was unreleased by dint of financial difficulties, it’s said (“Impossible Object, which Frankenheimer had to finance with his credit card after the European producer went broke,” according to the Los Angeles Times), or very sparingly (it was shown out of competition at Cannes alongside Losey’s A Doll’s House, Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine, Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again, and the Forman et al. Visions of Eight), “A John Frankenheimer Film”, he has the theme from Seconds, a film thought to pertain to midlife crises and the counterculture (as happened to Lewin’s The Moon and Sixpence).
Variety, “John Frankenheimer spent over a year in Paris and then made this film for a local company... pic has an airy grace, fine playing down the line.” Jonathan Rosenbaum reported from Cannes for Time Out, “to judge from all the reports, thousands of unlucky spectators chose to suffer through Frankenheimer’s Impossible Object,” also for Film Comment, “Frankenheimer’s dreadfully Impossible Object.” TV Guide, “gracefully done, engaging”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “let us just offer our congratulations to Frankenheimer for so stylishly breaking away from his standard ‘message’ mode”.
The Iceman Cometh
To end the pipe dreams of a good wife and an anarchist mother.
To wit, that man is good, that he can be dominated.
That is the main structure, defined by Larry’s curtain speech on seeing both sides, with pity for all.
And at that, very funny. The additional gag of murder gives you the trial by daylight, such things have to be put up with.
The play (cf. Hecht & MacArthur’s Soak the Rich) for American Film Theatre with cameras on the realistic set, act definitions, and an intermission.
99 and 44/100% Dead
Richard Harris as Harry resembles Michael Caine as Carter, not Palmer, and this is one sign of a complex descriptive style sometimes mistaken for satire.
Harry is a gunman in the mob wars, hired by Uncle Frank (Edmond O’Brien).
The adverse party is Big Eddie (Bradford Dillman, an unforgettably etched performance).
The whole city trembles before these two, as between the river graveyards on either side, distinguished one from the other as in Borges’ poem, “Buenos Aires Deaths”.
Harry’s opposite number (Chuck Connors) has a mechanical hand with various implements, none too bright.
The incidents of the war are serious and comical, depicted with a measure of realism and a truly surreal language to grasp the many layers of intended meaning.
These struck many a reviewer at the time as gratuitous or worse, but a truer picture obtains today, though critics still speak of a “futuristic” element probably imagined from Frankenheimer’s generalized city locations representing the one.
French Connection II
Doyle in Marseille to catch Charnier, who shoots him full of dope and dumps him at headquarters.
Doyle recovers and shoots Frog One full of bullets.
The grueling désintoxication indicates Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet, but the theme of heroin as enemy action is the basis of Zinnemann’s A Hatful of Rain.
The structure of the heroin trade has gone beyond corrupting five-eighths of the NYPD (the same number of cops in Marseille search for Doyle when he’s kidnapped), Charnier’s courier to higher-ups in Geneva is a U.S. Army general.
A Palestinian terrorist and her lover, an American ex-POW, are the leading operatives in a Black September plot to riddle the Super Bowl in Miami with nails fired from the Goodyear blimp, killing eighty thousand sports fans and the President in attendance.
Timely intervention from above spoils the plan, and so you have Mallarmé’s “Un Spectacle interrompu”. This interrupted spectacle is figured in the central image of a movie screen (the front wall of a desert hangar in California) perforated in a test-firing of the weapon, powered by plastique.
The cinematic action of the Beirut raid echoes The War Wagon in homage, The Train is cited subtly in Long Beach, the great central spectacle of Fasil’s arrest in Miami is Frankenheimer at his most furiously realistic, the combined footage at a real football game is completely virtuosic (with the director in the CBS trailer, at work), all stops are pulled out for the surrealistic finale (citing Panic in the City).
Among the actors, one would like to point out Than Wyenn as the Israeli ambassador, a walk-on that does him justice by succeeding in an impression favorable to his wishes, the great actor appears to be a civilian acting in the role of himself.
A joke fulsomely told in the Maine woods.
A chemical treatment for logs kept idle in the water breeds monsters.
Ancient and modern Japan are root and branch, two swords known as The Equals. To have them at odds is a fatal situation, mobsters run great business empires, the heritage is lost to view.
The theme is one of Kurosawa’s most important (Sanshiro Sugata, etc.), and dates from the war.
So there is an American angle, dating from the war (Dmytryk’s Behind the Rising Sun, Lloyd’s Blood on the Sun, Fuller’s House of Bamboo), the culture must be comprehended to be dealt with.
Maslin of the New York Times found this distasteful and not at all to her liking, Variety saw little else, Halliwell’s Film Guide “plenty of pretensions but no apparent message to spike its dismal entertainment values” (and the Guardian “ridiculous, demeaning stuff”).
The Holcroft Covenant
There is no way of explaining the box office failure of this magnificent film, without coming to the conclusion that Frankenheimer’s art escaped comprehension, even though it’s roundly based on Hitchcock, primarily North by Northwest. Bernard Hepton and Victoria Tennant are made to resemble Leo G. Carroll and Eva Marie Saint marvelously well, and the main joke is curly-haired “foreign-born American citizen” Michael Caine in the Cary Grant role.
An inheritance amounting to billions falls upon the sons of Nazi generals. Caine as Holcroft is informed he’s really a Clausen, his life is in jeopardy, there is a question of the legacy’s ultimate purpose.
This is where Anthony Andrews displays his art right in front of the camera, slipping into an uncanny impression of Hitler by sheer craft and inspiration, then back out of it again, a most impressive feat, as another of the heirs.
Frankenheimer introduces Andrews’ sister, who as in Hitchcock is a double agent, with Carol Reed’s camera angles in The Third Man applied to the interior of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. This is repeated throughout, in a Berlin chase and shootout at night, for instance. The third heir is a symphony conductor there. Frankenheimer has a night confab of Andrews, Caine and Tennant with the Brandenburg Gate lighted in the background, asymmetrically arranged so the right side has a far streetlamp against the black sky, crickets are heard, night in Berlin.
The virtuosity of a sequence like the attempted murder of Holcroft’s mother leaving her New York bookstore, which involves a sentinel, a speeding car mowing down pedestrians and crashing into the shop, followed by the sentinel with a bomb in her handbag, is just that.
The plot is to revive the Reich on a global scale exactly as it was done in Germany, by organizing terrorist opposition into a single force for an attack which should propel a strong leader into power with drastic measures. A thousand names on a list are enough to change the world.
Berlin at carnival time is made to evoke Weimar and aspects of the modern day. Tennant’s cover is as a prostitute there in a Georg Grosz whorehouse. Geneva, where the covenant is announced, is the occasion of views on the lake and an homage to Blake Edwards.
So many people have not seen The Holcroft Covenant (and some of those have written reviews) that it amounts to almost “a violin in a void,” which is anyway better than working a fiddle on the public.
The secret of the film is a patented process for fusing titanium and steel by means of an explosive, described and demonstrated for NASA.
Opposed to this is the badger game, a temporary arrangement with lingering consequences.
The blackmailers destroy themselves by horning in.
Reviewers generally found this negligible or perhaps “a return to form”, Ebert described it as “well-crafted”.
Several of Frankenheimer’s films can be discerned in it, Black Sunday for the perforations after the mistress’s murder, Grand Prix for the drive to sunup in the hills, French Connection II for the wife shot-up with dope, and so on.
There is a considerable rhyme with Blake Edwards’ 10 in the sex party. Frankenheimer once dismissed this (“A John Frankenheimer Film”) as “made for money”, but obviously he was kidding. It’s a series of very wicked inventions on a theme of grotesque perversity, played for all it’s worth and then some. Not only are scenes set up as comprehensive gags and run to unforgettable limits, the élan or abandon of the whole thing makes for a deep, rich sense of humor like a dash of bitters. Thus, Clarence Williams III’s execution of the Sex Shop owner is a spectacular gag (the screen shatters into shards of painted glass), followed by him walking away like a skulking brute in an early Mad Magazine. The hysterical elasticity of John Glover’s performance is a barometer of the film’s dynamism, against which Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret are pitted and deployed, as Beckett says, “facing the chaff until it makes you laugh.” The final gag is a borrowing from Michael Winner’s The Mechanic, why not?
Even considering the critics’ usual inability to follow the affair, Dead Bang left them amazingly stupefied.
Two anecdotes will shed some light. Steve Martin had a spiritual awakening in a massage parlor when a masseuse requested him to pay her an opulent sum of money to watch him undress and masturbate.
Another fellow had a pal with a large white dot painted on his dashboard. “What’s it for,” asked the fellow. His pal explained that girls ask the same question, the conversation turns to whiteness in the abstract, purity, virginity, and so he scores. The fellow paints a white dot on his dashboard, picks up a girl, and when she remarks, “what an interesting dot,” he replies, “yeah, wanna fuck?”
The Fourth War
From Einstein, a theory of armed conflict.
Twenty years after the Prague Spring, things are better, “it is bullshit,” says a phonybaloney Czech, “big bullshit.” The U.S. Army’s on a “PR” stint across the border in Germany.
The theme is transposed from The Train, two colonels, bird and comrade (Frankenheimer’s subtitles omit translating tovarich). Defectors are pawns, the commuter is an outlaw.
The casting is a major consideration. Scheider looks ill-suited to his command, in the wild he is Geronimo. Prochnow’s face (he speaks Russian) expresses the constraint, ill-disciplined soldiers create the first incident, he finds release in savagery. These are finer points than can be found elsewhere.
You won’t mind if the critics failed to appreciate this, you’re a subscriber. Janet Maslin’s “interesting little asides” (New York Times) are all the film, for example, and this is not a “parable of the Cold War” but the reality of it (Variety saw “a well-made Cold War thriller”).
Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times let it go by without a wisp of comprehension (“Hollywood is running out of villains”), like Entertainment Weekly (“isn’t about a war at all—it’s about the nostalgia for war”). Hal Hinson of the Washington Post sided with Maslin (“Cold War parable”) only more so. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), “John Frankenheimer still hasn’t regained his stride”, Time Out Film Guide, “quite a mess,” etc.
Doubtless the starting point is Schaffner’s Patton and the Soviets (or John Hough’s version, Brass Target).
“Just so long as I don’t die in a shirt with one o’ them little alligators on the front,” the bird colonel is quoted as saying. The comrade colonel is a son of a bitch.
The stylistic flavor of a Peckinpah informs the slow-motion intercutting of action here and there. The fistfight between the two men is filmed so as to suggest, among other things, The Big Country (dir. William Wyler, one might mention Pollack’s The Scalphunters and John Sturges’ Ice Station Zebra). The Napoleonic snowball is a Cocteau metaphor.
Year of the Gun
A complete picture of the little weasel who lives in Rome on a New York publishing contract. His book is false, regurgitated, pernicious, and only exists as a ploy.
It becomes a best seller when published with photographs by a stalwart recordist of war’s ravages from behind a viewfinder.
In the background of all this is the Red Brigades, a gang of thugs and hardened cadres spreading mayhem. The book is about them, the weasel doesn’t know anything, he cribs and cadges from published sources and makes things up.
The position becomes uniquely clarified in Against the Wall, the weasel with his vaguely left-wing narrative and the photographer on the front lines pass into Attica radicals and guards for a mammoth showdown.
The quality of satire at a deadpan level is realized in scenes of a university saturated with radical slogans and banners, the American News staffed by students without credentials, and the whole panoply of radical chic (unmasked, the Brigade Rosse looks like the Lenin-Stalin gang in Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra).
Maniac at large
Tales from the Crypt
The WPA mural is a sign of happier times at the city library, what with children carrying switchblades and a killer loose in the neighborhood.
The library clerk (Blythe Danner) is so upset and put upon that she stabs the librarian (Salome Jens) with a confiscated switchblade, her first female victim.
Adam Ant is a Hitchcockian murder buff and regular patron, Clarence Williams III a necessitous security guard.
Against the Wall
Frankenheimer has Birdman of Alcatraz immediately to hand, of course, but also The Fixer, and even Lumet’s The Hill and Dog Day Afternoon.
He cuts effectively right down the middle of a “civil war” and finds a pox on both your houses. In terms of The Fixer, two varieties of madness both lacking in conscience.
The film explains itself as it goes along, which accounts for the extremely odd notion that Frankenheimer had made a comeback. Shaw pointed out that the British public would only respond to works of genius if told before, during, and afterward.
A mere exercise in futility, nothing counts for anything there, not even the monumental uprising against the “raiders”.
That sequence is sharply built out of King Rat, other information comes from Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, none of it matters. The prisoners serve out the war in Andersonville and then some other stockades, many of them die.
The direction is merely cursory as a rule, the acting catch-as-catch-can, the hellhole of Andersonville represented convincingly.
The Island of Dr. Moreau
“A shape with lion body and the head of a man.” The Felliniesque apparition of Marlon Brando as Alfred Hitchcock (with a touch of Klaus Kinski) breaks open The Island of Dr. Moreau into an analysis of modern-day genetic manipulation. It’s filmed on the fly (Frankenheimer having been called in as a replacement after pre-production and some days of shooting) with a technique that might recall the lenses used in Seconds, and it’s loosely built on Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, with Val Kilmer and David Thewlis as a sort of New Age Heckle and Jeckle, and a premonition of Austin Powers. One of the very few films in which Yeats and Schoenberg figure, apart from Dante’s Inferno, or is it Swinburne?
“Kiss my Alabama ass goodbye,” he tells Harvard.
The good populist Democrat who couldn’t be governor till he gave in to the Klan, and couldn’t be president nohow, went to Dr. King’s church after all and became a well-known black stand-up comic.
There’s a lesson in it for politicians everywhere.
The masterless samurai is Vincent van Gogh by a trick, the absconded plot complained of by the critics is of the “purloined letter” variety, in plain sight but still not visible to most, if any, despite the crucial scene at Arles and the actual sight of the Café Van Gogh (the Night Café at Arles), not to mention Michael Lonsdale as Dr. Gachet by another trick.
Van Gogh picked up Dutch painting where Rembrandt, Hals, Ruysdael and Vermeer left it, then went to Paris where he mastered Impressionism, studied the Japanese, and went South to pursue his researches. There, it might be argued very summarily as here, a nervous collapse brought on by overwork and the specter of the past, heightened by a conflict with Gauguin, ended his career at the advent of Mondrian (who, like Matisse and Picasso, may be said to have reaped the benefit of Van Gogh’s labors). That is the significance of the triangulated meeting at Arles culminating in Vincent (Jean Reno) held at gunpoint and asked where he’s known from. “Vienna” is the answer, the gun is deflected and Sam (Robert De Niro) is wounded.
Under the supervision of Lonsdale, playing a man whose hobby is toy ronin, Sam tends his wound and recovers.
It will be seen, one might think, that the principal key to Ronin is Minnelli’s Lust for Life, especially in the ice ballet, a transformation of Van Gogh’s face reflected in a mirror amidst nineteenth-century furnishings in Theo’s apartment.
The stark raving madness of Frankenheimer’s technique, primarily Steadicam with a 45-day shooting schedule for the grand automobile chase alone, is designed to affront the absurd view expressed in the LIFE Science Library volume, The Mind, more than thirty years previously, that Van Gogh’s work exhibits the symptoms of gradual schizophrenia.
Minnelli sees Van Gogh out of his time, Altman considers Gachet, Frankenheimer weighs in on the cost of going to Arles, each complements the others. The muse who dangles the paintbox has her lord and master.
One of the starting points is an impatience with admirers of the film noir who do not see the point, this is right up Frankenheimer’s alley, he is admired as a stylist but his films aren’t understood, “imaginary gardens with real toads” figure early in this one. The point is made by means of a joke so manifest that, underlined as it is or highlighted throughout, it cannot be missed. Yet all the critics did.
Nick has Rudy light the way for “Santa’s dwarves” to assist at the dispensing of Christmas presents. That is the overall form. The structure is a set of Chinese boxes, one within another. The main or Nick structure contains the minor story of Rudy’s conversion from car thief to keeper of Christmas, and within this Rudy structure is the film noir of the “dwarves” raiding the Tomahawk Casino in Santa Claus suits.
Alan Silvestri does what Jerry Goldsmith could not do, write a fakeout score for the first couple of reels before the film properly begins (these parody scenes may be clarified in the director’s cut—Frankenheimer’s film was trimmed by twenty minutes).
The effect of style is akin to 52 Pick-Up. The main parodistic material with its set-pieces and apparatus ends in a burning heap at the bottom of a snowy cliff. Reindeer Games opens like Sunset Blvd. on a dead man speaking in a voiceover, not a Hollywood screenwriter floating face-down but Santa Claus lying in the snow. It ends with wads of cash in rural mailboxes on Christmas Day, and the return of the prodigal son.
The Lord works in mysterious ways, the unrighteous man heaps up wealth for the righteous, and there is a reason why one would rather see a Frankenheimer film than just about anything else. Part of it is style, the work done by the camera or given to capable, proficient actors, the rest of it is what is meant by all these signs and wonders.
Much of the play, as Hitchcock would say, is interested in comic divergences and alliances to do with Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama, Antonioni’s The Passenger and its antecedent, Sekely’s Hollow Triumph (The Scar). These articulate Rudy’s dilemma among the dwarves, gunrunning truckers who mistake him for Nick, the master con who used to be a guard at the Tomahawk.
Doubtless the significance is the surprising reference to Milestone’s inestimable Ocean’s Eleven.
Ulmer’s Detour is among the models.
An irreproachable point of technique reversing a gag of Ronin, the diamond courier and his driver are beset on the road at night, in five or six minutes they arrive at the Jewelry District in downtown Los Angeles.
The minute deployment of action scenes to make a composite sequence is incredibly lush, allongating the gag from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, “I ate it.”
Path to War
LBJ and his Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs, who “did their best”.
A minute, detailed analysis in which every scene has a structural purpose. The film depicts 39 months of President Johnson’s elected term, from the inaugural ball to his televised address refusing re-nomination.
A sympathetic and yet critical portrayal of all the many personages is the remarkable achievement, along with the highly accurate settings and so forth. The fluent direction has been noted by reviewers, it explains or reflects the working method in its reverse angles that are fresh views, and sequences that continue in another room already seen through a doorway.
Thus every personage is regarded in several perspectives, events move with a logical consistency that is foreseen to some extent, a very nice metaphor.
The viewpoints expressed are those of the participants, outside conclusions are avoided.