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The Films of John Frankenheimer

The Young Stranger

The Young Savages

All Fall Down

Birdman of Alcatraz

The Manchurian Candidate

Seven Days in May (October 2/18)

Based on a novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, Seven Days in May follows Kirk Douglas' Martin Casey as he becomes increasingly convinced that a decorated general (Burt Lancaster's James Mattoon Scott) is planning a coup d'etat - with the story detailing Casey's increasingly frantic efforts at proving his suspicions. Director John Frankenheimer delivers an exceedingly, often excessively slow narrative that contains few captivating elements, although, having said that, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of the movie's various performances - with Douglas and Lancaster's typically engrossing work matched by a strong supporting cast that includes Fredric March, Martin Balsam, and Edmond O'Brien. The picture's raft of positive elements is slowly-but-surely rendered moot, however, by Frankenheimer's less-than-taut handling of the material, as much of Seven Days in May's midsection is devoted to the padded-out and fairly tedious investigation into Lancaster's character's nefarious conspiracy - with the spinning-its-wheels vibe never more apparent than in the sequences involving Ava Gardner's palpably pointless Eleanor Holbrook. And although Frankenheimer has admittedly peppered the proceedings with a handful of stirring interludes (eg Casey goes to the President with his suspicions), Seven Days in May ultimately comes off as a decent hour-long thriller trapped within the confines of a bloated misfire.

out of

The Train

Seconds (November 7/11)

Seconds casts John Randolph as Arthur Hamilton, a wealthy yet bored middle-aged businessman who reluctantly agrees to undergo a procedure that will completely alter his appearance - with the film's latter half following Arthur, now Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), as he attempts to adjust to his new life. There's little doubt that Seconds fares best in its promisingly eerie opening half hour, as the film, in its early stages, boasts an off-kilter visual sensibility that proves a striking complement to Lewis John Carlino's spare screenplay - with the almost total lack of context playing an instrumental role in perpetuating (and heightening) the movie's irresistibly creepy atmosphere. It's only as things are slowly-but-surely explained that Seconds begins to morph into a progressively tedious piece of work, with the impossible-to-swallow nature of the movie's absurd premise exacerbated by a deliberately paced and unreasonably uneventful midsection - as filmmaker John Frankenheimer places an all-too-consistent emphasis on Tony's aggressively pointless exploits (eg he attends a weird outdoor orgy, he hosts a dull cocktail party, etc, etc). It is, as such, virtually impossible to sympathize with Tony's increasingly perilous situation, which does ensure that the twist ending, as brutal and memorable as it may be, simply isn't able to pack the visceral gut-punch that Frankenheimer has clearly intended. It's finally impossible to label Seconds as anything more than a second-rate Twilight Zone episode, with the unreasonably protracted running time the tip of the iceberg in terms of its many, many deficiencies.

out of

Grand Prix

The Fixer

The Gypsy Moths

The Extraodrinary Seaman

I Walk the Line

The Horseman

Story of a Love Story

The Iceman Cometh

99 and 44/100% Dead

French Connection II

Black Sunday


The Challenge

The Rainmaker

The Holcroft Covenant

52 Pick-Up (November 6/11)

Based on Elmore Leonard's far superior book, 52 Pick-Up follows Roy Scheider's Harry Mitchell as he's forced to take the law into his own hands after three thugs (John Glover's Alan, Clarence Williams III's Bobby, and Robert Trebor's Leo) attempt to blackmail him with evidence of an illicit affair. Filmmaker John Frankenheimer has infused 52 Pick-Up with an aggressively deliberate pace that proves disastrous, as the ensuing lack of momentum prevents the viewer from embracing the central character's plight on a distressingly continuous basis. The hands-off atmosphere is compounded by a frustrating emphasis on sequences of an overlong and sporadically needless variety, and although Frankenheimer has peppered the narrative with a handful of admittedly engrossing moments (eg Scheider's character is forced to watch the murder of his girlfriend on videotape), Harry's campaign of violence against his oppressors isn't even remotely as satisfying or as visceral as Frankenheimer has undoubtedly intended. (This is despite Harry's appreciatively harsh takedown of the film's final surviving villain, which is almost Saw-like in its brutality.) The end result is a thriller that's woefully lacking in thrills, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere exacerbated by a preponderance of dated elements (eg Gary Chang's distracting, synth-heavy score).

out of

Dead Bang (August 16/15)

Dead Bang casts Don Johnson as Jerry Beck, a grizzled detective whose investigation into a convenience-store shooting eventually leads to a conspiracy involving neo-Nazis. It's clear immediately that Dead Bang, written by Robert Foster and directed by John Frankenheimer, isn't looking to reinvent the wheel in terms of its narrative, as the film possesses virtually all of the elements that one has come to expect from stories of this ilk - including the cop who plays by his own rules and the mismatched, straight-laced partner forced to contend with said cop's loose-cannon antics. Frankenheimer's matter-of-fact approach to the material paves the way from long stretches of sedate inactivity, as Johnson's character is forced to contend with, for example, an ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife and a possible romance with Penelope Ann Miller's Linda. It's clear, then, that Dead Bang benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of better-than-expected action sequences, with such moments going a long way towards infusing the proceedings with bursts of electricity and excitement. (This is especially true of a thrilling foot chase within the movie's otherwise slow first half.) And although the film does improve as it emphasizes Beck's neo-Nazi investigation, Dead Bang's relentlessly erratic atmosphere (eg Beck visits and threatens a psychiatrist) wreaks havoc on its momentum and ensures that the action-packed third act doesn't quite pack the punch one might've expected - which confirms its place as a watchable yet completely forgettable late-'80s thriller.

out of

The Fourth War

Year of the Gun

Against the Wall

The Burning Season


The Island of Dr. Moreau

George Wallace


Reindeer Games

Path to War

© David Nusair