The master of the political thriller is
remembered by The
John Frankenheimer directed some of the most notable political
thrillers of the Cold War. Many of his films also
contain the clean almost stark narrative style, social awareness
and sticky complexity that Sandbaggers fans enjoy.
Born in February 1930, he began his storytelling career by
shooting documentaries for the United States Air Force. He was
a time, posted to the Pentagon.
Hoping for a tennis and then acting career--the 6'3" man
was even asked by producer Albert Broccoli to participate in
the role of James Bond in the first 007 film--he settled
into television production. The early years of live broadcasting
trained him to overcome technical difficulties posed by scripts.
No how many sets or scene changes were needed, planning
and blocking in rehearsal would
produce perfection at show time.
He eventually produced 152 live television dramas and only stopped
because the medium ceased to exist.
Frankenheimer's documentary roots and the meticulous planning
he cut his teeth on television were not the end of his career
but he start of it. They allowed him to create four
decades of memorable films.
1962, 1963 and 1964
Candidate has been called the archetypal Cold
War thriller. Based on the novel by Richard Condon, it details
the manipulation of a Korean soldier by Communist brain washers,
and by his parents: politicians who wish to use his Medal of
Honor fame as a means of furthering their careers.
home run performances by Angela Landsbury, Laurence Harvey and
James Gregory are amazingly effective.
Still, the book's plot had to be pared down to get onto the screen;
the major theme removed contains a the
politician's McCarthy-like rise to power and is still worth reading.
skills are also present here: an entire section of the scenery
during the brain washing sequence was actually on a railway car.
The 1962 film was pulled from circulation after the assassination
of President John Kennedy the following year. Frankenheimer and
one of the other starts of the film, were friends of the
1964 saw the release of Seven Days in May. This film details
a one week investigation into a plot by senior military
officials to take over the US government.
If Sandbaggers fans think the late 70s were a bad time in the
Cold War, they should be reminded that the late 50s and early
60s was when the Cold War was hot. At the time, the sacking
of General Douglas Mac Arthur was
fissure in US politics; moreover, figures like Air Force
Colonel Curtis Le May were working hard behind the backs of elected
officials to encourage a first strike against the Soviet Union.
Of interest to Sandbaggers fans is how far storytelling
has evolved since 1964.
The first hour of the Seven
Days in May sells the idea
of the conspiracy to the audience. Not 'What
conspiracy' but that there even is a conspiracy. Since Nixon,
since Iran-Contra, since the X-Files, it is taken as a given
that whole sections of the civil service are up to no good; nevertheless,
this ethical point--that it is governments which
must set policies and not cabals--is
the axis upon which Seven Days in May turns.
This same year saw Frankenheimer re-unite with one of the stars
of Seven Days in May to make the five-star effort The
Arguably Frankenheimer's best effort, Burt Lancaster plays a
railroad official in occupied
point in the war, the Germans are looting Paris of its
art treasures. Lancaster's character more than unwillingly helps
his resistance colleagues keep the paintings from being stolen.
While straying outside the Sandbaggers territory of intelligence
and public policy, The Train touches other themes: conflicts
of values and imperfect information. This, coupled
documentary style makes for
fantastic story telling as very normal people are pushed further
and further until they accomplish extra ordinary things.
The France Connection
Frankenheimer had served as media consultants to the first Kennedy
electoral team. He stayed close even after John Kennedy's murder.
So much so that Robert Kennedy spent June
5, 1968, the day of
his win in the Calinfornia primaries, at the director's Malibu
At 7:15 p.m. Frankenheimer drove the presidential candidate
to the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel that evening to hear the
Later that evening, after giving a speech, the politician was
felled by an assassin.
Frankenheimer continued to work, but he was shaken: Sirhan
had brushed passed him before the shooting.
He directed the sometimes overlooked French
Connection 2 in
1975. This gritty police story sees Gene Hackman
pursue the man who got away. The unblinking camera
follows Hackman's capture and interrogation with heroin. He
then recovers to punish his tormentors. Another thriller followed
in 1977 starring
as the deranged airman in Black
Frankenheimer's output and quality started falling as he struggled
with drink throughout the 70s, but finally in 1981, he pushed
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