Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

'70s paranoia: Parallax, Condor, Stepford ...

A head for heights on the Seattle Space Needle ...
THE PARALLAX VIEW, a superb drama about one man's paranoia that turns out to be a total incredible fact, ranks among the best political thrillers. Warren Beatty is a news reporter who, along with seven others, witnesses the assassination of a political candidate. When the other seven die in "accidents" the newsman begins to doubt the official position: that a lone madman was responsible for the crime. He imagines a sophisticated network of highly trained murderers. But his nightmares pale against the bizarre truth he uncovers.
Joe Frady is a determined reporter who often needs to defend his work from colleagues. After the assassination of a prominent U.S. senator, Frady begins to notice that reporters present during the assassination are dying mysteriously. After getting more involved in the case, Frady begins to realize that the assassination was part of a conspiracy somehow involving the Parallax Corporation, an enigmatic training institute. He then decides to enroll for the Parallax training himself to discover the truth. 
So says the blurb of this 1974 thriller - but he does more than "imagine" a crime network - he discovers documents about it including a questionnaire and infiltrates the organisation itself, but does not realise that he .... well, we won't say any more about that part of it ....

The 1970s of course was the great era of conspiracy thrillers following on from those '40s classic noirs and those pulpy juicy '50s thrillers like KISS ME DEADLY, THE BIG COMBO, JOE MACBETH, TOUCH OF EVIL etc, and the 60s ones like Boorman's POINT BLANK (one to re-discover and review), Godard's ALPHAVILLE and others, and I always regarded THE PARALLAX VIEW as KLUTE part 2, as Alan J. Pakula continues in the same vein, with these dark, brooding thrillers full of menace, as lensed by Gordon Willis and scored by Michael Small. You could say its a trilogy really, as Pakula had an even bigger hit with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN in 1976 with Redford and Hoffman. Warren Beatty is perfect here as Joe Frady gradually realising the web he is getting caught in. The first murder sequence at the Seattle Space Needle is grippingly done, as we realise there are 2 assassins.  The witnesses are being killed off, including Paula Prentiss, an ex-girlfriend of Frady's who does not believe her story and her fear of being next .....
Danger in mid-air!
more tensions follows in redneck country as Frady investigates the death of another witness, and it is not safe on that boat either as a bomb goes off, and then we get that stunning sequence following another bomb in a case being put on a plane, a domestic flight, that Frady boards and then realises the man he is tailing is not on the plane but another senator is, who may be (and indeed is) another target to be eliminated by the Parallax Corporation who are willing to kill everyone on board! How he gets the plane to return to the airport is tense stuff and then we see, off-camera, the result as the bomb indeed goes off ... The Parallax's slide-show is fascinating too contrasting all those images of home and country and perceived enemies of the state, all the factors that contribute to the making of lone gunmen with chips on their shoulders.

THE PARALLAX VIEW is still one of the most intelligent, tense and effective conspiracy thrillers ever made, and the direction by the late Alan J. Pakula is just about flawless. Its one of the '70s great American films, up there with CHINATOWN, NASHVILLE, THE CONVERSATION, DELIVERANCE and THE GODFATHERS.. There are a few holes in the script, but they add to the tension and air of unease: Did Parallax realize that Frady was an investigative reporter, or was he simply hired to be a patsy that would take the fall for a killing? The look of the film too is chilly with all those dark interiors and metallic surfaces.

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR:  similar dark hues abound in Sydney Pollack's 1975 thriller, which I had not seen since its release. Robert Redford is in his prime here - all that blonde hair and blue jeans - and again the story grips from the start.
A mild mannered CIA researcher, paid to read books, returns from lunch to find all of his co-workers assassinated. "Condor" must find out who did this and get in from the cold before the hitmen get him. 
Redford isn't an "action hero". He stays ahead of the game - just barely - by using his intelligence.  This is fascinating stuff - Redford is not a superhero but an ordindary guy "who just reads books". Seems his department reads everything published looking for plots or stories about the CIA and he discovers an outlandish plot about a "CIA within the CIA" which nobody is supposed to know about - hence the whole department is wiped out by professionals - but Redford had slipped out the back way to run to the deli for lunch ... the moment that stayed with me is when the professional assassin ice-cool Max Von Sydow (ideal casting) asks Janice - Redford's girl - to step away from the window before he shoots her. "I won't scream" she says and he replies "I know" ....  Pollack wisely allows us to share in Redford's horror and confusion upon finding his dead co-workers. We witness his scramble for protection and his shaky call to the CIA Headquarters, as he demands to be brought in. He is on the run, as after a shoot-out in the alley where he is to be picked up he knows the CIA are after him as well. 
He kidnaps Dunaway to hide out at her place but the killers are on his tail - hence that package he has to sign for with the faulty biro. We watch glamorous movie stars playing "ordindary", but Redford and Dunaway draw you in, as their relationship unfolds and she finally believes his story and helps him to contact Cliff Robertson, that mysterious CIA operative, until the final scenes when the killer Joubert (Max) after relentlessly pursuing our hero and killing his friends and lover, helps our hero out, as his contracted services are over! Its complex and gripping all the way through, and although preposterous almost believeable! One of those terrific Pollack '70s films then.  (I saw Redford giving a lecture at the London BFI in 1973, 40 years ago!, and was surprised at how ordinary and not that tall he was in the flesh). Interesting too seeing these '70s stars like Beatty, Redford, Hackman (THE CONVERSATION), Pacino (SERPICO) in their prime displaying their liberal credentials in these paranoia thrillers - and how thrillers operated in that pre-internet, pre-cellphone world with those early cumbersome computers (as in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING) .... even in '60s capers like ARABESQUE they are chasing information on a microdot - which would now be a text message rather than an email! The twin towers are in evidence here too - Cliff Robertson has his office in them, in that '70s New York!
THE STEPFORD WIVES - This 1975 Bryan Forbes thriller has certainly stood the test of time, we all know what a Stepford Wife is .... the silly remake was well just too silly for words. But the original grips nicely as we follow photographer Katharine Ross and her family to the ideal town of Stepford. She and new buddy slapdash wife Paula Prentiss are amazed at the local women, all perfect and docile and only interested in catering to their men's every needs, and what is the mystery of that mens' social club run by the mysterious  Patrick O'Neal, who used to work at Disneyland ...
Stepford Wives is about a small suburb where the women happily go about their housework - cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking gourmet meals - to please their husbands. Unfortunately, Bobbie and Joanna discover that the village's wives have been replaced with robots, and Joanna'a husband wants in on the action.

It all holds up very well as the two girls slowly realise what is going on in their ideal community. When Paula too is finally "changed", Katharine has to go it alone, after that marvellous scene when the stabbed Prentiss robot malfunctions in her perfect kitchen.  As this is a Bryan Forbes film Mrs Forbes is also on hand - Nanette Newman, delicious as ever, as she goes around repeating "I'll just die if I don't get that recipe" as she too malfunctions. Tina Louise is also another perfect wife. Ira Levin's novel (he also wrote ROSEMARY'S BABY, a recent review here) is a delicious feminist spin on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and the final supermarket scene is a satisfying conclusion. William Goldman's screenplay from Levin's novel finds just the right touch from director Forbes. This is one thriller one can enjoy on repeat viewings.

Next week: more Redford in a Natalie Wood double bill: LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER and THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED; and he is in that 1966 star-studded THE CHASE which I have been meaning to re-see, along with the all-star HURRY SUNDOWN, plus Newman and all those dames (Bacall, Harris, Leigh, Winters) in HARPER, also '66. Also 2 more Polanski nerve-shredders THE TENANT and THE PIANIST ... and for some light relief Doris & Rock's SEND ME NO FLOWERS ...

1 comment:

  1. Wow - just wow! Great insights on these still essential seventies thrillers. thanks.