REMEMBERED DIRECTORS FORGOTTEN FILMS: in this segment i will be spending time with various well-known directors and some of their lesser-known films. some may be hidden gems and others might be obvious why they are lesser-known, but either way it will help us in a discussion of the directors work and style beyond the movies that we all know about... for this go around we are gonna check out John Frankenheimer
JOHN FRANKENHEIMER INFO:
- personal academy award nominations: 0
- other personal awards and nominations: 35 nominations & 13 wins
REMEMBERED MOVIES: these are the ones that usually come up when frankenheimer is mentioned: The Manchurian Candidate is probably his best film and the one he is best known for. many of us will also remember French Conection II because it is a sequal to a great movie, although it is pretty mediocre at best. then, for the younger generation, Ronin might be the only film that you recognize (even if you haven't seen it) from all the ones i am gonna talk about. if you haven't seen it you should, it is really good. also, let us not forget Birdman Of Alcatraz which is a really good movie as well.
THE FORGOTTEN FILMS: with about 25-30 films to his name there was a lot to choose from among the non-remembered films. some i had never heard of, while others i had always wanted to see and these were the ones i went with:
Seven Days In May (1964): this one appealed to me because it was a political thriller (which he obviously has a knack for given The Manchurian Candidate) and it was written by rod "Twilight Zone" serling (his only film script) among other reasons. however, this one didn't completely work for me. i wanted to like it, and i was with it for a while, but the problem for me was that the film seems to just linger. the tension should be building as the 7th day approaches and the plot to overthrow the president gets closer and closer to fruition, but by setting the whole film from the POV of the president and those on his side trying to discover and than stop the coup we never get to spend anytime watching the plotters build their plan and/or carry out the steps with a sense that things are one-step closer to "success".
The Train (1964): as the final days of the german occupation of france play out one nazi colonel tried to get a train full of great works of art out of france and into germany and a few resistance fighters try to stop him. while it is a solid action movie, The Train goes beyond that. among the resistance plotting and the great set pieces filmed with real trains, there is a discussion about art and human life and the value of things that elevate the film beyond my two-line synopses.
Grand Prix (1966): Grand Prix is all about the racing. of its three hours length, i would guess that close to one-third of that is spent on various racing sequences (the opening one is a good 20-minutes at least). not that i cam complaining though. the races are great. the split screen editing sometimes gets a bit out of hand - kind of like the editor learned a new trick and just wanted to use it as much as he could - but overall its use is well done and adds to the racing sequences. the story that they came up with is fairly unoriginal and could have been transported to almost any movie about any sport/activity (the older competitor who is getting tired of the game. the young upstart partying, womanizer. the rival loose-canon who is great, but hard to control, etc....). i do have to say though, that while i could recognize the average-quality of the script and the story, i did find myself interested in the characters and really interested in watching the beautifully filmed races.
Seconds (1966): although rod serling wrote Seven Days In May, Seconds is a film that feels like a long Twilight Zone episode. a man is lured to the offices of a company specializing in giving people a second chance at a new life by faking their death and then providing them with a completely new face, body and identity. the film is looks great and frankenheimer and his dp, james wong howe (who was nominated for an academy award) use angles and deep focus and close-ups beautifully.
Black Sunday (1977): unlike Seven Days In May, Black Sunday shows us both sides of the terrorist plot - those planning to carry it out and those trying to stop it. looking at all five films, i would say that this one is my favorite. you got good action, a thrilling cat and mouse chase as the authorities try to figure out, and stop the plot, and the last 30-40 minutes filmed at the actual 1976 super bowl which is very cool (and must have been a logistical nightmare). except for two of the worst special effects explosions i have ever seen in a movie, Black Sunday is a forgotten thriller that is worth checking out.
ALL THE FRANKENHEIMER FILMS I HAVE SEEN: The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman Of Alcatraz, The Train, Seconds, Seven Days In May, Black Sunday, Grand Prix, French Connection II, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Ronin, Reindeer Games
LOOKIN' AT FRANKENHEIMER: even with the five films i just watched, i have still only seen about a third of frankenheimers oeuvre (and that doesn't include the HBO and cable tv films he made in the 90s and early 2000s). when someone used to mention frankenheimer my first reaction was how great The Manchurian Candidate is, how awesome the car chases in Ronin are and how disappointing French Connection II was (i have tried to forget about The Island Of Dr. Moreau). now, however i can throw in Black Sunday and The Train with the better action/thriller films i have seen and appreciate the technical expertise that is the Grand Prix car races.
does seeing these five films place frankenheimer on a higher level than i had him previously? i have to say yes. however, although it goes to show that he is more than just the guy who directed The Manchurian Candidate, that film is still his only real masterwork (with Birdman Of Alcatraz, Ronin, The Train, Seconds and Black Sunday pulling up second place).
- this post will of course be updated over time if i see other frankenheimer films -