Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blog Announcement: Director Retrospective #4 - The Films of John Frankenheimer

As I wind down Director Retrospective #3, I was thinking of who I wanted to select for the fourth director in this ongoing blog series. I knew I wanted to look back a little in American film, but I couldn't find the right filmmaker that piqued my interest enough to grab all of their movies and dive right in. I was thinking about Sidney Lumet, but that would be a huge undertaking (damn some of those look so interesting, though, so I may still do a truncated retrospective for Lumet down the road), so I thought I would go with someone that shared a lot of similarities with Lumet (and worked under his supervision on the TV movie "You are There"): John Frankenheimer. This is still going to be a big undertaking (not nearly as big as Lumet's nearly 50(!) films), but I'm really looking forward to getting away from writing about horror for now (as much as I love it, it can be a bit of a drag to only watch and write about it) and focusing on Frankenherimer's extremely intriguing oeuvre.

Frankenheimer was one of the pioneers of the live television era, often taking his live shoots outside of the studio, refusing to be confined to the spaces and sets that were normal for a 90 minute live drama. As Frankenheimer ventured into film, his style became even more varied, aping the likes of Orson Welles (Frankenheimer loved deep focus, at least in the films I've seen) and citing Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Carol Reed (among others) as major influences.* There are some major gaps I have in the earliest and latest parts of his career. I don't remember anything about Reindeer Games (his final theatrical film), for example, but have been told that the Director's Cut changes the tone of the film considerably. I also haven't seen Frankenheimer favorites like The Train, Seconds, or The French Connection II. So I look forward to correcting those blindspots.

I've had a tendency to jump back and forth between straight-ahead filmmakers like John Carpenter and Sydney Pollack, and the more visually oriented like Ken Russell and (at times) Oliver Stone. From what I've experienced with Frankenheimer, I think he kind of falls right in the middle. Not getting as crazy as Russell or Stone but not keeping himself out of the way entirely like Pollack did. I'm looking forward to this one.

Now, the problem with choosing a filmmaker like Frankenheimer is that some of his movies are extremely hard to find. Netflix has a pathetic selection to choose from, and Amazon only fairs a little better. There may be some I have to skip unless someone out there can supply me with a copy of the movie. Some of these titles include: The Young Stranger (1957), The Extraordinary Seamen (1969) (I've heard this is quite the trainwreck, and I would love to get my hands on a copy), Impossible Object (1973), 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), The Challenge (1982), and The Fourth War (1990).

Anyway, look for the first entry, The Young Savages, July 29.

*Credit to Stephen Bowie's entry on Frankenheimer found at Senses of Cinema for some of the biographical information used here.


  1. Some of those early films look so great! and the rest of them... don't look so great. Though I did enjoy Ronin; not a patch on The Manchurian Candidate, but at least better than any of the few scenes from 'Dr. Moreau' I've watched (and even that movie gives you a chance to talk about Marlon Brando's declining sanity/career).

    1. Yeah, there are some interesting titles in there for sure. The one I'm most excited to revisit is 52 Pick-up, which I watched in high school solely on Ebert's 3 1/2 star review of the film. I remember liking it a lot then. Also, I'm curious to see his '90s and '00s output since I didn't really follow along (with the exception of Ronin) to what he was doing, especially in regards to his TV work.

      I remember seeing Dr. Moreau in the theater. Even as a middle schooler I thought that movie was shit. I can't wait to revisit it though.

      Thanks for checkin' this out!

  2. You can get 99 and 44/100% Dead via Amazon:

    It's paired up with THE NICKEL RIDE is actually a really cool '70s crime movie.