Paranoia Strikes Deep

In Hollywood during the 1930s, political movies dealt with corruption strictly on a small scale.  Whether it’s the corrupt politicians following the orders of their political bosses in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or a local joe, frustrated and angry with his luckless existence, signing up with a radical hate group in Black Legion,  Hollywood kept the corruption local, so to speak.  In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Senator Paine’s (Claude Rains) corrupt schemes affect the bank accounts of political bosses like Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) but don’t threaten or affect the world economy in any measurable way.  Likewise, in Black Legion,  Frank Taylor (Humphrey Bogart) joins a hate group whose activities affect the lives of those in a small town, although it’s implied their plans are much larger (here’s the real group the movie group was based on).  When it came to far-reaching conspiracies, it was always some international group, and some other country, doing the dirty work (Foreign Correspondent, for instance).  But then, slowly, the net widened and, seemingly out of nowhere,  in a one/two punch of extraordinary power, director John Frankenheimer blew the whole thing wide open.

John Frankenheimer, with The Manchurian Candidate in 1962, followed by his criminally underrated Seven Days in May in 1964, exploded political corruption in the movies from small potato grafting into foreign powers working within the United States to defeat it and zealous Generals in our own military looking to overthrow it.   What followed,  through the seventies, was a period of extreme political paranoia served up as entertainment by some of the finest filmmakers in Hollywood, and some not so fine.    When it was done, the political drama/thriller would be redefined and no one would ever be surprised again to walk into a political movie and see nothing less than the world at stake in the political games of fanatics, plunderers and madmen.

The Manchurian Candidate is, by far, the more famous of the two Frankenheimer films and certainly deserves all the praise it gets.  Telling a story of Communist boogeymen hypnotizing our soldiers, controlling members of our political class and creating assassins in order to install their own puppets into positions of ultimate power, the story works both as thriller and satire.  It contains scenes of subversive humor alongside scenes of chilling brutality that jar the viewer into disorientation.  Can anyone  forget the first time they saw the scene where the Flower Club ladies becomes the Communist leaders in Manchuria watching coldly as Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) shoots one of his own men?  Or the scene on the train where Rose (Janet Leigh) has the bizarre conversation with Marco (Frank Sinatra) – “Maryland is a beautiful state.’”  ”We’re not in Maryland.”  ”Nevertheless, Maryland is a beautiful state.”  - that maybe, possibly, indicates that there’s some counter-hypnosis control going on with our side for the good guys?

The main thing, though, was that it didn’t shy away from a plot implicating a U.S. Senator in the hands of, not just some political boss working the system, but a foreign power intent on U.S. domination.   It wasn’t long before television followed suit, and in less than a year, an episode of The Outer Limits, entitled The Hundred Days of the Dragon, had a nebulous Asian government (though the episode title clearly implicates China) installing a lookalike into the Oval Office itself with plans to kill off the entire cabinet and substitute lookalikes for each one.    When Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was released, there were complaints that it shed too bad a light on Washington and made us all look bad.  By the time of The Manchurian Candidate, in the wake of Klaus Fuchs, The Pumpkin Papers and Senator Joseph McCarthy, anything seemed possible and no subject taboo.

In 1964, Frankenheimer took it a step further and placed the enemy squarely within.  Seven Days in May,  based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, and written for the screen by Rod Serling,  tells the story of an attempted military coup in the United States of America.    Seemingly impossible, the film is handled deftly enough by the acting, writing and direction to make the impossible seem, if not probable, entirely possible.  Eschewing any sense of satire or wry wit, Seven Days in May tells its story in the straightforward fashion of an unabashed thriller.  Having last seen it years ago, I watched it again recently and was surprised by just how good a thriller it is.   The slow build works beautifully as Colonel Casey (Kirk Douglas), assistant to General Scott (Burt Lancaster), begins to piece together a plot that he, as a Marine Colonel, doesn’t want to believe is true until so many pieces fall into place that he has no other choice but to believe the unthinkable:  His direct supervisor is planning to overthrow the United States Government.   Coming on the heels of The Manchurian Candidate probably placed Seven Days in May in an unfair competition with its predecessor but it’s a film that deserves a lot more attention and a film to which many modern thrillers owe a debt of gratitude for many of the templates it set up that are still used today.

In between The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  In the coming years his brother, Robert Kennedy, as well as Martin Luther King,  Malcolm X and George Wallace would all be shot, with only Wallace surviving.    It seemed anyone, from any end of the political spectrum, from a civil rights leader to an unrepentant segregationist, was a target.   By the 1970s, the paranoid political thriller had hit full stride and even the events surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination, barely less than ten years removed, were the subject of their own paranoid thriller, Executive Action.  Once again starring Burt Lancaster (he made kind of a late career out of this, appearing in yet another, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, just four years later), it surmised a powerful group of wealthy financiers plotting, planning and carrying out the assassination.  It may have been more interesting had it been directed with more energy and style than a dogfood commercial but director David Miller is no John Frankenheimer and the movie falls flat.  And it gets little to no help from Dalton Trumbo’s script (yes, Dalton Trumbo!) which is nothing more than a series of scenes designed to impart necessary plot points to the audience.   There are no characters here, just mouthpieces for the plot, and they’re not even interesting as that.

But that’s okay because soon, the 1970s would produce the triumvirate of paranoid conspiracy thrillers that would define the genre for the decade: Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View and Marathon Man.   From secret government agencies controlling the oil market and wiping out anyone who catches on to trained assassins manipulating the U.S. political scene to subdivisions of U.S. intelligence working with former Nazis, those three had it all.  They even provide the viewer with three different outcomes so that every taste is satisfied:  Hero “wins” (Marathon Man), hero loses (Parallax View), hero’s outcome unsure (Three Days of the Condor).  All three are excellent, but Parallax View, with its stunning Gordon Willis cinematography and that incredible Parallax Corporation test film, is my favorite.  More importantly, it’s the film Executive Action wanted to be and should have been.

The Parallax View opens with an assassination in which the viewer of the film, but no character within the film, can see that a second gunman was present.   It then cuts to a commission panel (obviously a completely unveiled reference to the Warren Commission) chastising anyone for thinking that it could be the work of anything other than a lone gunman.    Director Alan J. Pakula  and writers David Giler, Lorezo Semple, Jr and Robert Towne (uncredited), keep the action generic enough but tense enough to make the whole “assassination conspiracy” story work without falling into the rabbit hole of “everybody’s involved” that sinks so many others.  It’s much easier in a thriller to accept a crazy loner, or two, being recruited and ordered to go shoot someone by a company looking to control the power elite for the benefit of its bottom line than believe that 8,427 members of the government, the Dow Jones Industrial 40, the mafia and the sitting board of Coca-Cola have all conspired to bring down the president.  It’s also easier to follow, quite frankly, which works in its favor as well.   The Parallax View succeeds because it keeps the story fictional, allowing it be much more inventive and imaginative than trying to pigeonhole reality into the plot of a thriller (although,  another Pakula thriller, All the President’s Men, took a real event and made it work quite well so it’s not impossible).

There were plenty of other paranoid thrillers and dramas in the seventies, from the great The Conversation and Chinatown to the decidedly sillier but fun to watch Capricorn One and The Stepford Wives, but Hollywood began to tone it back down and by 1981, Brian De Palma’s excellent Blow Out would once again make the conspiracy small scale; no coup d’etat, no foreign agents controlling our senators, no shadowy corporation controlling the process.  No, it was a dirty trick gone wrong and a murderous cover-up that followed.   And it was extremely well done.    Blow Out marks the end of the great period of paranoid thrillers that The Manchurian Candidate set off and Seven Days in May cemented.    Oh, they still happen and have even gotten big again.  Big, as in “everyone’s involved and the security of the world is at stake.”  Thrillers like The Constant Gardener, Syrianna and Ghostwriter have writ large the conspiracy once again but nothing can bring back the urgency and rawness they felt from 1962 to 1981, the year Ronald Reagan became the last President to be shot, when the paranoid thriller felt like a catharsis for the world we were just discovering we lived in.  Nowadays, it seems like everyone almost expects there to be dirty work behind every public action, so the thrillers are no longer shocking or revelatory.   It doesn’t mean they’re not as good, just that they no longer feel like an event.  Maybe they never were important in the grand scheme of things but, somehow, they felt necessary as an antidote to troubled times.  Maybe that feeling will return.  Maybe it already has.  Or maybe I’m just being paranoid.

108 Responses Paranoia Strikes Deep
Posted By tdraicer : August 17, 2011 9:04 am

>criminally underrated Seven Days in May in 1964

Is it criminally underrated? Most critics I’ve read rate it very highly (and I agree with you deservedly so). Besides the script, direction, and great cast, there is also a fine (if minimalist) score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Posted By tdraicer : August 17, 2011 9:04 am

>criminally underrated Seven Days in May in 1964

Is it criminally underrated? Most critics I’ve read rate it very highly (and I agree with you deservedly so). Besides the script, direction, and great cast, there is also a fine (if minimalist) score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 9:09 am

Well, I don’t think people should be arrested for underrating it, so maybe not criminally but I’ve never heard much talk of it, certainly not like that afforded to The Manchurian Candidate. I suppose this is all based on my own faulty recollections. If it’s not, and you’re probably right, I’m happy to hear it.

Also, bloggers get a free pass on hyperbole. It’s in the handbook.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 9:09 am

Well, I don’t think people should be arrested for underrating it, so maybe not criminally but I’ve never heard much talk of it, certainly not like that afforded to The Manchurian Candidate. I suppose this is all based on my own faulty recollections. If it’s not, and you’re probably right, I’m happy to hear it.

Also, bloggers get a free pass on hyperbole. It’s in the handbook.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 10:02 am

I wrote a piece a week ago that overlaps a bit but talking more from the perspective of the whistleblower. I believe that since the Watergate era, and due to the success of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (which you mention in passing) and its mysterious Deep Throat character, there has been a shift from the type of conspiracy thriller you outline where our protagonist is on the outside trying to break into a secret information loop. Now, you’re more likely to see the story from the perspective of the whistleblower, the person within, like in THE INSIDER, THE FIRM, and even a silly movie like LOGAN’S RUN.

Great piece, Greg.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 10:02 am

I wrote a piece a week ago that overlaps a bit but talking more from the perspective of the whistleblower. I believe that since the Watergate era, and due to the success of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (which you mention in passing) and its mysterious Deep Throat character, there has been a shift from the type of conspiracy thriller you outline where our protagonist is on the outside trying to break into a secret information loop. Now, you’re more likely to see the story from the perspective of the whistleblower, the person within, like in THE INSIDER, THE FIRM, and even a silly movie like LOGAN’S RUN.

Great piece, Greg.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 10:25 am

Here’s the link to Tony’s piece – Transfiguration.

Tony, Seven Days in May is instrumental here too as its story revolves around a general attempting a coup and his assistant outing his plot to the president. It’s also notable for the fact that it takes an outlandish scenario and makes it very believable by keeping the plotting of the usurpers minimal, essentially, from what the story gives us to work from, getting the president to a secret location with no press or aides present and forcing him to resign at which point General Scott takes emergency military control of the country.

And glad to see you include Logan’s Run, which may be silly but I love it. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sci-fi of the seventies. I also love Capricorn One and that one borders on exiting the silly room and moving directly to the stupid room. Silly and stupid definitely have their place in the paranoid thriller/sci-fi canon.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 10:25 am

Here’s the link to Tony’s piece – Transfiguration.

Tony, Seven Days in May is instrumental here too as its story revolves around a general attempting a coup and his assistant outing his plot to the president. It’s also notable for the fact that it takes an outlandish scenario and makes it very believable by keeping the plotting of the usurpers minimal, essentially, from what the story gives us to work from, getting the president to a secret location with no press or aides present and forcing him to resign at which point General Scott takes emergency military control of the country.

And glad to see you include Logan’s Run, which may be silly but I love it. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sci-fi of the seventies. I also love Capricorn One and that one borders on exiting the silly room and moving directly to the stupid room. Silly and stupid definitely have their place in the paranoid thriller/sci-fi canon.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 10:57 am

I’m looking forward to watching SEVEN DAYS IN MAY when it airs on TCM on 8/26. I’ve never seen it. While I agree with your previous commentor that it isn’t really underrated (you do hear many screenwriters refer to it as a touchstone), I would still say you’re somewhat right since in recent years its been eclipsed by MANCHURIAN.

I love LOGAN’S RUN and CAPRICORN ONE. Despite their silliness, each has a dark undercurrent that propels it. Another sci-fi one I mention in my piece (thanks for linking to it) doubles as a conspiracy thriller/whistleblower film and, not too coincidentally, is directed by Frankenheimer. What do you think of SECONDS?

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 10:57 am

I’m looking forward to watching SEVEN DAYS IN MAY when it airs on TCM on 8/26. I’ve never seen it. While I agree with your previous commentor that it isn’t really underrated (you do hear many screenwriters refer to it as a touchstone), I would still say you’re somewhat right since in recent years its been eclipsed by MANCHURIAN.

I love LOGAN’S RUN and CAPRICORN ONE. Despite their silliness, each has a dark undercurrent that propels it. Another sci-fi one I mention in my piece (thanks for linking to it) doubles as a conspiracy thriller/whistleblower film and, not too coincidentally, is directed by Frankenheimer. What do you think of SECONDS?

Posted By Wyatt Wingfoot : August 17, 2011 11:08 am

William Richert’s Winter Killis (1979) also fills the paranoia quotient – Winter Kills.

Posted By Wyatt Wingfoot : August 17, 2011 11:08 am

William Richert’s Winter Killis (1979) also fills the paranoia quotient – Winter Kills.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 11:41 am

I love The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May is pretty great too. I even watched that episode of The Outer Limits not too long ago. Grace Kelly’s father from High Society played both the President and his double. The political thrillers of the sixties and seventies were something special. The sensibilities of the time were different, so the movies were a little scarier to people. Not having been alive when most of those movies were made, this is all conjecture, of course.

Now the theme of political corruption is so common, whether it be on a small or large scale, or in real life, it just isn’t as shocking. The political thrillers of today lack “oomph”. Wasn’t The Manchurian Candidate essentially banned for many years after JFK was assassinated? Would that happen now? Probably not. That’s another reason why the original version of The Manchurian Candidate is so much better than its remake (shout-out to previous post). It really hit a nerve.

And Tony, Seconds was pretty awesomely weird. I couldn’t believe that Grandpa Walton could do such a thing.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 11:41 am

I love The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May is pretty great too. I even watched that episode of The Outer Limits not too long ago. Grace Kelly’s father from High Society played both the President and his double. The political thrillers of the sixties and seventies were something special. The sensibilities of the time were different, so the movies were a little scarier to people. Not having been alive when most of those movies were made, this is all conjecture, of course.

Now the theme of political corruption is so common, whether it be on a small or large scale, or in real life, it just isn’t as shocking. The political thrillers of today lack “oomph”. Wasn’t The Manchurian Candidate essentially banned for many years after JFK was assassinated? Would that happen now? Probably not. That’s another reason why the original version of The Manchurian Candidate is so much better than its remake (shout-out to previous post). It really hit a nerve.

And Tony, Seconds was pretty awesomely weird. I couldn’t believe that Grandpa Walton could do such a thing.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 11:46 am

Yeah, casting Grandpa Walton in SECONDS was a perfect example of counterituition working out for the best.

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 11:46 am

Yeah, casting Grandpa Walton in SECONDS was a perfect example of counterituition working out for the best.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:54 am

Tony, yes, Seconds! I really, really like it a lot. Even though Seconds is good, I’d probably like it even if it weren’t that expertly made. Thrillers and sci-fi have to suck pretty badly before I start to dismiss them as they’re favorite genres of mine. But, yes, I’m going to watch that one again soon. It’s been a while so much of it is foggy to me now (not the main plot but the details). Frankenheimer was such a good director of thrillers.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:54 am

Tony, yes, Seconds! I really, really like it a lot. Even though Seconds is good, I’d probably like it even if it weren’t that expertly made. Thrillers and sci-fi have to suck pretty badly before I start to dismiss them as they’re favorite genres of mine. But, yes, I’m going to watch that one again soon. It’s been a while so much of it is foggy to me now (not the main plot but the details). Frankenheimer was such a good director of thrillers.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:59 am

I love The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May is pretty great too. I even watched that episode of The Outer Limits not too long ago.

Wait a minute. You’re not… me, are you? Sorry, just a little paranoid.

And alive or not during the time, you’re right. Like I say at the end of the piece, they don’t have the same urgency today, the same feeling of something being revealed that’s shocking. The reveal at the end of Three Days of the Condor, when Redford finally figures out it’s about oil, was a hit in the gut because until that moment you had no idea why the killings had taken place. Nowadays, right after the opening hit scene, most moviegoers would think, “I bet this has to do with oil or the middle east in some way.” It’s all kind of “ho, hum” now.

And Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) is in Executive Action, too! He’s the big financier for the whole operation.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:59 am

I love The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May is pretty great too. I even watched that episode of The Outer Limits not too long ago.

Wait a minute. You’re not… me, are you? Sorry, just a little paranoid.

And alive or not during the time, you’re right. Like I say at the end of the piece, they don’t have the same urgency today, the same feeling of something being revealed that’s shocking. The reveal at the end of Three Days of the Condor, when Redford finally figures out it’s about oil, was a hit in the gut because until that moment you had no idea why the killings had taken place. Nowadays, right after the opening hit scene, most moviegoers would think, “I bet this has to do with oil or the middle east in some way.” It’s all kind of “ho, hum” now.

And Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) is in Executive Action, too! He’s the big financier for the whole operation.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 12:34 pm

It’s worth noting a couple of things here:i
First, part of the reason conspiracies were always small-scale for so long is that, as I understand it, that was an explicit part of the Hayes Code- corrupt cops, judges, politicians and so forth had always to be represented as aberrations, problems that could at least potentially be fixed by the forces of order, and not as the default within the system. (Though if you watch enough noir, you find out that nobody said the depiction of the system being good and just and rooting out all the bad things had to be _convincing.)

Second, with regard to Blow Out- part of De Palma’s point there was that nobody cared anymore, not even if there was a giant conspiracy. He was a JFK assassination nut himself, and had realized that by that point even if the full thing came to light, it wouldn’t matter- the development of Travolta’s character in Blow Out reflects that, that nobody gives a damn what he does one way or the other, and that the world has gotten too cynical even to imagine a grand orchestrating conspiracy working smoothly.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 12:34 pm

It’s worth noting a couple of things here:i
First, part of the reason conspiracies were always small-scale for so long is that, as I understand it, that was an explicit part of the Hayes Code- corrupt cops, judges, politicians and so forth had always to be represented as aberrations, problems that could at least potentially be fixed by the forces of order, and not as the default within the system. (Though if you watch enough noir, you find out that nobody said the depiction of the system being good and just and rooting out all the bad things had to be _convincing.)

Second, with regard to Blow Out- part of De Palma’s point there was that nobody cared anymore, not even if there was a giant conspiracy. He was a JFK assassination nut himself, and had realized that by that point even if the full thing came to light, it wouldn’t matter- the development of Travolta’s character in Blow Out reflects that, that nobody gives a damn what he does one way or the other, and that the world has gotten too cynical even to imagine a grand orchestrating conspiracy working smoothly.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 12:36 pm

(That’s the first time I’ve seen and endline character turn into an ‘i’. Shadowy government agents, perhaps?)

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 12:36 pm

(That’s the first time I’ve seen and endline character turn into an ‘i’. Shadowy government agents, perhaps?)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 12:58 pm

Tom, good point about the production code mandates of the time. It’s true that by 1962, they could start taking things further and, fortunately, had someone as good as Frankenheimer to grab the reins.

Blow Out is the perfect coda for this period, which is why I ended it there. It not only brings to mind the Zapruder film but takes the mechanics of conspiracy and brings them to the forefront. The gritty, dirty, filthy behind the scenes work of the grunts. The orchestraters of the car stunt are never seen and never brought to light. Instead, we see only the clean-up man, doing his job diligently and faithfully to the end.

It took big-time conspiracy, made it small and gritty and wrapped the era up with the feeling, as you said, that no one gave a crap anymore. Terrific movie.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 12:58 pm

Tom, good point about the production code mandates of the time. It’s true that by 1962, they could start taking things further and, fortunately, had someone as good as Frankenheimer to grab the reins.

Blow Out is the perfect coda for this period, which is why I ended it there. It not only brings to mind the Zapruder film but takes the mechanics of conspiracy and brings them to the forefront. The gritty, dirty, filthy behind the scenes work of the grunts. The orchestraters of the car stunt are never seen and never brought to light. Instead, we see only the clean-up man, doing his job diligently and faithfully to the end.

It took big-time conspiracy, made it small and gritty and wrapped the era up with the feeling, as you said, that no one gave a crap anymore. Terrific movie.

Posted By Kingrat : August 17, 2011 4:01 pm

Greg, thanks for a great post. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was pulled from circulation for a number of years and was one of the ultimate cult films. It was not a big hit on first release. When it was finally re-released, in the 80s I think, most people recognized it as a masterpiece. Believe it or not, in the 60s auteurist critics dissed Frankenheimer because he had started in TV (where he had chafed against the restrictions of the form) and therefore couldn’t possibly be a stylish movie director.

On the basis of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, SECONDS, and THE TRAIN, with honorable mention to ALL FALL DOWN, I consider Frankenheimer the most accomplished American director of the 1960s. Not of any other decade, alas.

Posted By Kingrat : August 17, 2011 4:01 pm

Greg, thanks for a great post. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was pulled from circulation for a number of years and was one of the ultimate cult films. It was not a big hit on first release. When it was finally re-released, in the 80s I think, most people recognized it as a masterpiece. Believe it or not, in the 60s auteurist critics dissed Frankenheimer because he had started in TV (where he had chafed against the restrictions of the form) and therefore couldn’t possibly be a stylish movie director.

On the basis of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, SECONDS, and THE TRAIN, with honorable mention to ALL FALL DOWN, I consider Frankenheimer the most accomplished American director of the 1960s. Not of any other decade, alas.

Posted By Emgee : August 17, 2011 4:03 pm

I think the fact that Redford, Beatty and Hoffmann were all politically left-of-center AND big stars in the Seventies were part of the reason films like Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor etc. were made. After Reagan took office flagwaving patriotic movies like First Blood, Top Gun and their ilk almost literally blew movies criticizing the Powers That Be out of the water. By now, after the Iraq war started, i think a lot of Americans feel that their government officials can be capable of anything, so the truth sort of outflanks any wild conspiracy theory. Why conspire when you can do it publicly and get away with it? (Not meaning to open a political debate here, btw…..)

Posted By Emgee : August 17, 2011 4:03 pm

I think the fact that Redford, Beatty and Hoffmann were all politically left-of-center AND big stars in the Seventies were part of the reason films like Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor etc. were made. After Reagan took office flagwaving patriotic movies like First Blood, Top Gun and their ilk almost literally blew movies criticizing the Powers That Be out of the water. By now, after the Iraq war started, i think a lot of Americans feel that their government officials can be capable of anything, so the truth sort of outflanks any wild conspiracy theory. Why conspire when you can do it publicly and get away with it? (Not meaning to open a political debate here, btw…..)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 4:21 pm

It was not a big hit on first release. When it was finally re-released, in the 80s I think, most people recognized it as a masterpiece.

I saw the re-release at the defunct Key Theatre in Washington, DC. It was a fantastic viewing experience.

It’s true, Frankenheimer’s post sixties work just wasn’t the same but, no matter, because the achievement of his sixties work should be enough to rank him highly in the pantheon of directors, certainly thriller directors, and yet it doesn’t with many. In fact, he doesn’t have much of a following at all, at least not in my experience.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 4:21 pm

It was not a big hit on first release. When it was finally re-released, in the 80s I think, most people recognized it as a masterpiece.

I saw the re-release at the defunct Key Theatre in Washington, DC. It was a fantastic viewing experience.

It’s true, Frankenheimer’s post sixties work just wasn’t the same but, no matter, because the achievement of his sixties work should be enough to rank him highly in the pantheon of directors, certainly thriller directors, and yet it doesn’t with many. In fact, he doesn’t have much of a following at all, at least not in my experience.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 4:27 pm

Emgee, I wouldn’t put the first Rambo movie in the category of “flagwaving patriotic movies” as its hero is an embittered Vietnam vet who fights it out with the authorities. I think the flagwaving of Rambo came later with the sequels. Also, a lot of the people in Hollywood making the flagwavers were/are also left-of-center but following the money and after the downer of the seventies, there was money to be made in crap like Top Gun.

That said, I have always believed that the arts reflect the times, one way or another. By the 80′s, the Cold War was at its height and stories revolving around the war aspect of it (Top Gun, Red Dawn, etc) took precedence over the behind-the-scenes espionage aspect of it. Also, by the eighties, the economy was rebounding and people probably felt a little more in control of their lives again making the paranoid thrillers even less necessary.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 4:27 pm

Emgee, I wouldn’t put the first Rambo movie in the category of “flagwaving patriotic movies” as its hero is an embittered Vietnam vet who fights it out with the authorities. I think the flagwaving of Rambo came later with the sequels. Also, a lot of the people in Hollywood making the flagwavers were/are also left-of-center but following the money and after the downer of the seventies, there was money to be made in crap like Top Gun.

That said, I have always believed that the arts reflect the times, one way or another. By the 80′s, the Cold War was at its height and stories revolving around the war aspect of it (Top Gun, Red Dawn, etc) took precedence over the behind-the-scenes espionage aspect of it. Also, by the eighties, the economy was rebounding and people probably felt a little more in control of their lives again making the paranoid thrillers even less necessary.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:06 pm

I think there’s a strange mythologization of what happened in Vietnam that pops up in a lot of 80s action movies which is related to the mindset of the conspiracy thriller, if not the actual content- the narratives about prisoners of war left behind, dehumanizing the North (and South) Vietnamese, and arguments about how we _could_ have won the war had we not been betrayed somehow often play into the same paranoiac logic that drives conspiracies, and I think ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-authoritarian’ became divorced around the same time.

In the 70s, a political thriller about the corruption of the system was likely to be a leftist critique that took its cues from something like ‘Z’- in the 80s, it was more likely to be a right-wing gut puncher that took them from ‘Dirty Harry’.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:06 pm

I think there’s a strange mythologization of what happened in Vietnam that pops up in a lot of 80s action movies which is related to the mindset of the conspiracy thriller, if not the actual content- the narratives about prisoners of war left behind, dehumanizing the North (and South) Vietnamese, and arguments about how we _could_ have won the war had we not been betrayed somehow often play into the same paranoiac logic that drives conspiracies, and I think ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-authoritarian’ became divorced around the same time.

In the 70s, a political thriller about the corruption of the system was likely to be a leftist critique that took its cues from something like ‘Z’- in the 80s, it was more likely to be a right-wing gut puncher that took them from ‘Dirty Harry’.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:16 pm

Oops, I forgot to put in the part that actually relates- I meant to say that you can see that evolution in the Rambo movies. Though First Blood is from the 80s, and already shows some of the 80s tendencies- there is the sense of the people back home showing no respect for the men who fought in Vietnam that would become an important part of the mythos I referenced above, the ‘hippies spitting on soldiers’ one- it is also still stylistically more in line with the earlier movies, with a lot of moral ambiguity that derives from the Deer Hunter and the idea that the war itself destroyed the soldiers, not the evil of the North Vietnamese or some betrayal on America’s part.

On the other hand, it has a lot of Milius-style bloodlust and worship of force, and here conspiracy/forces of evil can be fought with weapons- in the true conspiracy thrillers, they were fought largely with information. And obviously, by the next movie, any trace of soul sickness and ambiguity was scrubbed away in favor of pounds and pounds of bullet casings and a full investment in all the Vietnam mythology.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:16 pm

Oops, I forgot to put in the part that actually relates- I meant to say that you can see that evolution in the Rambo movies. Though First Blood is from the 80s, and already shows some of the 80s tendencies- there is the sense of the people back home showing no respect for the men who fought in Vietnam that would become an important part of the mythos I referenced above, the ‘hippies spitting on soldiers’ one- it is also still stylistically more in line with the earlier movies, with a lot of moral ambiguity that derives from the Deer Hunter and the idea that the war itself destroyed the soldiers, not the evil of the North Vietnamese or some betrayal on America’s part.

On the other hand, it has a lot of Milius-style bloodlust and worship of force, and here conspiracy/forces of evil can be fought with weapons- in the true conspiracy thrillers, they were fought largely with information. And obviously, by the next movie, any trace of soul sickness and ambiguity was scrubbed away in favor of pounds and pounds of bullet casings and a full investment in all the Vietnam mythology.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:23 pm

Also, not to hog the whole thread here, there are a couple of other interesting points in the development of the conspiracy film- Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live.

The former, though under a screen of science fiction, is clearly a really widescale implication of virtually everyone and everything- it’s almost a metaphysical conspiracy, one that goes beyond politics and into the forces governing what people _are_. Certainly, it establishes the form that conspiracy thrillers would generally take, with the accidental revelation of some unexpected fact, the progress of deepening the conspiracy and being shocked to find out that this beloved character too is in on it, the capture and flipping over of one of the main characters, and the resolution that doesn’t resolve anything. It’s soaked in paranoia, and the obvious question it begs (are pod people actually all that different) means that it doesn’t even have the “all our problems are attributed to some malevolent outside force” idea that sometimes makes conspiracy movies reassuring, rather than frightening.

They Live is also an interesting one- this one too uses science fiction to cloak a conspiracy plotline, and this time doesn’t bother to be particularly subtle about its societal critiques of consumerist zombies. This time, though, it doesn’t really use the conspiracy thriller format- as with the Rambo series, it posits that such things can be fought with force and with weapons, albeit here with a tongue-in-cheek sense that the violence parts shouldn’t be taken particularly seriously (and a collectivist message of resistance that I think the film intends you should.)

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 5:23 pm

Also, not to hog the whole thread here, there are a couple of other interesting points in the development of the conspiracy film- Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live.

The former, though under a screen of science fiction, is clearly a really widescale implication of virtually everyone and everything- it’s almost a metaphysical conspiracy, one that goes beyond politics and into the forces governing what people _are_. Certainly, it establishes the form that conspiracy thrillers would generally take, with the accidental revelation of some unexpected fact, the progress of deepening the conspiracy and being shocked to find out that this beloved character too is in on it, the capture and flipping over of one of the main characters, and the resolution that doesn’t resolve anything. It’s soaked in paranoia, and the obvious question it begs (are pod people actually all that different) means that it doesn’t even have the “all our problems are attributed to some malevolent outside force” idea that sometimes makes conspiracy movies reassuring, rather than frightening.

They Live is also an interesting one- this one too uses science fiction to cloak a conspiracy plotline, and this time doesn’t bother to be particularly subtle about its societal critiques of consumerist zombies. This time, though, it doesn’t really use the conspiracy thriller format- as with the Rambo series, it posits that such things can be fought with force and with weapons, albeit here with a tongue-in-cheek sense that the violence parts shouldn’t be taken particularly seriously (and a collectivist message of resistance that I think the film intends you should.)

Posted By suzidoll : August 17, 2011 5:35 pm

Re: “criminally underrated Seven Days in May in 1964″

I definitely think charges should be brought against those who underrate movies!

Kidding aside, I showed PARALLAX VIEW in my Intro to Film class, and the students did not like it because it was “too difficult” to follow and had a disturbing ending. Very disappointing for me.

Posted By suzidoll : August 17, 2011 5:35 pm

Re: “criminally underrated Seven Days in May in 1964″

I definitely think charges should be brought against those who underrate movies!

Kidding aside, I showed PARALLAX VIEW in my Intro to Film class, and the students did not like it because it was “too difficult” to follow and had a disturbing ending. Very disappointing for me.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 5:47 pm

Suzi- I think the students in the class must have been busy playing patty fingers or something during the movie instead of paying attention to the film. I could see them thinking it had a disturbing ending, but that doesn’t necessarily a bad movie make.

And coming from this flagwaver, with the exception of First Blood, the 80′s Rambo movies are terrible. First Blood had a decent story and the acting was decent as well. Rambo was a compelling character in the first; a cartoon character in the others. Top Gun was cheese, but there are some good moments in it.

I have felt for quite some time that Frankenheimer was extremely underrated as well. At least his 60′s work was. He fell off track in the 70′s. The French Connection II was pretty bad.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 5:47 pm

Suzi- I think the students in the class must have been busy playing patty fingers or something during the movie instead of paying attention to the film. I could see them thinking it had a disturbing ending, but that doesn’t necessarily a bad movie make.

And coming from this flagwaver, with the exception of First Blood, the 80′s Rambo movies are terrible. First Blood had a decent story and the acting was decent as well. Rambo was a compelling character in the first; a cartoon character in the others. Top Gun was cheese, but there are some good moments in it.

I have felt for quite some time that Frankenheimer was extremely underrated as well. At least his 60′s work was. He fell off track in the 70′s. The French Connection II was pretty bad.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 5:48 pm

Tom- Don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 5:48 pm

Tom- Don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 6:10 pm

Duke- thanks, I appreciate that.

As far as Frankenheimer goes, I like The Holcroft Covenant a lot- the plot is sort of stupid, but it’s also the kind of part that Michael Caine is always amazing in, and it moves really well. I also think Ronin is as close as Frankenheimer came to a late-period masterpiece, very taut and entertaining and intelligent (which is amazing, as it’s the movie he made after the batty and entertaining but clearly terrible Island of Dr. Moreau.)

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 6:10 pm

Duke- thanks, I appreciate that.

As far as Frankenheimer goes, I like The Holcroft Covenant a lot- the plot is sort of stupid, but it’s also the kind of part that Michael Caine is always amazing in, and it moves really well. I also think Ronin is as close as Frankenheimer came to a late-period masterpiece, very taut and entertaining and intelligent (which is amazing, as it’s the movie he made after the batty and entertaining but clearly terrible Island of Dr. Moreau.)

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 6:16 pm

Ronin was pretty solid.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 17, 2011 6:16 pm

Ronin was pretty solid.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 7:49 pm

Tom, thanks for hogging the whole thread.

Tom- Don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

I’ll be the judge of that. [long pause] Tom, don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

Take that, Duke!

Tom, great points all about the Rambo movies and what’s interesting is that in the Vietnam mythos, both the American people and their government are implicated. The people for their selfish lack of appreciation and the government for abandoning them. But never the war or the enemy, like any other war. No, what destroyed them in Vietnam was us. This is very important because Vietnam was not a victory and if we’re to blame it reinforces the belief that only we can beat ourselves. By that line of thought, it is patriotic because its implicit statement is, “They didn’t win. We lost. We defeated ourselves.”

I agree about the paranoic strains of both Body Snatchers and They Live but didn’t include sci-fi simply because I wanted to focus on human-made governmental and/or corporate conspiracies. And while I like, mildly, They Live, I love Kaufman’s Body Snatchers. What a great movie.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 7:49 pm

Tom, thanks for hogging the whole thread.

Tom- Don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

I’ll be the judge of that. [long pause] Tom, don’t worry about hogging the TB. You always have something interesting to say, regardless of whether I agree with you or not.

Take that, Duke!

Tom, great points all about the Rambo movies and what’s interesting is that in the Vietnam mythos, both the American people and their government are implicated. The people for their selfish lack of appreciation and the government for abandoning them. But never the war or the enemy, like any other war. No, what destroyed them in Vietnam was us. This is very important because Vietnam was not a victory and if we’re to blame it reinforces the belief that only we can beat ourselves. By that line of thought, it is patriotic because its implicit statement is, “They didn’t win. We lost. We defeated ourselves.”

I agree about the paranoic strains of both Body Snatchers and They Live but didn’t include sci-fi simply because I wanted to focus on human-made governmental and/or corporate conspiracies. And while I like, mildly, They Live, I love Kaufman’s Body Snatchers. What a great movie.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 7:57 pm

I showed PARALLAX VIEW in my Intro to Film class, and the students did not like it because it was “too difficult” to follow and had a disturbing ending. Very disappointing for me.

First off, how wonderful that you showed Parallax View in your Intro to Film Class. I majored in theatre and took film classes on the side (still have my first textbooks, Analyzing Film and James Monaco’s How to Read a Film) and they were by the book all the way. Exactly what you would expect. But Parallax View… I bet your class is pretty damn interesting. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they didn’t like it. And I agree with Duke, I don’t find it hard to follow at all. Disturbing, yes, and perfectly so, but not hard to follow unless by that they meant that it is not at all clear who or what The Parallax Corporation is but that’s one of the movie’s good points. They remain shadowy and vague. And Willis’ photography, as well as the sound work and the editing are all superbly done.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 7:57 pm

I showed PARALLAX VIEW in my Intro to Film class, and the students did not like it because it was “too difficult” to follow and had a disturbing ending. Very disappointing for me.

First off, how wonderful that you showed Parallax View in your Intro to Film Class. I majored in theatre and took film classes on the side (still have my first textbooks, Analyzing Film and James Monaco’s How to Read a Film) and they were by the book all the way. Exactly what you would expect. But Parallax View… I bet your class is pretty damn interesting. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they didn’t like it. And I agree with Duke, I don’t find it hard to follow at all. Disturbing, yes, and perfectly so, but not hard to follow unless by that they meant that it is not at all clear who or what The Parallax Corporation is but that’s one of the movie’s good points. They remain shadowy and vague. And Willis’ photography, as well as the sound work and the editing are all superbly done.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:05 pm

I think everyone here already knows but Criterion is finally releasing Island of Lost Souls. I’ve only ever seen it on PBS and commercial television and loved it every time. Can hardly wait to see it presented by Criterion. This, by the way, is in relation to Tom’s mention of Frankenheimer’s Island of Doctor Moreau and Tom, calling it terrible is too kind, it was atrocious. Oh my god, I was excited to see it when it came out and when I did, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Whatever, though, Laughton and Lugosi are on the way! Everybody now – “Are we not men?!”

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:05 pm

I think everyone here already knows but Criterion is finally releasing Island of Lost Souls. I’ve only ever seen it on PBS and commercial television and loved it every time. Can hardly wait to see it presented by Criterion. This, by the way, is in relation to Tom’s mention of Frankenheimer’s Island of Doctor Moreau and Tom, calling it terrible is too kind, it was atrocious. Oh my god, I was excited to see it when it came out and when I did, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Whatever, though, Laughton and Lugosi are on the way! Everybody now – “Are we not men?!”

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 8:15 pm

Well, I’ve liked every iteration of DOCTOR MOREAU including Frankenheimer’s for the sheer Syfy Channel lunacy of it all. But does no one here like my favorite version, the 70s one directed by Don Taylor which starred Burt Lancaster and Michael (Run runner!) York?

Posted By Tony Dayoub : August 17, 2011 8:15 pm

Well, I’ve liked every iteration of DOCTOR MOREAU including Frankenheimer’s for the sheer Syfy Channel lunacy of it all. But does no one here like my favorite version, the 70s one directed by Don Taylor which starred Burt Lancaster and Michael (Run runner!) York?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:20 pm

Tony, I like the Lancaster version as well. It used to be on Netflix Instant (now it’s completely gone from there) and it’s definitely got the whole low-budget, tv movie-ish feel to it but, still, it’s pretty good. The ’96 version though… I’ll just say I enjoyed some of Brando’s crazy-ass acting choices but, really, it’s pretty hard to defend. I thought it was truly abysmal. But, so what, right? I’ve liked some other movies I thought were pretty bad, too.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:20 pm

Tony, I like the Lancaster version as well. It used to be on Netflix Instant (now it’s completely gone from there) and it’s definitely got the whole low-budget, tv movie-ish feel to it but, still, it’s pretty good. The ’96 version though… I’ll just say I enjoyed some of Brando’s crazy-ass acting choices but, really, it’s pretty hard to defend. I thought it was truly abysmal. But, so what, right? I’ve liked some other movies I thought were pretty bad, too.

Posted By medusamorlock : August 17, 2011 8:39 pm

Great post! I love and appreciate the shout-out to TV’s “The Outer Limits” which often captured early 1960s mistrust of government and other powerful forces. “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” is a super episode that’s unforgettable! Many other TOL hours were paranoia-centered and I highly recommend the series for its overall excellence. You might enjoy checking out the tremendous recent blog where each episode was examined: http://wearecontrollingtransmission.blogspot.com/ The episodes are on Hulu for easy viewing, too.

Again, wonderful post!

Posted By medusamorlock : August 17, 2011 8:39 pm

Great post! I love and appreciate the shout-out to TV’s “The Outer Limits” which often captured early 1960s mistrust of government and other powerful forces. “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” is a super episode that’s unforgettable! Many other TOL hours were paranoia-centered and I highly recommend the series for its overall excellence. You might enjoy checking out the tremendous recent blog where each episode was examined: http://wearecontrollingtransmission.blogspot.com/ The episodes are on Hulu for easy viewing, too.

Again, wonderful post!

Posted By CherieP : August 17, 2011 8:41 pm

I recently posted a review on the remake of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004) on the IMDB. I like it a lot myself, but the reviewers seemed split down the middle, 50/50 as to whether they liked it or loathed it. I’ve never come across a title before that attracted such extreme opinions.

I don’t know what that means exactly, but I do think, sadly, that Greg is right about how we have passed the heyday of the political conspiracy thriller.

Posted By CherieP : August 17, 2011 8:41 pm

I recently posted a review on the remake of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004) on the IMDB. I like it a lot myself, but the reviewers seemed split down the middle, 50/50 as to whether they liked it or loathed it. I’ve never come across a title before that attracted such extreme opinions.

I don’t know what that means exactly, but I do think, sadly, that Greg is right about how we have passed the heyday of the political conspiracy thriller.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:52 pm

Medusa, thanks! I love The Outer Limits and have since I was a kid. Demon with a Glass Hand is one of my favorite episodes ever. I did a quick look and one of the bloggers, John, gave it four stars while the other, Peter, gave it two. Rip-off! I’m with John on that one, all the way. Thanks for that link, I’m going to read them all.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:52 pm

Medusa, thanks! I love The Outer Limits and have since I was a kid. Demon with a Glass Hand is one of my favorite episodes ever. I did a quick look and one of the bloggers, John, gave it four stars while the other, Peter, gave it two. Rip-off! I’m with John on that one, all the way. Thanks for that link, I’m going to read them all.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:56 pm

Cherie, as I mentioned in my last post (I think) I still haven’t seen the remake for The Manchurian Candidate but I do think that it had to lose something simply by taking place now. I mean, Ghostwriter is excellent and a great thriller. It even posits America (through the CIA) as the brainwashing bad guys, so to speak, controlling the British PM. And yet, none of it seemed shocking and not because anyone sane actually believes that but because in the world we’ve gotten used to nothing like that would seem very surprising or interesting if it were true. Thrillers now rely solely on the suspense and action. The cultural subtext is pretty much gone.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 8:56 pm

Cherie, as I mentioned in my last post (I think) I still haven’t seen the remake for The Manchurian Candidate but I do think that it had to lose something simply by taking place now. I mean, Ghostwriter is excellent and a great thriller. It even posits America (through the CIA) as the brainwashing bad guys, so to speak, controlling the British PM. And yet, none of it seemed shocking and not because anyone sane actually believes that but because in the world we’ve gotten used to nothing like that would seem very surprising or interesting if it were true. Thrillers now rely solely on the suspense and action. The cultural subtext is pretty much gone.

Posted By CherieP : August 17, 2011 9:15 pm

Greg, I thought that the re-make worked, because it depended on the lack of consensus that liberals believed existed in relation the public’s opinion of the U.S. going to war in Iraq. The cold war is finished, but as long as the liberals and conservatives are at war with each other in the battle for public opinion, maybe the genre will take the lead of ‘Manchurian’ (2004) and show the United States in a more critical light than most non-genre mainstream movies are able to do. And we all do seem a bit tired of revelations that are no longer big news to us any longer.

I haven’t seen Ghostwriter but it sounds right up my alley. Some English titles are nifty, including ‘The Whistle Blower’ (1987) and ‘Edge of Darkness’(1983?)which was made for T.V. They’re really more spy/espionage kind of movies. And I don’t think that anybody has mentioned ‘Day of the Jackal’, (about the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle), which is straightforward and very documentary-like. I’m not sure if it falls into the category or not.

Posted By CherieP : August 17, 2011 9:15 pm

Greg, I thought that the re-make worked, because it depended on the lack of consensus that liberals believed existed in relation the public’s opinion of the U.S. going to war in Iraq. The cold war is finished, but as long as the liberals and conservatives are at war with each other in the battle for public opinion, maybe the genre will take the lead of ‘Manchurian’ (2004) and show the United States in a more critical light than most non-genre mainstream movies are able to do. And we all do seem a bit tired of revelations that are no longer big news to us any longer.

I haven’t seen Ghostwriter but it sounds right up my alley. Some English titles are nifty, including ‘The Whistle Blower’ (1987) and ‘Edge of Darkness’(1983?)which was made for T.V. They’re really more spy/espionage kind of movies. And I don’t think that anybody has mentioned ‘Day of the Jackal’, (about the attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle), which is straightforward and very documentary-like. I’m not sure if it falls into the category or not.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 10:45 pm

I haven’t seen Ghostwriter but it sounds right up my alley.

Oops, I probably gave away too much but still I don’t think I gave away the whole game as there are many character revelations that drive it more than the “big” revelation.

I don’t think Day of the Jackal necessarily qualifies here but it does qualify, nonetheless, as a hell of a thriller. I love it.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 10:45 pm

I haven’t seen Ghostwriter but it sounds right up my alley.

Oops, I probably gave away too much but still I don’t think I gave away the whole game as there are many character revelations that drive it more than the “big” revelation.

I don’t think Day of the Jackal necessarily qualifies here but it does qualify, nonetheless, as a hell of a thriller. I love it.

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 10:54 pm

For modern political/conspiracy movies, the Bourne trilogy is worth bringing up- the Bourne character is too much of a comic book superhero for the movies to fit well in the 70s conspiracy thriller mold, but they do exist in a world of deeply corrupt government institutions which are evidently behind most of the assassinations and evil shit in the world, and who are watching everyone, all the time. They feel like a good conspiracy movie too, handheld and shaky and unsure about what’s happening.

And Greg, I actually really like Frankenheimer’s Moreau- I mean, it’s bad by any objective measure, but how could anyone really dislike a movie with that much craziness in it? Brando with an ice bucket on his head? Val Kilmer imitating Brando with an ice bucket on his head? The dwarfish doppelganger? The cruelest waste of David Thewlis this side of DragonHeart? What’s not to love?

Posted By Tom S : August 17, 2011 10:54 pm

For modern political/conspiracy movies, the Bourne trilogy is worth bringing up- the Bourne character is too much of a comic book superhero for the movies to fit well in the 70s conspiracy thriller mold, but they do exist in a world of deeply corrupt government institutions which are evidently behind most of the assassinations and evil shit in the world, and who are watching everyone, all the time. They feel like a good conspiracy movie too, handheld and shaky and unsure about what’s happening.

And Greg, I actually really like Frankenheimer’s Moreau- I mean, it’s bad by any objective measure, but how could anyone really dislike a movie with that much craziness in it? Brando with an ice bucket on his head? Val Kilmer imitating Brando with an ice bucket on his head? The dwarfish doppelganger? The cruelest waste of David Thewlis this side of DragonHeart? What’s not to love?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:46 pm

I saw some of Dragonheart on tv recently. The CGI, which looked decent to me in 96, now looks horrible. My favorite part though is Dina Meyer. She’s a peasant girl, destitute and living a life a hard labor. No dentist, no stylist, no spas. It’s A.D. 984. She has nothing. And yet, she looks like this. Dennis Quaid looked even better and he spends all his time living outdoors with his horse hunting dragons. Somewhere, somehow, he, she and the monk all got access to great dental care and dermatologists.

I don’t know where I was going with this. I’ll just say, Brando, what a crazy bastard. He’s always fun to watch because he was insane. And according to the stories from the set (true or not I do not know) Brando said to Kilmer, after his behavior bugged even Brando, “You’re confusing your talent with the size of your paycheck.”

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 17, 2011 11:46 pm

I saw some of Dragonheart on tv recently. The CGI, which looked decent to me in 96, now looks horrible. My favorite part though is Dina Meyer. She’s a peasant girl, destitute and living a life a hard labor. No dentist, no stylist, no spas. It’s A.D. 984. She has nothing. And yet, she looks like this. Dennis Quaid looked even better and he spends all his time living outdoors with his horse hunting dragons. Somewhere, somehow, he, she and the monk all got access to great dental care and dermatologists.

I don’t know where I was going with this. I’ll just say, Brando, what a crazy bastard. He’s always fun to watch because he was insane. And according to the stories from the set (true or not I do not know) Brando said to Kilmer, after his behavior bugged even Brando, “You’re confusing your talent with the size of your paycheck.”

Posted By Vanwall : August 18, 2011 12:37 am

The thing I really liked about “Seven Days in May”, was its fidelity to the book, very little variation required because it was a cinematic-seeming story – it’s still an excellent read, with more character depth than a lot of other thrillers, and this carried over into the movie. The scariest thing for me though, is how little changed the basic plot could be in a re-make – a sad commentary on things in general.

Posted By Vanwall : August 18, 2011 12:37 am

The thing I really liked about “Seven Days in May”, was its fidelity to the book, very little variation required because it was a cinematic-seeming story – it’s still an excellent read, with more character depth than a lot of other thrillers, and this carried over into the movie. The scariest thing for me though, is how little changed the basic plot could be in a re-make – a sad commentary on things in general.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 18, 2011 1:10 am

“What’s not to love?” Easy. Everything. That movie was horrific in ways they did not design it to be. What a waste.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 18, 2011 1:10 am

“What’s not to love?” Easy. Everything. That movie was horrific in ways they did not design it to be. What a waste.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 9:20 am

Vanwall, it’s true, Seven Days in May is as timely now as it was then, or hell, would’ve been back when the Alien and Sedition Acts passed under Adams. There has always been an element in the country, sad but true, that believe to preserve liberty we must take it away for safe-keeping until we can get everything back under control.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 9:20 am

Vanwall, it’s true, Seven Days in May is as timely now as it was then, or hell, would’ve been back when the Alien and Sedition Acts passed under Adams. There has always been an element in the country, sad but true, that believe to preserve liberty we must take it away for safe-keeping until we can get everything back under control.

Posted By Kingrat : August 18, 2011 7:21 pm

Greg, glad to know we see eye to eye about Frankenheimer. SEVEN DAYS IN MAY was suggested by the right-wing Gen. Curtis LeMay, the basis for the Burt Lancaster character. LeMay had political ambitions, though, fortunately, he never tried to overthrow the government.

Posted By Kingrat : August 18, 2011 7:21 pm

Greg, glad to know we see eye to eye about Frankenheimer. SEVEN DAYS IN MAY was suggested by the right-wing Gen. Curtis LeMay, the basis for the Burt Lancaster character. LeMay had political ambitions, though, fortunately, he never tried to overthrow the government.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 18, 2011 11:05 pm

Curtis LeMay was awesome.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 18, 2011 11:05 pm

Curtis LeMay was awesome.

Posted By Tom S : August 18, 2011 11:44 pm

Well, not if you’re Cambodian. Or Laotian. Or Vietnamese. Or if you’re not a big fan of George Wallace.

Posted By Tom S : August 18, 2011 11:44 pm

Well, not if you’re Cambodian. Or Laotian. Or Vietnamese. Or if you’re not a big fan of George Wallace.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 12:13 am

LeMay was not in favor of the bombings in Cambodia or Laos. And why would the North Vietnamese have liked him anyway? He was their enemy. His overall military career and service to his country trump his minor indiscretion as George Wallace’s running mate. The only reason he agreed to run with Wallace was because of Nixon’s proposed open door policy with the Soviet Union. He supported Nixon prior to that. LeMay hated the Soviet Union.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 12:13 am

LeMay was not in favor of the bombings in Cambodia or Laos. And why would the North Vietnamese have liked him anyway? He was their enemy. His overall military career and service to his country trump his minor indiscretion as George Wallace’s running mate. The only reason he agreed to run with Wallace was because of Nixon’s proposed open door policy with the Soviet Union. He supported Nixon prior to that. LeMay hated the Soviet Union.

Posted By Tom S : August 19, 2011 1:47 am

Haha, we’re getting off topic here, but I think LeMay’s purposed suggestion that we use nuclear weapons in North Vietnam- which would inevitably have had serious environmental effects on South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia- and the grounds for his disagreement with Nixon (specifically, that he thought Nixon wasn’t aggressive enough in his nuclear brinksmanship) are not things that reassure me about the man.

Wasn’t General Jack T. Ripper in Strangelove a LeMay surrogate?

Posted By Tom S : August 19, 2011 1:47 am

Haha, we’re getting off topic here, but I think LeMay’s purposed suggestion that we use nuclear weapons in North Vietnam- which would inevitably have had serious environmental effects on South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia- and the grounds for his disagreement with Nixon (specifically, that he thought Nixon wasn’t aggressive enough in his nuclear brinksmanship) are not things that reassure me about the man.

Wasn’t General Jack T. Ripper in Strangelove a LeMay surrogate?

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 2:21 am

General Buck Turgidson was based on LeMay.

I couldn’t find any information about LeMay advocating dropping nuclear bombs on North Vietnam however, he was not shy in advocating the possibility of using them against the Soviet Union. He wanted to fire missiles armed with nuclear warheads at Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed in that situation.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 2:21 am

General Buck Turgidson was based on LeMay.

I couldn’t find any information about LeMay advocating dropping nuclear bombs on North Vietnam however, he was not shy in advocating the possibility of using them against the Soviet Union. He wanted to fire missiles armed with nuclear warheads at Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed in that situation.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 2:32 am

Actually, I’ll correct myself. He endorsed preemptive nuclear war against the Soviet Union if intelligence proved that the Soviet Union was planning a nuclear attack against us. That was even before 1962. He wanted to bomb Cuban missile placements during the CMC and even after the Crisis ended, but not necessarily with nuclear weapons.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 2:32 am

Actually, I’ll correct myself. He endorsed preemptive nuclear war against the Soviet Union if intelligence proved that the Soviet Union was planning a nuclear attack against us. That was even before 1962. He wanted to bomb Cuban missile placements during the CMC and even after the Crisis ended, but not necessarily with nuclear weapons.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 19, 2011 11:54 am

How did a post on paranoid political thrillers turn into a discussion about the military and politics and… oh, wait a minute. According to co-novelist Fletcher Knebel, General Edwin Walker was the inspiration but then in 1961, he interviewed LeMay and found a secondary inspiration thus making General Scott a blending of the two.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 19, 2011 11:54 am

How did a post on paranoid political thrillers turn into a discussion about the military and politics and… oh, wait a minute. According to co-novelist Fletcher Knebel, General Edwin Walker was the inspiration but then in 1961, he interviewed LeMay and found a secondary inspiration thus making General Scott a blending of the two.

Posted By Tom S : August 19, 2011 12:15 pm

Getting waaay back, I just watched Black Legion last night- it’s true that it’s not really a conspiracy thriller, but it’s an amazingly bleak social problem picture, and an interesting partner to Sierra Madre- there, Bogey is a nice guy driven to madness and evil by wealth and an inability to be part of a group, while Black Legion’s Bogey is a nice guy driven to madness and evil by poverty and susceptibility to group pressures. Though ‘madness’ is stretching it a bit- one of the things the movie does well is remind the viewer that hate groups aren’t necessarily all raging psychopaths, and often come from ‘normal’, respected people- which is itself an important precursor to the conspiracy genre.

Posted By Tom S : August 19, 2011 12:15 pm

Getting waaay back, I just watched Black Legion last night- it’s true that it’s not really a conspiracy thriller, but it’s an amazingly bleak social problem picture, and an interesting partner to Sierra Madre- there, Bogey is a nice guy driven to madness and evil by wealth and an inability to be part of a group, while Black Legion’s Bogey is a nice guy driven to madness and evil by poverty and susceptibility to group pressures. Though ‘madness’ is stretching it a bit- one of the things the movie does well is remind the viewer that hate groups aren’t necessarily all raging psychopaths, and often come from ‘normal’, respected people- which is itself an important precursor to the conspiracy genre.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 19, 2011 2:15 pm

Tom, I saw Black Legion a few months back on TCM and really liked it a lot. It does an excellent job of 1) Showing how desperate but basically decent people turn to scapegoating to regain control over their lives and 2) how someone else, bigger and richer, is actually in control of the scapegoating and using the desperate people to fight their battles. This has happened, of course, throughout history so a movie like Black Legion will always feel fresh because the basic human failings being explored will always be present.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 19, 2011 2:15 pm

Tom, I saw Black Legion a few months back on TCM and really liked it a lot. It does an excellent job of 1) Showing how desperate but basically decent people turn to scapegoating to regain control over their lives and 2) how someone else, bigger and richer, is actually in control of the scapegoating and using the desperate people to fight their battles. This has happened, of course, throughout history so a movie like Black Legion will always feel fresh because the basic human failings being explored will always be present.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 24, 2011 12:49 pm

There’s something happening here, whatit ain’t exactly clear there’s a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound everybody look what’s going down. There’s battle lines being drawn Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speaking their minds getting so much resistance from behind. I think it’s time we stop,hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.What a field-day for the heat. A thousand people in the street,singing songs and carrying signs mostly say, hooray for our side. It’s time we stop,hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s goinng down. Paranoia strikes deep into your creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and takes you away. We better stop, hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, hey, what’s that sound.Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, now, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, children, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 24, 2011 12:49 pm

There’s something happening here, whatit ain’t exactly clear there’s a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound everybody look what’s going down. There’s battle lines being drawn Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Young people speaking their minds getting so much resistance from behind. I think it’s time we stop,hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.What a field-day for the heat. A thousand people in the street,singing songs and carrying signs mostly say, hooray for our side. It’s time we stop,hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s goinng down. Paranoia strikes deep into your creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and takes you away. We better stop, hey, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, hey, what’s that sound.Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, now, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down. Stop, children, what’s that sound. Everybody look what’s going down.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 24, 2011 12:52 pm

Besides posting my favorite Buffalo Springfield song, I wanted to write and say that Frank Sinatra was in another movie about killing the President, called “Suddenly”. I have it on DVD, it came in a package of mystery movies/film noir that I bought at Sam’s Club. Funny, Sinatra in 2 movies to kill the President, Iwonder if he regretted making both of them, after JFK was shot?

Posted By Juana Maria : August 24, 2011 12:52 pm

Besides posting my favorite Buffalo Springfield song, I wanted to write and say that Frank Sinatra was in another movie about killing the President, called “Suddenly”. I have it on DVD, it came in a package of mystery movies/film noir that I bought at Sam’s Club. Funny, Sinatra in 2 movies to kill the President, Iwonder if he regretted making both of them, after JFK was shot?

Posted By Alex Jones Reviews John Frankenheimer’s 1964 Film, Seven Days in May « News Worldwide : December 18, 2011 11:49 pm

[...] Paranoia Strikes Deep (moviemorlocks.com) [...]

Posted By Alex Jones Reviews John Frankenheimer’s 1964 Film, Seven Days in May « News Worldwide : December 18, 2011 11:49 pm

[...] Paranoia Strikes Deep (moviemorlocks.com) [...]

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