Greetings, all and sundry.
Considering the overall positive response to discovering a vein and tapping into the Mother Lode of dirty deeds done not quite dirt cheap previously critiqued in Bad Company. I would ask but a few moments of your time to expand upon the under handed and rarely reported topic of conspiracies.
We all can name a few off the tops of our heads. The Kennedy assassinations. Area 51. Area 52, buried beneath Area 51. Black helicopters, Echelon, MK-Ultra and Sky Net. Oddly. a concept that Hollywood goes way over the top on. Or gives embarrassing short shrift. Except in a very few instances. One of which has been tickling the back of my gray matter.
The Parallax View: (1974)
A film very much of its time and place. The topsy-turvy, turbulent days of Vietnam finally beginning to wind down. And the gathering sturm and drang after Watergate. When many were looking over their shoulders and misdirection was the name of the game.
Enter into this world, seasoned newspaper reporter, Joe Frady. intriguingly played with equal parts ego, naivete, curiosity and charm by Warren Beatty. Who, along with several others witnessed the blitz attack assassination of Presidential candidate, Senator Charles Carroll atop the Seattle Space Needle three years earlier.
Joe is in kind of a fugue and slump. Sometimes haunted by the shock and loss of that day. And hoping to be uplifted by sudden arrival of his on and off girlfriend, local television reporter, Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss. Surprisingly good in a slightly paranoid dramatic role!). Who had also witness the assassination. And remembers things a bit differently than the recent Senate Hearing that determined it to be the work of a lone gunman. Lee remembers seeing a second white jacketed waiter slip into the panicked crowd as his compatriot was brought down in a hail of lead outside the Space Needle’s wrap around windows.
This raises Joe’s eyebrow. So does Lee’s noting that six other witnesses have wound up dead. And she fears that she and Joe will be next. Joe listens and takes in Carter’s well detailed and documented notes with a grain of salt. Promising a report after looking everything over with fresh eyes. Only to be taken aback when he discovers Carter dead from what could be suicide. Or an accidental OD.
Things start getting personal. As Joe investigates and finds that Carter had a few too many prescriptions, but nothing to hint towards heroin. A long night deep dive into Carter’s notes reveals a locus, or central location. The town of Salmontail in the northeast part of Washington state. Out amongst firs, redwoods, soft pines and huge rolling hills and wide, babbling and dammed streams. Joe does not get much information from those at the local paper and runs afoul of the local sheriff, L.D. Wicker (Kelly Thorsden) as Joe looks for clues to a related death along the base of a dry washed and dammed stream.
An alarm sounds. Warning of the opening dam gates upstream as Wicker confronts Frady and the two fight. But Joe is quicker and survives as Wicker is swept downstream amongst jutting rocks and drowns. After time to catch his breath and a change of clothes. Joe breaks into Wicker’s rather spartan apartment and finds some interesting reading about the Parallax Corporation. Whose major focus of interest is finding the world’s malcontents, nonconformists and misfits with grudges. Embracing them. Vetting them. And finding them future employment.
Intrigued and with one more name to find and interview. And finds one of the last surviving aides to Senator Carroll. More than paranoid and frightened Austin Tucker (William Daniels: ‘Captain Nice’, ‘St. Elsewhere’ and the voice of KITT from ‘Knight Rider’). Hiding out on a friend of his family’s yacht. Tucker has been following the news and wants no part of an interview, but Frady persists.
Tucker takes his yacht out of the marina and Frady just begins asking questions in a forward stateroom as a bomb wrapped around the ship’s engines explodes. Frady if blown clear. Tucker isn’t. Frady is presumed dead as he makes his way back to L.A. Applies to the Parallax Corporation and goes underground with an assumed name and a cold water walk up flat.
A few days idle time bears fruit as a representative from Parallax shows up and Frady wears the cloak of a repressed, put upon social outcast well enough to granted a battery of tests. One of which is sitting through a four minute montage of at first serene, then conflicting messages and images. All the better to weed out the more easily susceptible candidates from the wannabes and wasted efforts.
Frady must have impressed, because he is promised future contact. And it’s about time to get back to Portland, his newspaper and its editor, Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn. Skeptically excellent for his brief time on screen). To fill him in on progress and some hope of off the books funding for this Pulitzer prize winning expedition.
While at LAX, Frady spots one of Parallax’s “Success Stories” (Bill McKinney. Still slack jawed, mangy and slightly more literate, post ‘Deliverance’) last seen with a .38 Special at the Space Needle. Delivering some luggage to Frady’s airliner. Which also has a Senator on its manifest. Frady leaves a message on the airliner’s drink cart. The plane diverts. The passenger and crew make it off. And small Boeing explodes before the bomb crew arrives.
Deciding that things are just a bit too hot to stray from the reservation. Frady mails Rintels a package conatining a letter that explains all. Plus a recording of his meeting with the first Parallax rep, Jack Younger (Walter McGinn). Rintels listens. Orders a sandwich and coffee. Has them delivered by the quiet Bill McKinney. And another loose end is snipped clean as Rintels dies from a coronary and the tape is retrieved.
Unawares, Frady continues to hold his cover story and character together. Pulled in as part of a security detail for a political rally rehearsal for veteran Senator, George Hammond (Jim Davis). Frady watches from high on the catwalk as a shot rings out. Frady spots a lone shooter with a rifle across the auditorium. And I’ll leave it right here!
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
Alan J. Pakula at the top of his game manipulation slowly growing, swirling tension in a taut, direct tale with no spots to lag and fret over. Working from a surprisingly faithful first draft screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and gritty bells and whistles attached by David Giler and a just starting out Robert Towne. Who give surprising credibility to the possibility of manipulation and string pulling behind the scenes. With an all too neat and brief statement from a shadowed and flag draped Congressional committee to open the film and set the stage for what is to follow.
What Makes This Film Great?
A meaty four course tale that allows Mr. Beatty plenty of room to dabble in the realms of denial and skepticism at first. Only to have those thrown overboard at the death of his girlfriend, Carter. And his escaping death not once, but twice. In ways that would give others pause to the allure of paranoia. While Mr. Beatty underplays. Surrenders to his ego and desire for a great headline and Pulitzer. While maintaining the trappings of a Classic Sap. Controlling events through his actions early on. Then having those actions and events control him afterwards.
Cinematography by Gordon Willis is everything you would desire and expect. With lush rustic locations beyond Seattle. Gritty, dirty locales in L.A. and superbly masterful work with color and shadow. Topped off with the introductory vetting montage utilized by Parallax. That deftly heightens, tears and twists emotions in ways that defy description. Very powerful stuff, indeed!
Kudos to the clever editing of John W. Wheeler for knowing when and where to snip and give an air of disbelief to Mr. Beatty’s first rustic “accidental” brush with death. His deft touch in the montage and creating palpable suspense and mystery.
High marks to Alixe Gordin and Joe Scully for choosing a supporting cast of forgettable faces in the employ of Parallax. And original music by Michael Small that supports and buttresses, but never overwhelms. All wrapped up in one the best and most well executed suspense and conspiracy films of the 1970s!