The Parallax View

Introduction

The Parallax View is a 1974 American political thriller film directed and produced by Alan J. Pakula, and starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss. The film was adapted by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and an uncredited Robert Towne from a 1970 novel by Loren Singer. The story concerns a reporter's investigation into a secretive organization, the Parallax Corporation, whose primary focus is political assassination.

The Parallax View is the second installment of Pakula's Political Paranoia trilogy, along with Klute (1971) and All the President's Men (1976). In addition to being the only film in the trilogy not to be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, The Parallax View is also the only one of the three not to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Plot

TV newswoman Lee Carter witnesses the assassination of presidential candidate Charles Carroll atop Seattle's Space Needle. A waiter armed with a revolver is pursued and falls to his death while a second waiter, also armed, leaves the scene unnoticed. A congressional committee determines that the killing was the work of the dead waiter. Three years later, Carter visits her former boyfriend and colleague, newspaper reporter Joe Frady, claiming that there is more to Carroll's assassination than was reported at the time. Six of the witnesses to the killing have since died, so she fears she will be next. Frady does not take her seriously. Carter is soon found dead in what is officially ruled as a drug overdose.

Investigating Carter's leads, Frady goes to the small town of Salmontail to probe into the most recent death, that of Judge Arthur Bridges. An apparently spontaneous bar fight with the Salmontail sheriff's deputy draws the attention of the sheriff himself, L.D. Wicker, who offers to take Frady to the spot where Bridges drowned. When they arrive to the dam, however, Wicker pulls his gun on Frady while the floodgates are opening, expecting him to drown just like Bridges did. Frady narrowly escapes while Wicker drowns. Frady finds information in the sheriff's house about the Parallax Corporation, learning that it recruits political assassins.

As Frady is interviewing Carroll's former aide, Austin Tucker, a bomb explodes aboard Tucker's boat. Frady survives but is believed dead. He lets his generally skeptical editor Bill Rintels know that he is still alive, and decides to apply to Parallax under an assumed identity. He dons an aggressive persona when Jack Younger, a Parallax official, pays him a visit once the application goes through. Younger assures Frady that he is the kind of man they are interested in. Frady is accepted for training in Los Angeles, where he watches a slide show that conflates positive images with negative actions.

Frady recognizes one of the Parallax operatives, from a photo Tucker showed him, as the second waiter from Carroll's assassination. He watches the assassin retrieve a case from a car, drive to an airport, and check it as stowed baggage on a passenger jet. Frady boards the plane, notices a senator aboard, but cannot find the assassin – who is shown watching the jet from the airport's roof. Frady writes the warning on a napkin and slips it onto the drink service cart. The warning is found and the jet returns to Los Angeles. Passengers are evacuated moments before the bomb explodes. Rintels listens to a secretly recorded tape of a conversation between Frady and Younger, placing it in an envelope with other such tapes. Rintels is poisoned by a disguised Parallax assassin and the tapes disappear.

Frady follows the Parallax operatives to the dress rehearsal for a political rally for Senator George Hammond. Frady hides in the auditorium's catwalks to observe the operatives, who are posing as security personnel. Frady realizes too late that he has been set up as a scapegoat. As Hammond drives a golf cart across the auditorium floor, an unseen sniper shoots him in the back, killing him. Frady then attempts to flee, and is spotted in the catwalk by those below. The operatives move in, but Frady hides. As Frady runs to the open exit door from the catwalk, a Parallax agent steps through, killing Frady with a shotgun. Six months later, the committee from the start of the film reports that Frady, acting alone, killed Hammond out of paranoia and misguided patriotism. They further express the hope that the verdict will end conspiracy theories about political assassinations.

Cast
  • Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady
  • Paula Prentiss as Lee Carter
  • Hume Cronyn as Bill Rintels
  • William Daniels as Austin Tucker
  • Walter McGinn as Jack Younger
  • Kelly Thorsden as Sheriff L.D. Wicker
  • Chuck Waters as Thomas Richard Linder
  • Earl Hindman as Deputy Red
  • William Joyce as Senator Charles Carroll
  • Bill McKinney as Parallax Assassin
  • Jo Ann Harris as Chrissy – Frady's Girl
  • Doria Cook-Nelson as Gale from Salmontail
  • Jim Davis as Senator George Hammond
  • Kenneth Mars as Former FBI Agent Will Turner
  • William Jordan as Tucker's Aide
  • Edward Winter as Senator Jameson
  • Anthony Zerbe Prof. Nelson Schwartzkopf (uncredited)
  • Richard Bull as Parallax Goon
  • Ford Rainey as Commission Spokesman
Production

Most of the images used in the assassin training montage were of anonymous figures or patriotic backgrounds, with occasional historical individuals such as Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, Pope John XXIII, and Lee Harvey Oswald (in the picture taken moments after his shooting). The montage also uses a drawing by Jack Kirby of the Marvel Comics character Thor.

The film was nearly unable to begin production at all because the screenplay was not ready when Warren Beatty had marked in the start of filming, and with a Writers Guild of America strike looming Paramount was leaning towards shuttering the project altogether. However, Beatty did single-handed rewrites with the help of Robert Towne (this would later become controversial because Towne's many enemies in Hollywood began spreading rumors that he had crossed the WGA picket line and continued to work with his longtime friend and collaborator on the film) and the movie did get underway and was able to start on time.

The distinctive anamorphic photography, with long lens, unconventional framing, and shallow focus, was supervised by Gordon Willis.

The river scene was filmed at the Gorge Dam, on the Skagit River (Ross Lake National Recreation Area) in Washington State. (48 41' 51" N, 121 12' 29" W)

The Space Needle in Seattle is seen extensively in the first assassination sequence.

The airport scene was filmed at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California.

Critical reception

At the time of its release, The Parallax View received mixed reactions from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "The Parallax View will no doubt remind some reviewers of Executive Action (1973), another movie released at about the same time that advanced a conspiracy theory of assassination. It's a better use of similar material, however, because it tries to entertain instead of staying behind to argue."[1] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Neither Mr. Pakula nor his screenwriters, David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., display the wit that Alfred Hitchcock might have used to give the tale importance transcending immediate plausibility. The moviemakers have, instead, treated their central idea so soberly that they sabotage credulity."[2] Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "We would probably be better off rethinking—or better yet, not thinking about—the whole dismal business, if only to put an end to ugly and dramatically unsatisfying products like The Parallax View."[3]

In 2006, Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty wrote, "The Parallax View is a mother of a thriller... and Beatty, always an underrated actor thanks (or no thanks) to his off-screen rep as a Hollywood lothario, gives a hell of a performance in a career that's been full of them."[4] The motion picture won the Critics Award at the Avoriaz Film Festival (France) and was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Picture. Gordon Willis won the Best Cinematography award from the National Society of Film Critics (USA).

The film's reception has been more positive in recent years. It currently holds a 92% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews.

See also
  • List of American films of 1974
  • Assassinations in fiction
  • List of films featuring surveillance
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Arlington Road
  • Permindex
References
  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 14, 1974). "The Parallax View". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 20, 1974). "The Parallax View". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  3. ^ Schickel, Richard (July 8, 1974). "Paranoid Thriller". Time. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  4. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (July 11, 2006). "View Master". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
External links
  • The Parallax View on IMDb
  • The Parallax View at Rotten Tomatoes
  • The Parallax View at AllMovie
  • DVD Savant review of the montage

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