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., with uncredited rewriting and completion by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, from the 1970 same-name 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 defines that the killing was the work of the dead waiter but conspiracy theories subsequently arise. Three years later, Carter visits her former boyfriend and colleague, newspaper reporter Joe Frady, claiming that others must have been behind the assassination as six of the witnesses to the killing have since died and she fears she will be next. Frady does not take her seriously. Carter is soon found dead in what is officially ruled as a simple drug overdose.

Investigating Carter's leads, Frady goes to the small town of Salmontail to probe into the recent death of Judge Arthur Bridges, also a witness. 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 at 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 while they are aboard, killing Tucker and his assistant. Frady survives but is believed also 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, at the Parallax offices. 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 actually watching the jet's takeoff from the airport's roof. Frady writes a warning, that there is a bomb on board, 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.

Returning to his apartment, Frady is confronted by Younger about not being the man whose identity he has been using. Frady "confesses" that he is actually yet another man who had gotten in trouble with the police, and Younger agrees to validate this new identity. Later, at the newspaper office, Rintels listens to a secretly recorded tape of the conversation between Frady and Younger, then places it in an envelope with other such tapes. Rintels is poisoned by the senator's killer and bomb planter, now disguised as a sandwich delivery man; and the tapes disappear.

Frady goes to the Parallax offices to see Younger, is told he is not there but then sees him leaving the building. He follows the operative to the dress rehearsal for a political rally for Senator George Hammond and hides in the auditorium's catwalks to observe Parallax agents, who are posing as security personnel. Frady attempts to follow one of the men back to the auditorium, but finds he had been locked in the catwalk area. As Hammond drives a golf cart across the auditorium floor, an unseen sniper shoots him in the back, killing him.

Frady realizes too late that he has been set up as a scapegoat and attempts to flee across the catwalks, but is spotted by the police who are now in the auditorium below. As Frady runs to the reopened exit door from the catwalks, a shadowy agent steps through, killing Frady with a shotgun. Six months later, the same committee that investigated Carroll's death reports that Frady, acting alone, killed Hammond out of paranoia and misguided patriotism and express the hope that the verdict will end conspiracy theories about political assassinations.

Cast

Starring:

  • Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady

Co-starring:

  • Hume Cronyn as Editor Bill Rintels
  • Walter McGinn as Jack Younger

Featuring:

  • William Daniels as Austin Tucker
  • Paula Prentiss as Lee Carter
  • Kelly Thorsden as Sheriff L.D. Wicker
  • Earl Hindman as Deputy Red
  • Kenneth Mars as Former FBI Agent Will Turner
  • Anthony Zerbe Prof. Nelson Schwartzkopf
  • Jim Davis as Senator George Hammond
  • Bill McKinney as The Parallax Assassin

With:

  • William Joyce as Senator Charles Carroll
  • Doria Cook-Nelson as Gale - Blond Bar Girl
  • William Jordan as Tucker's Aide
  • Edward Winter as Senator Jameson (on airplane)
  • Richard Bull as Parallax Goon
  • Jo Ann Harris as Chrissy – Frady's Girl
  • 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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