Frankenheimer's 80s output is mixed. The
Holcroft Covenant is frankly flat despite superb casting. Leonard Maltin has remarked "Frankenheimer,
a solid storyteller whose visual sense sometimes conceals the
weaknesses in scripts he's given," does what he can with
the clunky and improbable story. Admittedly, it was a troubled
and under-funded project: they had already been filming three
days before the lead actor was cast, and even then, Michael Caine
had no costume so he started filming in his own clothes.
Finally, the Manchurian Candidate was re-released in 1988 and
Frankenheimer's telephone started ringing again.
Then came a script called Ronin.
Set in France, this post Cold War thriller can legitimately
be described as 'high octane.' Wheels within
wheels, withheld information and a stark, spare style make
for electric storytelling as out of work military men are hired
to steal a suitcase without being told what its contents are.
Very few of the characters in Ronin, if anyone, tell
the truth. The checks and counter-checks come are deft and fast.
The 'super-natural' documentary style is used to great effect
for the car chases. Many of the techniques used
Frankenheimer developed when making the race picture
The car manufacturer BMW at this time was thinking
of creating a series of promotional films showcasing their vehicles.
started punching holes in cinema screens around the world,
they knew they had the right director for the first short.
six-minute film that resulted, Ambush, is no longer hosted at
the BMW site, but can be found by dilligent Google searchers.
Note the blocking of the final sequence when the driver is paid:
the driver is seated as he is handed his fare by the passenger.
set up for showing a transfer of the fee
shows a reversal in the power relationship between
the characters: we look down at the driver and
up at the standing passenger.
After you've watched the film, be certain to listen to the
director's comments on a parallel
Incidentally, the director's commentary tracks
on the DVDs for The Train and Ronin are nearly lessons
in film making, as are the others. By comparison, his remarks
for the Holcroft Covenant are punctuated by long silences until
he finally starts grumbling about the budget.
A Return to Television
Sandbaggers fans may also be interested in seeing Frankenheimer's
return to television efforts, which included Path
To War. This story of the Johnson administration, and
the sausage making of policy. Probably the closest
of his works to anything in The Sandbaggers, this was produced
by HBO in
two and one half hour tale begins at the Johnson administration's
inaugural ball. Slowly, the ulcerous VietNam
war drains political and economic capital. As the years pass,
we follow the tug of war between the advisors as they manage
and mis-manage policy. UK actor Michael Gambon does an amazing
job of impersonating Johnson.
Other efforts for HBO included Against the Wall, The
Burning Season, Andersonville as well as George
Wallace, starring Gary
For those wanting cynicism and deception, Frankenheimer
also directed Reindeer
Games. Subject to last minute
studio 'improvements,' this
outrageous outing follows a small time crook who--desperate to
get laid on his first day out of prison--is dragged
will. Not to everyone's
taste, the gleefully malicious twists and turns
strong sense of timing make even the normally wooden
Ben Affleck fun to watch. Sinease is also showcased
here as a hyper aggressive wanna-be gangster. Two versions were
released on DVD, look for the second issue which
contains the unsnipped version and Frankenheimer's
John Frankenheimer died of a stroke on July 6th,
2002. He was undergoing treatment for a spinal injury when complications
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