The Sandbaggers
Links of Interest
Film Forum
IMDB listings
Blog: Path to War
The AV Club
An interview
John Frankenheimer Q&A
Seconds: A Review
HBO: The Path to War
Tribute to Frankenheimer

 

John Frankenheimer
Part 2

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.

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 here Frankenheimer developed when making the race picture Grand Prix.

The car manufacturer BMW at this time was thinking of creating a series of promotional films showcasing their vehicles. When Ronin started punching holes in cinema screens around the world, they knew they had the right director for the first short.

The 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.

This utilitarian set up for showing a transfer of the fee actually 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 audio track.

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 its advisors, shows the sausage making of policy. Probably the closest of his works to anything in The Sandbaggers, this was produced by HBO in 2003.

This 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 Sinease.

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 into a casino robbery against his will. Not to everyone's taste, the gleefully malicious twists and turns and 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 excellent commentary.

John Frankenheimer died of a stroke on July 6th, 2002. He was undergoing treatment for a spinal injury when complications arose.

Continued Page 1, Page 2