John Michael Frankenheimer
February 19, 1930
|Died||July 6, 2002 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Williams College|
|Spouse(s)||Joanne Frankenheimer (divorced)|
(m. 1954; div. 1962)
John Michael Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) was an American film and television director known for social dramas and action/suspense films. Among his credits were Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1964), Seconds (1966), Grand Prix (1966), French Connection II (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Ronin (1998), and Reindeer Games (2000).
He won four Emmy Awards—three consecutive—in the 1990s for directing the television movies Against the Wall, The Burning Season, Andersonville, and George Wallace, the last of which also received a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film.
Frankenheimer's 30 feature films and over 50 plays for television were notable for their influence on contemporary thought. He became a pioneer of the "modern-day political thriller", having begun his career at the height of the Cold War.
He was technically highly accomplished from his days in live television; many of his films were noted for creating "psychological dilemmas" for his male protagonists along with having a strong "sense of environment," similar in style to films by director Sidney Lumet, for whom he had earlier worked as assistant director. He developed a "tremendous propensity for exploring political situations" which would ensnare his characters.
Movie critic Leonard Maltin writes that "in his time [1960s]... Frankenheimer worked with the top writers, producers and actors in a series of films that dealt with issues that were just on top of the moment—things that were facing us all."
Childhood and schooling
"I was always a very introverted child, and as far back as seven years old, I recall finding great escape in films...in all seriousness, I have always been terribly interested in films and it was not something that happened to me later in life. I look back and realize it was the medium I liked most." – John Frankenheimer, quoted in The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1968)
Frankenheimer was born in Queens, New York City, the son of Helen Mary (née Sheedy) and Walter Martin Frankenheimer, a stockbroker. His father was of German Jewish descent, his mother was Irish Catholic, and Frankenheimer was raised in his mother's religion. As a youth Frankenheimer, the eldest of three siblings, struggled to assert himself with his domineering father.
Growing up in New York City he became fascinated with cinema at an early age, and recalls avidly attending movies every weekend. Frankenheimer reports that in 1938, at the age of age of seven or eight, he attended a 25-episode, 7 ½ hour marathon of The Lone Ranger accompanied by his aunt.
In 1947, he graduated from La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale, Long Island, New York, and in 1951 he earned a baccalaureate in English from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. As captain of the tennis team at Williams, Frankenheimer briefly considered a professional career in tennis, but reconsidered:
"I gave that up when I really started acting at eighteen or nineteen, because there wasn't any time to do both...my interest was more toward acting in those days and an actor is what I wanted to be. I did act at college and summer stock for a year. But I was really not a very good actor. I was quite shy and quite stiff..."
Air Force Film Squadron: 1951-1953
After graduating Williams College, Frankenheimer was drafted into the Air Force and assigned to the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), serving in the Pentagon mailroom at Washington, D. C. He quickly applied for and was transferred, without any formal qualifications  to an Air Force film squadron in Burbank, California. It was there that Lieutenant Frankenheimer "really started to think seriously about directing."
Frankenheimer recollects his early apprenticeship with the Air Force photography unit as one of almost unlimited freedom. As a junior officer, Frankenheimer superiors "couldn't have cared less" what he did in terms of utilizing the filmmaking equipment. Frankenheimer reports that he was free to set up the lighting, operate the camera and perform the editing on projects he personally conceived. His first film was a documentary about an asphalt manufacturing plant in Sherman Oaks, California. Lieutenant Frankenheimer recalls moonlighting, at $40-a-week, as writer, producer and cameraman making television infomercials for a local cattle breeder in Northridge, California, in which livestock were presented on the interior stage sets. The FCC terminated the programming after 15 weeks. In addition to mastering the basic elements of filmmaking, Frankenheimer began reading widely on film technique, including the writings of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. Frankenheimer was discharged from the military in 1953.
Television's "Golden Age": 1953-1960
During his years in military service, Frankenheimer strenuously sought a film career in Southern California. Failing this, at age 23, he returned to New York upon his military discharge to seek work in the emerging television industry. His earnestness impressed Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television executives, landing him a job in the summer of 1953 to serve as a director of photography on The Garry Moore Show. Frankenheimer recalls his apprenticeship at CBS:
"When I stop and look back on [The Garry Moore Show]...I was particularly well-suited for that job...what you would do is prepare a shot for the director. He would tell you what he wanted and you would get it from the cameraman...You'd also be responsible for the timing of the show. But I think - well, I know - I was born with a good eye for the camera and so the job really was playing right into what I would call my own strength."
"Television scripts [of the 1950s] exploring problems at the societal level were systematically ignored (i.e. racial discrimination, structural poverty, and other social ills). Instead, critics complain, too many 'golden age' dramas were little more than simplistic morality tales focusing on the everyday problems and conflicts of weak individuals confronted by personal shortcomings such as alcoholism, greed, impotence, and divorce, for example.... [I]t is important to note that the 'golden age' coincided with the Cold War era and McCarthyism and that cold-war references, such as avoiding communism and loving America, were frequently incorporated in teleplays of the mid to late 1950s." – Anna Everett in "Golden Age" Museum of Broadcast Communications
Frankenheimer was picked up as assistant to director Sidney Lumet's for CBS's historical dramatization series You Are There, and further on Charles Russell's Danger and Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person. In late 1954 Frankenheimer replaced Lumet as director on You Are There and Danger under a 5-year contract (with a studio standard option to terminate a director with a two-week notice). Frankenheimer's directorial début was The Plot Against King Solomon (1954), a critical success.
Throughout the 1950s he directed over 140 episodes of shows like Playhouse 90 and Climax! under the auspices of CBS executive Hubbell Robinson and producer Martin Manulis These included outstanding adaptations of works by Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Arthur Miller. Leading actors and actresses from stage and film starred in these live productions, among them Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Mickey Rooney, Geraldine Page and Jack Lemmon. Frankenhiemer is widely considered a preeminent figure in the so-called "Golden Age of Television".
Film historian Stephen Bowie offers this appraisal of Frankenheimer's legacy from the "Golden Age" of television:
"Along with Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer was the major director to emerge from and be influenced by the aesthetics of live television drama, which flourished briefly in the US...Frankenheimer's later fame, and his oft-repeated nostalgia for live television, have designated him as the quintessential exponent of the form: this is a crucial misconception. The aesthetics of live television were defined by their temporal and spatial limitations: all that could be shown was what could be physically created within an hour or half-hour and photographed within the confines of a small space [emphasizing] cramped blue-collar settings ('kitchen drama') because these were the most easily staged for live broadcast...[though] perfectly suited to this world of emotional intimacy and physical claustrophobia, Frankenheimer reacted instinctively against it. He sought material and visual strategies that expanded the boundaries of what could be done in live television...As the live TV director who took the medium in an explicitly cinematic direction, Frankenheimer was actually the least typical."
Frankenheimer's earliest films addressed contemporary issues such as "juvenile delinquency, criminality and the social environment" and are represented by The Young Stranger (1957), The Young Savages (1961) and All Fall Down (1962).
The Young Stranger (1957)
Frankenheimer's first foray into filmmaking occurred while he was still under contract to CBS television. The head of CBS in California, William Dozier, became the CEO of RKO movie studios. Frankenheimer was assigned to direct a film version of his television Climax! production entitled "Deal a Blow", written by William Dozier's son, Robert. The 1956 movie version, The Young Stranger stars James MacArthur as the rebellious teenage son of a powerful Hollywood movie producer (James Daly). Frankenheimer recalled that he found his first film experience unsatisfactory:
"I have a very high regard for my [television] crews, because I hand pick them; on The Young Stranger I was given a crew, and I thought they were terrible and treated me very badly. It made me very bitter about the whole experience...I felt very confined, constricted and a bad director...There were so many things I thought I could have done but didn't do...As a result of this experience I was fed up with films and went back to television."
Frankenheimer adds that in the late 1950s, television was transitioning from live productions to taped shows: "...a live television director was like being a village blacksmith after the advent of the automobile...I knew I had to get out..." In 1961 Frankenheimer abandoned television and returned to filmmaking after a four-year hiatus, continuing his examination of the social themes that informed his 1957 The Young Stranger. Film historian Gordon Gow distinguishes Frankenheimer's handling of themes addressing individualism and "misfits" during the Fifties' obsession with disaffected teenagers:
"There was an especially true feeling to the problem of the 16-year-old boy who became 'The Young Stranger'...This film, in 1957, at the height of the problem-teen vogue, sounded a quiet note of contrast. In part, its genuine quality might be put down to the fact [both director and writer] were in their mid-twenties—much nearer to the age of their central character [James MacArthur], about twenty himself at the time (but looking younger)...What made it especially distinctive amid the general sensationalism was the triviality of the boy's misdemeanor: a minor bit of roughhouse in a neighborhood cinema...The difference between The Young Stranger, which attained a happy ending plausibly, and the general run of delinquent-problem movies was its moderation..."
The Young Savages (1961)
Frankenheimer's second cinematic effort is based on novelist Evan Hunter's A Matter of Conviction (1959). Universal Studio publicity executives changed the box-office title to the vaguely lurid The Young Savages, to which Frankenheimer objected. The story involves the attempted political exploitation of a brazen murder involving Puerto Rican and Italian youth gangs set in New York City's Spanish Harlem. District Attorney, Dan Cole (Edward Andrews), who is seeking the state governorship, sends assistant D. A. Hank Bell (Burt Lancaster) to gather evidence to secure a conviction. Bell, who grew up in the tenement district, has escaped from his impoverished origins to achieve social and economic success. He initially adopts a cynical hostility towards the youths he investigates, which serves his own career aims. The narrative explores the human and legal complexities of the case and Bell's struggle to confront his personal and social prejudices and commitments. The film's arresting opening sequence depicting a killing, which is key to the plot, reveals Frankenheimer's origins in television. The action, "brilliantly filmed and edited", occurs preliminary to the credits, and is accompanied by an impelling soundtrack by composer David Armand, serving to quickly rivet audience interest.
The Young Savages, though focusing on juvenile delinquency, is cinematically a significant advance over Frankenheimer's similarly themed first film effort The Young Stranger (1957). Film historian Gerald Pratley attributes this to Frankenheimer's insistence on hand-picking his leading technical support for the project, including set designer Bert Smidt, cinematographer Lionel Lindon and scenarists J. P. Miller. Pratley observed:
"The Young Savages is far more alive and real than [The Young Stranger]...the youths might well be some of those we met in the first film, but now further along their delinquent ways. The acting throughout is authoritative, with vivid portrayals by the Italian and Puerto Rican players...the entire film is photographically alive with a strong, visual sense which was to characterize all of Frankenheimer's future work…"
Though "contrived and familiar in its social concerns" Frankenheimer and leading man Burt Lancaster, both Liberals in their political outlook, dramatize the "poverty, violence and despair of city life" with a restraint such that "the events and characters seem consistently believable." Frankenheimer recalled "I shot The Young Savages mainly to show people that I could make a movie, and while it was not completely successful, my point was proved...The film was made on a relatively cheap budget and shooting on location in New York for a Hollywood company is very expensive. Those were the days before Mayor Lindsay when you had to pay off every other cop on the beat…"
All Fall Down (1962)
The coming of age film All Fall Down was both filmed and released while Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) was in post-production and his The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was in pre-production.
The picture was scripted by William Inge, who also wrote Splendor in the Grass (1961) and concerns character Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty), an emotionally irresponsible hustler, and his adoring younger brother Clinton (Brandon de Wilde), to whom Berry-Berry appears as a romantic Byronesque figure. The older brother's cruel treatment of Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), his lover who becomes pregnant, disabuses the naive Clinton of Berry-Berry's perfection. His anguished insight permits Clinton to achieve emotional maturity and independence. Film critic David Walsh comments:
"All Fall Down is vaguely moralistic and conformist, and the scenes of the Beatty character's comeuppance contrived in the extreme. All Fall Down is saved by the portrayals of Eva Marie Saint, quiet and gracious, as the unfortunate Echo, and Angela Lansbury, extravagant and outlandish, as Berry-Berry's mother, within whom incestuous fires appear to blaze. Critics have noted that Annabell Willart (Landsbury) was the first of three desperately controlling mothers in Frankenheimer's films of 1962: the other two played by Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Lansbury again in The Manchurian Candidate (1961). In all three films, the father is either weak or absent."
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
“I can’t really think of a scene in Birdman of Alcatraz I liked. I like the total effect of the film, but I don’t think there was any scene that stands out for me as being extraordinary in any way.” – John Frankenhiemer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)
Based on a biography by Thomas E. Gaddis, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) is a documentary-like dramatization of the life of Robert Stroud, sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement for killing a prison guard. While serving his sentence, Stroud (Burt Lancaster) becomes a respected expert in avian diseases though the study of canaries. Frankenheimer traces Stroud's emergence from his anti-social misanthropy towards a humane maturity, despite the brutal conditions of his incarceration.
In 1962, the production and filming of Birdman of Alcatraz was already underway when United Artists enlisted Frankenheimer to replace British director Charles Crichton. As such, key production decisions had already been made, and Frankenheimer regarded himself as a “hired director” with little direct control over the production. Producer Harold Hecht and screenwriter Guy Trosper insisted on an exhaustive adaption of the Gaddis biography. The filmed rough cut that emerged was over four hours in length. When simply editing the work was ruled out as impracticable, the script was rewritten and the film largely re-shot, producing a final cut of 2 ½ hours. According to Frankenheimer, he had an option in the 1950s to make a television adaption of the Stroud story, but CBS was warned off by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the project was dropped.
Magnum Opus: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Frankenheimer's 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate is widely regarded as his most remarkable cinematic work. Biographer Gerald Prately observes that “the impact of this film was enormous. With it, John Frankenheimer became a force to be reckoned with in contemporary cinema; it established him as the most artistic, realistic and vital filmmaker at work in America or elsewhere.”
Frankenheimer and producer George Axelrod bought Richard Condon's 1959 novel after it had already been turned down by many Hollywood studios. After Frank Sinatra committed to the film, they secured backing from United Artists. The plot centers on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw, part of a prominent political family. Shaw is brainwashed by Chinese and Russian captors after his Army platoon are imprisoned. He returns to civilian life in the United States, where he becomes an unwitting “sleeper” assassin in an international communist conspiracy to subvert and overthrow the U.S. government.
The film co-starred Laurence Harvey (as Sergeant Raymond Shaw), Janet Leigh, James Gregory and John McGiver. Angela Lansbury, as the mother and controller to her “sleeper” assassin son, garnered an Academy Award nomination for a “riveting” performance” in “the greatest screen role of her career.” Frank Sinatra, as Major Bennett Marco, who reverses Shaw's mind control mechanisms and exposes the conspiracy, delivers perhaps his most satisfactory film performance. Frankenheimer declared that both technically and conceptually, he had “complete control” over the production.
The technical “fluency” exhibited in The Manchurian Candidate reveals Frankenheimer's struggle to convey this Cold War narrative. Film historian Andrew Sarris remarked that the director was “obviously sweating over his technique...instead of building sequences, Frankenheimer explodes them prematurely, preventing his films from coming together coherently.” The Manchurian Candidate, nonetheless, conveys though it's documentary-like mise-en-scène, the “paranoia and delirium of the Cold War years.” A demonstration of Frankenheimer's bravura direction and “visual inventiveness” appears in the notable brainwashing sequence, presenting the sinister proceedings from the perspective of both the perpetrator and victim. The complexity of the sequence and its antecedents in television are described by film critic Stephen Bowie:
“The famous brainwashing sequence in which Frankenheimer moves seamlessly between an objective perspective (captured soldiers in a communist seminar) and a subjective one (the soldiers attending an innocuous meeting of the Ladies’ Garden Society). This tour de force was a pure distillation of Frankenheimer’s television technique, opening with a self-conscious 360-degree pan that utilised the ‘wild’ sets which allowed TV cameras to move into seemingly impossible positions.”
In 1968, Frankenheimer acknowledged that the methods he used on television were “the same kind of style I used on The Manchurian Candidate. It was the first time I had the assurance and self-confidence to go back to what I had been really good at in television.” Compositionally, Frankenheimer concentrates his actors into “long lens” menage, in which dramatic interactions occur at close-up, mid-shot and long-shot, a configuration that he repeated “obsessively.” Film critic Stepen Bowie observes that “this style meant that Frankenheimer’s early output became a cinema of exactitude rather than spontaneity.”
“More and more I think that our society is being manipulated and controlled...the most important aspect is that [in 1962] this country was just recovering from the McCarthy era and nothing had ever been filmed about it. I wanted to do a picture that showed how ludicrous the whole McCarthy far-Right syndrome was and how dangerous the far-Left syndrome is...The Manchurian Candidate dealt with the McCarthy era, the whole idea of fanaticism, the far-Right and the far-Left being really the same thing, and the idiocy of it. I wanted to show that and I think we did.”- John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)
The Manchurian Candidate was released in the post-Red Scare period of the early 1960s, when anti-Communist political ideology still prevailed. Just one month after the film's release, the John F. Kennedy administration was in the midst of Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union.
That Frankenheimer and screenwriter Axelrod persisted in the production is a measure of their political liberalism, in a historical period when, according to biographer Gerald Pratley “ it was clearly dangerous to speak of politics in the out-spoken, satiric vein that characterized this picture.” Film critic David Walsh adds that “the level of conviction and urgency” that informs The Manchurian Candidate, reflects “the relative confidence and optimism American liberals felt in the early 1960s.” Frankenheimer's “terrifying parable” of the American political milieu was sufficiently well-received to avoid its summary rejection by distributors.
The Manchurian Candidate, due its subject matter and its proximity to the Kennedy assassination is inextricably linked to that event. Frankenheimer acknowledged as much when, in 1968, he described The Manchurian Candidate as “a horribly prophetic film. It's frightening what’s happened in our country since that film was made.”
After completing The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer recalls that he was determined to continue filmmaking: “I wanted to initiate the project, I wanted to have full control, I never wanted to go back to be hired as a director again.” He was offered a contract to direct a biopic about French singer Edith Piaf, with Natalie Wood in the starring role. He emphatically rejected the offer when he learned that Piaf's songs would be sung in English, rather than in the original French.
In 1963, Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod were introduced to the producer Edward Lewis, considering a TV production concerning the American Civil Liberties Union. When the project was deemed too expensive for television, Frankenheimer was approached by an associate of Lewis, actor and producer Kirk Douglas, to purchase and adapt to film the novel Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II.
Seven Days in May (1964)
“Television screens, glimpsed throughout Seven Days in May, are one of the most recognisable Frankenheimer trademarks...Frankenheimer became the first filmmaker to acknowledge television’s roles in modern society as an intrusion upon privacy and as a tool by which the powerful manipulate others.”—Film critic Stephen Bowie in John Frankenheimer Senses of Cinema (2006)
Seven Days in May (1964), based closely on Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II’s best-selling novel and a screenplay by Rod Serling, dramatizes an attempted military coup d’état in the United States, set in 1974. The perpetrators are led by General James M. Scott (Burt Lancaster), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) a virulently anti-Communist authoritarian. When US President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) negotiates a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union—an act that Scott considers treasonable—Scott mobilizes his military cabal. Operating at a remote base in West Texas, they prepare to commandeer the nation’s communication networks and seize control of Congress. When Scott’s JCS aide Colonel Martin “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas) discovers the planned coup he is appalled, and convinces President Lyman as to the gravity of the threat. Lyman mobilizes his own governmental loyalists, and a clash over Constitutional principles between Lyman and Scott plays out in the Oval Office, with the President denouncing the General as a traitor to the US Constitution. When Scott is exposed publicly, his military supporters abandon him, and the conspiracy collapses. Frankenheimer points to the topical continuity of his political thrillers:
“Seven Days in May was as important to me as The Manchurian Candidate. I felt that the voice of the military was much too strong...the General MacArthur syndrome was very much in evidence...Seven Days in May was the opportunity to illustrate what a tremendous force the military-industrial complex is...we did not ask the Pentagon for co-operation because we knew we wouldn’t get it.”
The character of General Scott has been identified by film historians as a composite of two leading military and political figures: Curtis LeMay and Edwin Walker. The film places great emphasis on the sanctity of US Constitutional norms as a bulwark against encroachments by anti-democratic elements in the United States. Biographer Gerald Pratley writes:
“An aspect to admire is Frankenheimer’s use of speeches given by President Lyman. Scoffed by some critics as [reflecting] ‘respectable, liberal lines’, they are delivered by March with complete naturalism at times where they are logically called for, and with great honesty and conviction. They restate familiar [Constitutional] principles...Frankenheimer handles them pointedly but never in a propagandistic way…”
Film critic Joanne Laurier adds that “screenwriter Rod Serling and Frankenheimer’s major theme is the need for the military to be subordinated to elected civilian rule.” As visual emphasis “the opening credits of Seven Days in May roll over an image of the original 1787 draft of the Constitution of the United States.
Seven Days in May has been widely praised for the high caliber of the performances by the cast. Biographer Charles Higham writes that “the film is played with extraordinary skill, proving that Frankenheimer’s intensity communicated itself successfully to his actors.”
Frankenheimer, a former Air Force officer who worked briefly in the Pentagon, anticipated hostility from the military establishment to the premise of Seven Days in May. Indeed, internal memos circulated in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) registering alarm that Seven Days in May could potentially damage the bureau's reputation. Film critics Joanne Laurier and David Walsh report that “The military and FBI took a very definite note of Seven Days in May, revealing their intense sensitivity to such criticism. A memo uncovered in Ronald Reagan’s FBI file reveals that the bureau was concerned the film would be used as Communist propaganda and was therefore ‘harmful to our Armed Forces and Nation.’” President Kennedy personally expressed approval for the film adaption, and his Press Secretary Pierre Salinger permitted Frankenhiemer to view the Oval Office so as to sketch its interior.
Seven Days in May, filmed in the summer of 1963, was scheduled for release in December that year, but was delayed due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November. The release of director Stanley Kubrick’s satire Dr. Strangelove (1964) was similarly postponed. Frankenheimer recognized the “prophetic” aspects of his The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a film that examines conspiratorial political assassinations. The historical context in which Seven Days in May appeared inevitably links it to the 1962 Kennedy assassination. Film critic David Walsh makes the connection explicit: “By the time Seven Days in May reached movie theaters, Kennedy had been assassinated, in an operation widely believed to have been organized by those with CIA or military connections.”
Seven Days in May was well received by critics and movie-goers.
The Train (1964)
In early 1964, Frankenheimer was reluctant to embark upon another film project due to fatigue: “The Train is a film I had no intention of ever doing [and was] not a subject that I cared that much about...I’d just finished Seven Days in May (1964). I was quite tired.” 
Adapted from the novel Le Front de l’Art: Le front de l’art: Défense des collections françaises, 1939-1945 by Rose Valland, the documentary-styled picture examines the desperate struggle by the French Resistance to intercept a train loaded with priceless art treasures and sabotage it before Wehrmacht officers could escape with it to Nazi Germany. The film dramatizes a contest of wills between French railway inspector Labiche (Burt Lancaster) and German art connoisseur Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), tasked with seizing the art work. Shooting for The Train had commenced in France when filmmaker Arthur Penn, originally enlisted to direct the adaption, was dismissed by actor-producer Lancaster, allegedly over personal incompatibility and irreconcilable interpretive differences.
Frankenheimer, who had successfully directed Lancaster on three previous films, consented to replace Penn, but with grave reservations, considering the screenplay “almost appalling” and noting that “the damn train didn’t leave the station until p. 140.” Frankenhiemer postponed production of Seconds (1966) to accommodate Lancaster's production.
Filming for The Train was temporarily shut down and the existing footage discarded. Frankenhiemer, in collaboration with screenwriters Nedrick Young (uncredited), Franklin Coen, Frank Davis and Walter Bernstein framed an entirely new script that combined suspense, intrigue and action, reflecting Lancaster's prerequisites.
“The point I wanted to make [in The Train] was that no work of art is worth a human life. That’s what the film is about. I feel that very deeply. But to say that the film is a statement of a theme like that is really being unfair to the film...the lives of people, what they do and how they think, feel and behave, is in itself important...Honesty and reality are reflected in people’s attitudes-without individuals having to perform great deeds or being great heroes or villains proclaiming great messages about life...The Train is this kind of movie.”—John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969).
Frankenheimer inserts an ethical question into the narrative: Is it justified to sacrifice a human life to save a work of art? His controversial answer was emphatically, no. Film critic Stephen Bowie observes ““Frankenheimer’s thesis—that human life has more value than art—may seem simplistic, but it adds an essential moral component to what would otherwise be just an expensive live-action version of an electric train set.” The Train is lauded for its documentary-like realism and Frankenheimer's masterful integration of the human narrative with its tour-de-force action scenes.
"Smashing up trains was easy to do. It’s every boy’s childhood fantasy. There isn’t a child who ever owned an electric train, who didn’t want to do a wreck with it, putting a car across the track and sending an engine into it. Well of course, we did just that.”—John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969).
Biographer Gerald Pratley offers this appraisal of Frankenheimer's handling of the complex series of train sequences, discerning the influence of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein:
“Frankenhiemer’s expert sense of narrative carries the events along with ever mounting drama and excitement, and at times overwhelming tragedy as men are shot and killed...he can wreck trains and stage air raids, and yet he sustains his characters on a high level of interest...Frankenheimer’s insistence on using natural backgrounds gives a tremendous feeling of reality to the film. The stark, dramatic outlines of the camouflaged armored locomotive emerging from the sheds is worthy of Eisenstien; the chase into the tunnel showing the locomotive stopping inches from the opening, and the engineer pulling on the whistle chain, is masterly.”
Film critic Tim Palen elaborates on Frankenheimer's technical expertise in The Train: “The director makes excellent use of wide angle lenses, long tracking shots, and extreme close-ups whilst maintaining depth of field...deliberately ensures that elaborate camera movement and cutting was planned so that ‘logistically you knew where each train was,’ in relation to the action.” The Train exemplifies the centrality of technical applications that began to characterize Frankenheimer’s approach to film in the late 1960s “brandishing style for its own sake.”
Seconds presents a surreal and disturbing tale of a disillusioned corporate executive, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph). In an effort to escape his empty existence, he submits to a traumatic surgical procedure that transplants his aging body into the reanimated cadaver of a younger man, Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Randolph’s effort to erase his former self in a new persona proves futile and leads to his horrific demise. Biographer Gerald Pratley describes Seconds as “a cold, grey, frightening picture of a dehumanized world...based on the age-old search for eternal youth...an amalgam of mystery, horror and science fiction…”
Based on a novel by David Ely and a screenplay by Lewis John Carlino, Frankenheimer explained his thematic objectives:
“An individual is what he is, and he has to live with his life. He cannot change anything, and all of today’s literature and films about escapism are just rubbish because you cannot and should not ever escape from what you are. Your experience is what makes you the person that you are...That’s really what the film is about. It’s also about this nonsense in society that you must always be young, this accent on youth in advertising...I wanted to make a matter-of-fact yet horrifying portrait of big business that will do anything for anybody providing you are willing to pay for it [and] the belief that all you need to do in life is to be financially successful.”
Frankenheimer acknowledged his difficulty in casting for the elderly and demoralized Arthur Hamilton, which required the director to convincingly show his metamorphosis, both surgically and physiologically, into the youthful and artistic Tony Wilson. A dual role played by a single actor was considered, with Frankenheimer advocating for British actor Laurence Olivier. Paramount rejected this in favor of two players, in which one actor (Randolph) undergoes a radical transformation to emerge with the appearance and identity of the other (Hudson). Rock Hudson's portrayal of Wilson introduced a troubling plausibility issue that Frankenheimer fully recognized: “We knew we were going to have a terrible time getting audiences to believe that the man who went into the operating room (Randolph) could emerge as Rock Hudson, citing the physical disparity between the actors as problematic. Film historian Gerald Pratley concurs: “the weakness [in Seconds] is trying to convince audiences that the actor playing Hamilton could emerge, after plastic surgery, as Wilson in the form of Rock Hudson. This is where the star system has worked against Frankeheimer.”
Frankenheimer identified the source of the film's weakness less on the physical disparities in his actors, and more on the his difficulties conveying the themes required to explain Wilson's inability to adjust socially to his new life: “We thought we had shown why [Wilson] failed, but after the film was finished I realized we had not.” 
Frankenheimer's technical prowess is on display in Seconds, where the director and his cameraman James Wong Howe experimented with various lenses, including the 9.5 mm fisheye lens to achieve the “distortion and exaggeration” that would dramatize Hamilton's struggle to “break free of his emotional straightjacket.”
Howe and Frankenheimer's use of visual distortions are central to revealing his character's hallucinatory mental states, and according to Frankenheimer “almost psychedelic”. In one scene, a total of four Arriflexes are brought to bear to emphasis Hamilton's sexual impotency with his estranged wife. Film historian Peter Wilshire considers Frankenheimer's choice of James Wong Howe as cameraman for the project was his “most important directional decision.” Howe was nominated at the Academy Awards in Best Cinematography for his efforts.
At Frankenheimer's urging, Paramount executives agreed to enter Seconds at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, hoping the film might confer prestige on the studio and enhance box office returns. On the contrary, Seconds was savaged by European critics at the film competition, regarding it as misanthropic and “cruel”. Frankenheimer recalled “it was a disaster” and declined to attend the festival's post-preview press conference. In the aftermath of this fiasco, Paramount withdraw promotional resources and Seconds failed at the box office. As consolation for its critical and commercial failures, Seconds was ultimately rewarded with a cult following among cineastes.
Critical appraisal of the film has varied widely. Gerald Pratley, in 1968, declares that Seconds, despite its poor reception in 1966, will one day be recognized as “a masterpiece.” Film critic Peter Wilshire offers qualified praise: “In spite of its obvious weaknesses, Seconds is an extremely complex, innovative, and ambitious film.” Brian Baxter disparages Seconds as “embarrassing...unconvincing, even as science fiction.” and critic David Walsh considers Seconds “particularly wrongheaded, strained and foolish.” Biographer Charles Higham writes:
“Seconds, superbly shot by James Wong Howe...fails to achieve the political portrait of the California rich which would have made it a triumph. The important central passages at Malibu have all the softness of a dream-come-true. By conspiring with his own target, Frankenheimer shows that corruption has crept up on him. Not even a powerful climax—the hero preferring death in New York to ‘life’ in Malibu, returning to be killed in a horrifying operating room scene—alters the fact that the film has been compromised.”
Grand Prix (1966)
By the mid-sixties, Frankenheimer had emerged as one of Hollywood's leading directors. As such, M-G-M provided lavish financing for Grand Prix (1966), Frankenheimer's first color film and shot in 70mm Cinerama. A former amateur race car driver himself, he approached the project with genuine enthusiasm.
The screenplay by Robert Alan Aurthur and an uncredited Frankenheimer, concerns the professional and personal fortunes of Formula One racer Pete Aron (James Garner) during an entire season of competitive racing. The action climaxes in at Monte Carlo, where Aron, Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), Jean Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabàto Sr.) compete for the championship, with tragic results.
Wishing to craft a highly realistic rendering of racing and its milieu, he assembled a panoply of innovative film techniques with ingenious apparatus and special effects. Working closely with cinematographer Lionel Lindon, Frankenheimer mounted cameras directly onto the race cars, eliminating process shots and providing audiences with a driver's-eye view of the action.
Frankenheimer incorporated split-screens to juxtapose documentary-like interviews of the racers with high-speed action shots on the track. Frankenheimer explains his use of the “hydrogen cannon”:
“The special effects, the accidents, were very hard to do. I had an excellent special effects man, Milton Rice, who devised a hydrogen cannon which worked on the principle of a pea shooter. The car was attached to a shaft and when the hydrogen exploded the car was literally propelled through the air like a projectile at about 125 to 135 miles an hour and you could aim it anywhere you wanted it to go. And all the wrecks were done that way. They were real cars. No models at all. Everything was very real. And that’s why it was good…”
“I’m not saying its my best film. But it is certainly one of the most satisfactory film I’ve made...to be able to indulge your fantasies with ten-and-a-half million dollars is, I think, marvelous.”—John Frankenheimer on Grand Prix in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer(1969)
Characterized largely by Frankenheimer's bravura application of his striking cinematic style, Grand Prix has been termed “largely a technical exercise” by film critic David Walsh and “brandishing style for its own sake” according to The Film Encyclopedia. Film historian Andrew Sarris observed that Frankenheimer's style had “degenerated into an all-embracing academicism, a veritable glossary of film techniques.”
A commercial success, Grand Prix garnered three Oscars at the Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects (by Gordon Daniel), Best Editing (Henry Berman, Stu Linder and Frank Santillo), and for Best Sound Recording (Franklin Milton and Roy Charman)
The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)
Frankenheimer's first foray into “light comedy” represents a major departure from his often dystopian and dramatic work addressing social issues and his big budget action films. The Extraordinary Seaman presents a menagerie of misfit characters set in the final days of World War II in the Pacific theatre. British Lt. Commander Finchhaven, R. N. (David Niven), a ghost, is condemned to a Flying Dutchman-like existence, roaming the seas in his ship Curmudgeon in search of redemption for his shameful ineptitude during a World War I combat mission. During World War II, the Curmudgeon is chartered, then beached on a remote Pacific Island by party goers. Four castaway American sailors stumble upon the unseaworthy vessel: Lt. Morton Krim (Alan Alda), Cook 3/C W.W. J. Oglethorpe (Mickey Rooney), Gunner's Mate Orville Toole (Jack Carter) and Seaman 1/C Lightfoot Star (Manu Tupou). Jennifer Winslow (Faye Dunaway), the proprietor of a jungle garage, provides supplies to repair the derelict Curmudgeon for passage off the island. Commander Finchaven enlists the largely incompetent crew to seek out and sink a Japanese battleship and thus vindicate his family honor. The 79-minute picture depicts the crew's subsequent “hazards and misadventures.” The Extraordinary Seaman, based on a screenplay and story by Phillip Rock, is a spoof of war-time conventions and clichés which integrates newsreel clips from the period for comic effect.
“I don’t think you can make an anti-war film by killing a lot of people and by showing ‘how horrible war is’ in the last five minutes after you’ve had two hours of fun with machine guns and bombs...I mean, one of the most atrocious war films ever made is The Green Berets (1968). I’m against violence like this...I think it's totally wrong that at the end of it they try to justify all this violence by some pretentious statement. I will not make a film like that. I don’t believe in it.”—John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)
Frankenheimer engages in a mock-heroic burlesque, titling the film's episodes “Grand Alliance”, “The Gathering Storm”, “Their Finest Hour”, The Hinge of Fate” and “Triumph and Tragedy”, borrowed from Winston Churchill’s post-war memoirs.
Filmed during the Vietnam War, film historian Gerald Pratley discerns “a strong thematic relationship” between Frankenheimer's opposition to US invasion of Indo-China and The Extraordinary Seaman. Frankenheimer recalls that he and screenwriter Phillip Rock “decided we could really use this premise [of a ghostly naval officer] to make an anti-war statement. I think we did, and it terrified MGM."
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer delayed the release of the film for two years, reportedly due its poor response among critics and “dismal screenings”, though Frankenheimer attributes the delay to legalities obtaining release of historic newsreel footage. The studio made only perfunctory efforts to promote and exhibit the film after The Extraordinary Seaman’s poor critical reviews and weak box-office response.
The Fixer (1968)
Frankenheimer approached his film adaption of Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer with alacrity, obtaining the galleys for the 1966 novel in advance of its publication. The Fixer is based on the 1913 persecution and trial of the Jewish peasant Menahem Mendel Beilis, accused of Blood Libel during the reign of Czar Nicholas II
The Fixer was widely praised by movie critics for Frankenhiemer’s success in eliciting outstanding performances from Alan Bates as the brutalized Yakov Shepsovitch Bok, Dirk Bogarde as Boris Bibikov, his humane court appointed defense attorney, and David Warner as Count Odoevsky. Minister of Justice. Bates received his only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in this role. Renata Adler of the New York Times observed “the direction, by John Frankenheimer, is powerful and discreet. It averts its eyes at the easy, ugly consummations of violence...and gives you credit for imagining the result.” This, despite Frankenheimer's admission that “there is a very violent scene in The Fixer”:
“You have to show what this man [Bok] went through in five years of prison, and what his captors did to him. The executives at Metro were worried about this one scene. They said ‘with the climate of today it is dangerous to show this.’ I said ‘it has to be in there.’ This is the scene where the Russians come and beat him for refusing to be converted to Christianity...it is not a scene of violence just put there for its own sake. I hope the audience feels this...I don’t believe in violence for the sake of exploitation.”
“The Fixer investigates the fact that the victory Yakov Bok won was being brought to trial...the Minister of Justice, Count Odoevsky, offers Bok a pardon. And Bok says ‘no’...That, I think, is probably the best scene in the film...The Fixer is about the dignity of a human being who never knew he had this strength in him, and suddenly finds it within him...Bok is not a [literary] man. He’s a peasant and you see this great strength developed within him. That’s what the film is about. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Jew. It could be any man, any time, anywhere...I think this is a very good story to tell.”—John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)
Whereas Frankenheimer was deeply gratified with his cinematic handling of Malamud's Pulitzer Prize winning work, declaring “I feel better about The Fixer than anything I’ve ever done in my life”, a number of movie critics registered severe critiques. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote:
“Frankenheimer's task was to make a film that, in itself, would make a moral statement. He has failed. The film has little reality of its own; instead, it draws its power and emotion from the raw material of its subject matter...The temptation is to praise the film because we agree with its message. This is the same critical fallacy that led to praise of Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)—a corrupt, commercial film—because we disapproved of Nazi war crimes, A movie doesn't become good simply by taking the correct ideological position.”
Ebert adds “What were needed were fewer self-conscious humanistic speeches... Frankenheimer should have shown us his hero's suffering, and the Kafkaesque legal tortures of the state, without commenting on them.”
“The triviality of the script by Dalton Trumbo, the old sentimental Hollywood formula (a few moments of mild happiness, an hour and a half of reversals and misery, with violins, a blitz happy ending with drums) applies, almost intact, to dog stories, horse stories, sports stories, love stories.”
Adler concludes “it is not enough to put [Bok-Bates] in a few cliché predicaments...[the dialogue]] becomes demeaning and vulgar when drawn out with hack-plot fiction approximations of eloquence.” Biographer Charles Higham dismisses the film, writing that “since the commercial failure of Seconds (1966), Frankenheimer’s films have been mediocre, ranging from The Fixer (1968) to The Horsemen (1971).”
Frankenheimer became a close friend of Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the making of The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. In 1968, Kennedy asked Frankenheimer to make some commercials for use in the presidential campaign, at which he hoped to become the Democratic candidate. On the night he was assassinated in June 1968, it was Frankenheimer who had driven Kennedy from Los Angeles Airport to the Ambassador Hotel for his acceptance speech.
The Gypsy Moths was a romantic drama about a troupe of barnstorming skydivers and their impact on a small midwestern town. The celebration of Americana starred Frankenheimer regular Lancaster, reuniting him with From Here to Eternity co-star Deborah Kerr, and it also featured Gene Hackman. The film failed to find an audience, but Frankenheimer claimed it was one of his favorites.
Frankenheimer followed this with I Walk the Line in 1970. The film, starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld, about a Tennessee sheriff who falls in love with a moonshiner's daughter, was set to songs by Johnny Cash. Frankenheimer's next project took him to Afghanistan. The Horseman focused on the relationship between a father and son, played by Jack Palance and Omar Sharif. Sharif's character, an expert horseman, played the Afghan national sport of buzkashi.
Impossible Object, also known as Story of a Love Story, suffered distribution difficulties and was not widely released. Next came a four-hour film of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, in 1973, starring Lee Marvin, and the decidedly offbeat 99 and 44/100% Dead, a crime black comedy starring Richard Harris.
With his fluent French and knowledge of French culture, Frankenheimer was asked to direct French Connection II, set entirely in Marseille. With Hackman reprising his role as New York cop Popeye Doyle, the film was a success and got Frankenheimer his next job. Black Sunday, based on author Thomas Harris's only non-Hannibal Lecter novel, involves an Israeli Mossad agent (Robert Shaw) chasing a pro-Palestinian terrorist (Marthe Keller) and a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam vet (Bruce Dern), who plan a spectacular mass-murder involving the Goodyear Blimp which flies over the Super Bowl. It was shot on location at the actual Super Bowl X in January 1976 in Miami, with the use of a real Goodyear Blimp. The film tested very highly, and Paramount and Frankenheimer had high expectations for it, but it was not a hit (with Paramount blaming the failure on the special effects work in the climax, and Universal Studios releasing the similarly themed thriller Two-Minute Warning only six months prior).
In 1977, Carter DeHaven hired Frankenheimer to direct William Sackheim and Michael Kozoll's screenplay for First Blood. After considering Michael Douglas, Powers Boothe, and Nick Nolte for the role of John Rambo Frankenheimer cast Brad Davis. He also cast George C. Scott as Colonel Trautman. However, the production was abandoned after Orion Pictures acquired its distributor Filmways, and Sackheim and Kozoll's script would be rewritten by Sylvester Stallone as the basis for Ted Kotcheff's 1982 film.
Frankenheimer is quoted in Champlin's biography as saying that his alcohol problem caused him to do work that was below his own standards on Prophecy (1979), an ecological monster movie about a mutant grizzly bear terrorizing a forest in Maine.
In 1981, Frankenheimer travelled to Japan to shoot the cult martial-arts action film The Challenge, with Scott Glenn and Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. He told Champlin that his drinking became so severe while shooting in Japan that he actually drank on set, which he had never done before, and as a result he entered rehab on returning to America. The film was released in 1982, along with his HBO television adaptation of the acclaimed play The Rainmaker.
In 1985, Frankenheimer directed an adaptation of the Robert Ludlum bestseller The Holcroft Covenant, starring Michael Caine. That was followed the next year with another adaptation, 52 Pick-Up, from the novel by Elmore Leonard. Dead Bang (1989) followed Don Johnson as he infiltrated a group of white supremacists. In 1990, he returned to the Cold War political thriller genre with The Fourth War with Roy Scheider (with whom Frankenheimer had worked previously on 52 Pick-Up) as a loose cannon Army colonel drawn into a dangerous personal war with a Soviet officer. It was not a commercial success.
Most of his 1980s films were less than successful, both critically and financially, but Frankenheimer was able to make a comeback in the 1990s by returning to his roots in television. He directed two films for HBO in 1994: Against the Wall and The Burning Season that won him several awards and renewed acclaim. The director also helmed two films for Turner Network Television, Andersonville (1996) and George Wallace (1997), that were highly praised.
Frankenheimer's 1996 film The Island of Doctor Moreau, which he took over after the firing of original director Richard Stanley, was the cause of countless stories of production woes and personality clashes and received scathing reviews. Frankenheimer was said to be unable to stand Val Kilmer, the young co-star of the film and whose disruption had reportedly led to the removal of Stanley half a week into production. When Kilmer's last scene was completed, Frankenheimer reportedly said, "Now get that bastard off my set." The veteran director also professed that "Will Rogers never met Val Kilmer". In an interview, Frankenheimer refused to discuss the film, saying only that he had a miserable time making it.
However, his next film, 1998's Ronin, starring Robert De Niro, was a return to form, featuring Frankenheimer's now trademark elaborate car chases woven into a labyrinthine espionage plot. Co-starring an international cast including Jean Reno and Jonathan Pryce, it was a critical and box-office success. As the 1990s drew to a close, he even had a rare acting role, appearing in a cameo as a U.S. general in The General's Daughter (1999). He earlier had an uncredited cameo as a TV director in his 1977 film Black Sunday.
Last years and death
Frankenheimer's last theatrical film, 2000's Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck, underperformed. But then came his final film, Path to War for HBO in 2002, which brought him back to his strengths – political machinations, 1960s America and character-based drama, and was nominated for numerous awards. A look back at the Vietnam War, it starred Michael Gambon as President Lyndon Johnson along with Alec Baldwin and Donald Sutherland. One of Frankenheimer's last projects was the 2001 BMW action short-film Ambush for the promotional series The Hire, starring Clive Owen.
Frankenheimer was scheduled to direct Exorcist: The Beginning, but it was announced before filming started that he was withdrawing, citing health concerns. Paul Schrader replaced him. About a month later he died suddenly in Los Angeles, California, from a stroke due to complications following spinal surgery at the age of 72.
Frankenheimer was born into a politically conservative family and attended a Catholic military academy. He served as a junior officer in the US Air Force during the Korean War. In his youth, he briefly considered entering the priesthood.
He came of age during the height of the Red Scare and the Anti-Communist House Un-American Activities Committee investigations during the early 1950s, a period that saw the blacklisting of left-wing filmmakers and screenwriters by the Hollywood studios. Frankenheimer's early liberal political sensibilities first manifested themselves in disputes with his conservative father, a stockbroker:
When I was in high school, I started disagreeing a lot with my father on politics, because he was really very conservative. He really wanted the status quo, and I didn’t want the status quo. The whole racial question really, really bothered me. I came from New York, and one of my first girlfriends was an African-American dancer. And this caused a furor of sorts within my family.
Frankenhiemer's “liberal sensibility” emerged professionally when he began his apprenticeship in the early TV industry:
When I got into live television [in 1952], there was the whole business of McCarthy—you can’t imagine how terrible that was. That really galvanized me into a political arena. And of course in live television it was very hard to do political stuff because there was the blacklist. You could do anything psychological, but nothing sociological.
Film critic David Walsh notes that “any medium which emerged as the profit-driven property of large American corporations and under the close scrutiny of the US authorities in the midst of the Cold War, with its anticommunism, conformism and generally stagnant intellectual climate, would inevitably be deformed by those processes...Frankenheimer worked and apparently thrived within this overall artistic and ideological framework.”
Political relationships with the Kennedys
In a 1998 interview with film critic Alex Simon, Frankenheimer recalled that his first contact with Kennedy family politics occurred during the 1960 presidential campaigns:
I was probably the best-known television director around. And I was approached to do some work for John Kennedy. And I don't know...I was 30 years old. I was going through a divorce [with wife Carolyn Miller], and I just didn't want to deal with it, so I said no.
During his filming of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Frankenheimer reports that he and producer/screenwriter George Axelrod were anxious that the Kennedy administration might object to the plot, which graphically depicts an assassination attempt on a liberal presidential candidate by a right-wing conspiracy. When cast member Frank Sinatra, a personal friend of Kennedy, was sent to sound out his reaction to the film, Kennedy (who had read the Richard Condon novel) responded enthusiastically: "I love The Manchurian Candidate. Who's going to play the mother?"
“...There is no such thing as an unpolitical man. You have to take a stand in life. I was very impressed with and devoted to Senator Robert Kennedy. I believe in what he stood for...I arranged, supervised and directed all his television film appearances. I dedicated myself to that in full...his death was an irreplaceable loss...I think he represented everything that was good in this country. And there’s been a terrible void since he was killed.” - John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)
When Frankenheimer began pre-production on his political thriller Seven Days in May (1964) in the summer of 1963, he approached Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to arrange to film a segment on location in vicinity of the White House. The story concerns a political coup organized by a fascistic Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (played by Burt Lancaster) to depose the liberal president (played by Fredric March) and install a military dictatorship. Kennedy approved the picture and accommodated Frankenheimer by withdrawing to his home in Hyannisport for the weekend during the White House shoot.
As to whether Frankenheimer ever met Kennedy, the director offered contradictory versions. To biographer Gerald Pratley in 1968, Frankenheimer said, "I never had the pleasure of meeting [JFK] personally" but noted that Kennedy had fully supported the production of Seven Days in May. In 1998, during an interview with film critic Alex Simon, Frankenheimer recalled that Kennedy purportedly said to Salinger, "if it's John Frankenheimer [directing Seven Days in May] I want to meet him." Frankenheimer adds, “So I met him, went to a press conference with him. He was wonderful to me.”
Frankenheimer regarded Kennedy's assassination as a profound calamity for America: “I think we lost our innocence as a country with John F. Kennedy's death.”
Film critics Joanne Laurier and David Walsh observe that “The Kennedy assassination marked a historical turning point. One of its aims, in which it ultimately succeeded, was to shift US government policies to the right and intimidate political opposition.”
Frankenheimer's most significant bond with the Kennedys was his political and personal relationship with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, to whom he quickly committed his services during the 1968 presidential campaign: “When [Robert Kennedy] declared his candidacy in '68, I immediately called [campaign manager] Pierre Salinger and said ‘Pierre, I want to be part of this.’"
Frankenheimer reports that he filmed Robert Kennedy’s campaign appearances and coached the senator on improving his political persona, providing this support for Kennedy over three months in the spring of 1968.
Frankenheimer was devastated by RFK’s assassination in June 1968, due in part to his proximity to the event. He had first been scheduled to accompany Kennedy through the Ambassador Hotel after the candidate’s victory speech in the California primaries. Early news reports listed Frankenheimer as one of the wounded in Kennedy’s entourage. Frankenheimer and spouse Evans Evans were waiting at a side entrance of the Ambassador Hotel to pick up Kennedy when he emerged from the press conference and drive him to their home. According to Frankenheimer, they witnessed police removing Sirhan Sirhan, later convicted of the shooting, from the premises, then discovered Kennedy had been mortally wounded.
Traumatized by the event, Frankenheimer withdrew from politics, and after completing The Gypsy Moths (1969) moved to France to study the culinary arts. He recalled in 1998: “Yeah. I managed to finish one film, The Gypsy Moths, but I just felt like 'What's the point? What does any of this really matter?' I mean, when you're a part of something like that and then all of the sudden it's taken away with just one bullet [snaps fingers]. It really makes you take stock in what's important...That’s when I went to France, and that’s when I went to Le Cordon Bleu, because I just had to do something else with my life, and I really couldn’t go near politics for a long time after that.” Walsh comments:
Frankenheimer’s social concerns largely disappeared from his work for the next two decades. He became identified more and more as an "action director" with competent and uninspired works such as French Connection II (1975) and Black Sunday (1977). The first is memorable principally for the strain of violence, indeed sadistic violence, which appears in Frankenheimer’s work. This reached something of a height in the grisly and pointless 52 Pick-Up (1986) and endured in Frankenheimer’s work through his final feature films, including Ronin (1998) and Reindeer Games (2000).
The moving image collection of John Frankenheimer is held at the Academy Film Archive.
Awards and nominations
- 1964 Train nominated for Best Film - Any Source
- 1962 Manchurian Candidate nominated for Best Film - Both Any Source and British
- 1966 Seconds nominated for Competing Film
- 1962 All Fall Down nominated for Competing Film
- 1968 Fixer nominated for Best Direction
- 1968 Fixer nominated for Best Film
- 1962 Birdman of Alcatraz nominated for Competing Film
- 1962 Birdman of Alcatraz won for San Giorgio Prize
- Barson, Michael. "John Frankenheimer – American director". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- Yoram Allon, Yoram; Cullen, Hannah Patterson. Contemporary North American Film Directors, Wallflower Press (2000), pp. 181-83
- "Hollywood director John Frankenheimer dies at 72". abc.net.au. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
- Pratley, 1968 p. 16
- Moritz, Charles (1964). Current biography yearbook. H.W. Wilson Company. p. 135.
- Thurber, Jon; King, Susan (July 7, 2002). "John Frankenheimer, 72; Director Was Master of the Political Thriller". Los Angeles Times.
- Walsh, David. "Issues raised by the career of US filmmaker John Frankenheimer".
- Bowie, 2006: "Frankenheimer felt overshadowed by a strong father..."
Pratley, 1968 p. 17: Frankenheimer: "...I have a brother four years younger and a sister six years younger..."
- Baxter, 2002: "...he had a fitness and determination that allowed him to contemplate a tennis career...he abandoned both tennis and his religion [i.e. Catholicism]."
- Pratley, 1968 p. 18. And p. 17: See brief comment on a father-son contretemps over Frankenheimer's pursuit of an acting career rather than tennis.
- Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer's coursework at American University included speech and TV producing, which the USAF accepted as "qualifications."
- Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer's remarks in quotations. And p. 21: Years in the Air Force, 1951-1953.
Barson, 2021: "After making training films for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Frankenheimer decided to become a director."
- Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer states repeatedly that "nobody cared [or could care less]" what he did. He took the equipment home on the weekends to "shoot all manner of stuff."
- Pratley, 1968 p. 19-20: FCC objection was the excessive commercial content, not sanitary issues related to cows.
Baxter, 2002: "joined the US air force in the early 1950s. Put in charge of a film unit, he immersed himself in amateur movies, training documentaries and local television work [and read] classic texts on cinema theory and practice.
- Pratley, 1968 p. 21
- Pratley, 1968 p. 21-24: See here of Frankenheimer's efforts to secure directortorial position.
Walsh, 2002: "In 1953 he obtained a position with CBS television in New York as an assistant director and within 18 months of his discharge from the military he was co-directing a weekly dramatic series."
- Pratley, 1968 p. 24
- Walsh, 2002: Anna Everett essay, "Golden Age" quoted here. See article http://www.americancentury.or ing/ag_tenthman.pdf
- Pratley, 1968 p. 25-26, p. 28.
- Pratley, 1968 p. 29-30
- Baxter, 2002: "It initiated a brilliant period of more than 100 productions, notably Playhouse 90 dramas..."
Walsh, 2002: "Between 1954 and 1960 Frankenheimer directed 152 live television dramas, including 42 episodes of the Playhouse 90 series. He is considered one of the leading figures of American television's so-called "Golden Age."
Barson, 2021: "one of the most important and creatively gifted directors of the 1950s and '60s."
- "John Frankenheimer: A Master Craftsman". Rogerebert.com. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- Bowie, 2006
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS
- Baxter, 2002: "The experience was unhappy - Frankenheimer had grown used to controlling his technicians..."
- Pratley, 1969 p. 41-42: Pratley quoting Frankenheimer
- Pratley, 1969 p. 43: Re: "village blacksmith", Pratley quoting Frankenheimer. And p. 47-48: Prately notes his return to "ideas, events, places and themes" he addressed in The Young Stranger.
- Gow, 1971 pp. 113-114. See also section 5: "Individuals or Misfits" pp 104--116
- Pratley, 1969 p. 44, p. 47: the director "disliked" the new title, Gow refers to its "cheaply made second feature" impression.
- Stafford, 2005 TCM
- Stafford, 2005 TCM: "Bell uncovers the true murderer while making an important decision involving his own career."
Barson, 2021: "The Young Savages...an overheated but often potent courtroom drama that starred Burt Lancaster—in the first of five movies he made with the director..."
- Pratley, 1969 p. 45
- Pratley, 1969 p. 48-49
- Stafford, 2005 TCM
Pratley, 1969 p. 48
- Pratley, 1969 p. 47-48
Stafford, 2005 TCM: The film script "appealed to the liberal Democrat in Frankenheimer and Lancaster..."
Baxter, 2002: "It launched a movie career that allowed the director, a liberal, who wrote and directed all of Robert F Kennedy's television appearances, to buck the system, and make several landmark social and political works."
- Pratley, 1969 p. 55
- Pratley, 1969 p. 80: Frankenheimer explains the chronology here.
Stafford, 2003 TCM: "John Houseman and Frankenheimer eagerly agreed to do it in-between post-production on Birdman of Alcatraz and preparation for The Manchurian Candidate."
- Baxter, 2002: "Birdman of Alcatraz was delayed when the first section had to be shortened and reshot, and, in the interim, Frankenheimer made the hothouse All Fall Down."
- Higham, 1973 p. 294-295: "...a beautifully made film about adolescence…the boy reaches manhood by way of anguish…concerned with the theme of the outsider."
Barson, 2021: All Fall Down "starred Warren Beatty as a callous womanizer whose adoring younger brother (Brandon de Wilde) gradually comes to despise him."
- Baxter, 2002: "Frankenheimer made the hothouse All Fall Down, with Warren Beatty as an archetypal, Frankenheimer anti-hero drifter."
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS: " "All Fall Down is a fairly silly work...Warren Beatty plays the impossibly named Berry-Berry Willart, a ne'er-do-well son of a quarrelsome middle class Cleveland couple...His abuse of a family friend, Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), leads to her death and the disillusionment of Berry-Berry's younger brother."
- Walsh, 2002. WSWS
- Pratley, 1969 p. 227
- Baxter, 2002: Frankenheimer’s “documentary style, produced an intense story of injustice and endurance.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 58: “This film is almost pure documentary.”
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “...Stroud’s transformation from a sullen misanthrope into a humane and thoughtful individual.”
Stafford, 2003 TCM: Stroud’s Stroud’s“life-altering experience...establishing himself as one of the world's leading authorities on canaries.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 59-60: Frankenheimer offers a narrative in which Stroud’s “character changes completely...becomes a slow, quiet, thoughtful man.”
- Honan, William H. (September 16, 1999). "Charles Crichton, Film Director, Dies at 89". NY Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Stafford, 2003 TCM: Remarks on Crichton dismissal.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 64-65, p. 66: “hired director”
- Strafford, 2003 TCM: The rough cut “ran four and a half hours [requiring a] re-write of the script. ‘That's what we did. Then we went back and re-shot the whole first part of the movie.’” Stafford is quoting from a Charles Champlin interview with the director.
Pratley, 1969 p. 66
- Prately, 1969 p. 64: Frankenheimer recalls that the Bureau threatened to withhold any future cooperation with CBS if they sponsered the story. He also cites anticipated difficulties handling small birds in a live TV drama.
- Stafford, 2003 TCM: Stafford or Frankenheimer may be confusing USBP interference regarding film vs. TV
- Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...Frankenheimer became a major cinematic force with The Manchurian Candidate…its power and influence have not been diminished.”
Barson, 2021 Britannica: “The Manchurian Candidate is arguably Frankenheimer’s most-respected film.”
Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “The Manchurian Candidate is a peculiar film, perhaps Frankenheimer’s most important, but certainly not entirely coherent or convincing.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 82 And p. 224: Frankenheimer: “...the film that people say is my best, The Manchurian Candidate...”
Bowie, 2006: “The Manchurian Candidate (1962)...is an achievement so elephantine that it tends to dwarf the others in critical assessments of its director’s work.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 97: See Frankenheimer autobiographical remarks in Pratley.
- Barson, 2021 Britannica: “A chilling adaption of the Richard Condon novel, it starred Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey as American soldiers who are brainwashed during the Korean War in a scheme to have a communist elected U.S. president.”
Walsh, 2002 WSWS: brief film summary
Pratley, 1969 p. 81-82: See Synopsis
- Baxter, 2002: “greatest screen role…”
Nixon, 2006 TCM: “Angela Lansbury’s Oscar-nominated performance is usually what is remembered most about the film.”
Barson, 2021. Britannica: “Angela Lansbury, who was nominated for best supporting actress.”
Walsh, 2004 WSWS: “Angela Lansbury is riveting as the sleeper assassin’s mother...”
Pratley, 1969 p. 85: “Angela Lansbury is carried over from All Fall Down (1962), again a splendidly possessive mother…”
- Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...a creative atmosphere that allowed Frank Sinatra to give what many feel is his best performance.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 87: “...both Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey give superlative, restrained performances…”
- Prately, 1969 p. 97: Frankenheimer: “The Manchurian Candidate is the first film I really instigated and had complete control...” And p. 98: “...I had complete control…” over the production.
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS: Sarris quoted by Walsh.
- Bowie, 2006: “...documentary-styled mise en scène...”
Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “...paranoia and delirium...”
Baxter, 2002: The Manchurian Candidate “is dominated by Frankenheimer's technical fluency…”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 85-87: Frankenheimer’s “continual visual inventiveness”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 85-87: “...the script contains no directions for the filming of the masterly ‘brainwashing’, an extremely complicated piece of filming which he devised.”And p. 87: More on shot sequence.
- Bowie, 2006:
- Pratley, 1969 p. 98:
- Bowie, 2002
- Prately, 1969 p. 100-101
- Nixon, 2006 TCM: “The nation's shameful anti-Communist era was essentially over, but its effects lingered, and the idea of presenting a McCarthy-type movement as a sinister Communist plot was outrageous.”
- Walsh, 2004 WSWS: “Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate appeared in cinemas in the US at an extraordinary moment, October 24, 1962, in the middle of the ‘Fourteen Days’ of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 15–28), when the Cold War came as close as it ever did to becoming a nuclear catastrophe.”
Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...both Frankenheimer and Sinatra were close friends of the Kennedy family...”
Pratley, 1969 p. 81: Pratley reports that the film was released on 27 September 1962.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 82
Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “one assumes Frankenheimer and Axelrod are making the ultimate liberal statement about ‘extremism.’”
- Walsh, 2004 WSWS
- Pratley, 1969 p. 84: “The Manchurian Candidate provoked its share of rage and anguish...but the film was too great an achievement, both in artistic and commercial terms, to go down before it.”
Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...a volatile and terrifying parable of American political life.”
Baxter, 2002: “Box office receipts...were modest...the film went from ‘failure to cult classic without even being a success’”
- Bowie, 2006: “It occupies a place in the popular memory as an eerie prediction of the Kennedy assassination a year later...”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 98
- Pratley, p. 108: Frankenheimer, quoted in Pratley
- Pratley, 1969 p. 109: Frankenheimer comments on this topic.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 103, p. 110-111
Safford, 2007 TCM: The literary property was “purchased for the screen through the joint efforts of Frankenheimer and Kirk Douglas, who agreed to produce and star in the film...”
- Safford, 2007 TCM: “political conspiracy thriller...based on the popular novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 104
Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “To a certain and important extent, the encounter between Lyman and Scott does concretize and concentrate artistically a pivotal social collision, an obligation of enduring drama.”
- Higham, 1973 p. 295: In The Manchurian Candidate “the inspiration for the revolt lay in Russia; in Seven Days in May, the seeds of destruction are seen to lie in the American military system itself.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 113
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “Scott is generally taken to be a fictional version or composite of...Curtis LeMay, appointed by Kennedy to be Air Force Chief of Staff, and Edwin Walker…”
Pratley, 1969 p. 108: “The war-like pronouncements of many American military men place this film right on the line between fantasy and fact; it would take only the slightest push to move it over into truth.”
Higham, 1973 p. 295: “...expertly tackles a political theme...Once again Frankenhiemer deals with an attempt to obtain supreme power by a fascist clique.”
Safford, 2007 TCM: “...a chilling scenario of the dangers of misplaced power in the military-industrial complex... it remains a hot topic today.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 108: “...it plausibly and intelligently projects a warning that this could happen in the near future, and we should be on our guard.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 107-108
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS
- Pratley, 1969 p. 107: “There are splendid performances from the entire cast...”
- Higham, 1973 p. 295:
Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “Douglas, Lancaster and March clearly threw themselves into the production. They are thoroughly believable as these human beings.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 18, p. 114: Frankenheimer: “...it gave me a sense of satisfaction to make a picture about a place I worked as a mail boy.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 114: Frankenheimer: “...I’m sure the Pentagon weren’t happy when they heard we were going to make it…”
Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “...Seven Days in May angered the Pentagon, the FBI and the extreme right.”
Safford, 2007 TCM: “the filmmakers knew it was futile to ask any Pentagon officials if they could shoot any sequences at their headquarters.”
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “A March 20, 1964 memo details communications between retired Admiral Arleigh Burke and Assistant Director William Sullivan of the FBI in regard to the film and its potential damage.
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS:
- Pratley, 1969 p. 114: “President Kennedy indirectly...said he very much wanted the film made.”
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “...theatrical release scheduled for December. That release was held up by the murder of Kennedy in Dallas on November 22. (The appearance of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in theaters was delayed for the same reason.)”
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: The painful irony is that the real-life models for the fanatical right-wing elements in the military and intelligence apparatus fictionalized...in Frankenheimer’s film were no doubt linked to the cabal that carried out the [Kennedy] assassination.”
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS:
- Safford, 2007 TCM: “When Seven Days in May opened theatrically, it fared well with critics and audiences alike…”
Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS: “Received warmly by both critics and audiences...On the whole, Seven Days in May stands up, 56 years later.”
Higham, 1973 p. 295: “Frankenheimer’s great virtues - his sense of realism, attack, pacing, and electrifying creative energy” were evident in Seven Days in May.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 123-125, p. 139: Composite quote.
- Baxter, 2002: The film is “dominated by Lancaster's athleticism and Paul Scofield's steely performance as his German adversary.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 115-116
Wood, 2004: “World War II action film tinged with a Cold War sensibility.”
- p. 47 Penn, Arthur Arthur Penn: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2008
Pratley, 1969 p. 123: Frankenheimer: “...a conflict of personalities, a conflict over the type of film being made…”
Barson, 2021: “Lancaster and Frankenheimer combined forces for the fourth time on The Train (1965)—although not by original design; Arthur Penn had begun the picture but was fired soon after filming began.”
Wood, 2004 TCM: “Lancaster was concerned that Penn was neglecting the story's potential for action and suspense, and remedied the situation by calling in Frankenheimer.”
- Prately, 1969 p. 123-125: See here for Frankenheimer’s remarks.
Smith, 2010. TCM: “At the behest of star Burt Lancaster, Frankenheimer replaced Arthur Penn as the director of The Train (1965)”
Higham, 1973 p. 295: “The Train (1965), taken over from Arthur Penn, was a botch for which he cannot be held responsible.”
Palen, 2010: See here for same Frankenheimer passages quoted in Pratley, 1969.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 140
- Palen, 2010
Wood, 2004 TCM: “Frankenheimer in turn discarded Penn's footage, brought in his own writers to overhaul the script, and ultimately delivered the WWII thriller Lancaster had hoped for.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 125
- Pratley, 1969 p. 122: “The director has been criticized, of course, for his ironic comments about the values of art and of human life.” And p 125: Frankenheimer: “The point I wanted to make was that no work of art is worth a human life.”
- Bowie, 2006:
Abele, 2018: Abele quoting Guillermo del Toro “...the movie clearly states two points of view...Lancaster is pro-human. Scofield cares about art but has no hint of the humanity of that art...an artistic piece about how much art is worth in human lives.”
- Palen, 2010: “John Frankenheimer’s 1964 masterly moving painting The Train.. grounded in the grimy documentary-like detail of the neo-realist style the director admired.”
Wood, 2004 TCM: “...a masterful achievement of heightened and prolonged suspense...one of the best action films of the 1960s.”
Abele, 2018: Abele’s article highlights Guillermo del Toro’s fulsome praise for The Train as a superlative action film.
Wood, 2004 TCM: “No miniatures were used in The Train...apparent when one views such sequences of carefully-orchestrated destruction that punctuate the film's tightly-wound narrative.”
Bowie, 2006: “The terrifically entertaining The Train (1965) best represents this synthesis.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 126
- Pratley, 1969 p. 120-121 And p. 119
- Palen, 2010:
- Georgaris, 2021 TSPDT: Georgaris quoting from The Film Encyclopedia, 2012
- "The Train - IMDb".
- Balio 1987, p. 279.
- Buford 2000, p. 240.
- "Most Popular Film Star." The Times, December 31, 1965, p. 13 via The Times Digital Archive, September 16, 2013.
- Wilshire, 2001
Pratley, 1969 p. 135: “...a horrifying, shattering, screaming climax [as] he is taken away to become a cadaver for another second…” And p. 139: “...the horrific ending…”
- Barson, 2021
- Pratley, 1969 p. 134
- Pratley, 1969 p. 141-142, p. 148: Composite quote, ellipses added for clarity.
- Wilshire, 2001
- Smith, 2010 TCM: “Frankenheimer prefered Laurence Olivier, whom he considered a natural for the dual role of Arthur Hamilton/Tony Wilson, but Paramount wanted a bigger name” for the youthful Wilson.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 135:
- Pratley, 1969 p. 143-144: Frankenheimer: “I don’t think the [disparity in stature] was too noticeable.” And: “...the film was obscure and nobody ever understood why [Wilson] didn’t make it.” And: “We did not successfully dramatize the second act” i.e. the Tony Wilson phase. See also Frankenheimer’s remarks on deleted sequence about Wilson’s encounter with a small girl.
- Wilshire, 2001: Wilshire quoting Vincent LoBrotto “the screenplay...had a surreal quality, which suggested an extreme visual approach to Frankenheimer.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 144: “9.5mm lens...” And p. 146: Arriflex methods. And p. 145 “...psychedelic...”
Wilshire, 2001: “Most importantly, the theme of distortion is central to Seconds...The camera is used not only as a recording device, but also as an expressive tool.” And:“Howe was the ideal choice to visually realize Frankenhiemer’s ambitious and surreal vision in Seconds...”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 145: Frankenheimer: “I had splendid co-operation from Jame Wong Howe, who’s a marvelous cameraman.” And p. 139: Pratley states “James Wong Howe’s photography has never been better than in this picture...”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 133-134: “The French and European critics at Cannes gave Seconds such a hostile reception and denounced it so bitterly as being ‘cruel and inhuman’ that Frankenheimer refused to leave Monte Carlo...to attend the press conference...” And p. 146: “It was a disaster. Most critics hated it.” And: Frankenheimer: “Paramount lost all faith in the film...put no effort into selling it.”
Baxter, 2002: “...Seconds was so badly received at the Cannes film festival that he boycotted the press conference.”
- Barson, 2021: “Although a critical and commercial disappointment, Seconds later developed a cult following. “
Smith, 2010 TCM: “Although it would eventually find its cult, Seconds was relegated to the Paramount vault and forgotten...”
Pratley, 1969 p. 145: Frankenheimer: “We all know [cast and crew] that the film was a failure, but I think its an excellent case against [entering movies] in film festivals.”
- Wilshire, 2001: “Seconds failed miserably at the box-office in 1966.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 134: Pratley declares that Seconds will one day be “described as a masterpiece.”
- Baxter, 2001
- Higham, 1973 p. 295
- Baxter, 1970 p. 175: Hamilton-Wilson “rejects [the] oiled efficiency [of his surgery] and goes, albeit unwillingly, to death rather than deny his true self.”
- Thurber and King, 2002: “...in 1964, Frankenheimer seemed firmly entrenched as a top director in Hollywood. A year later he made his first color film, the car-racing saga Grand Prix.”
- Axmaker, 2010 TCM: “Grand Prix (1966), a sprawling drama of race car drivers shot on locations across Europe with a glamorous international cast.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 151; “...it communicates the director’s enthusiasm for the subject…” And: Frankenheimer: “[I’ve] driven a race car and driven one fairly well…”
Goodman, 2003 TCM: “Grand Prix is Frankenheimer's first color film...Shot in 70mm Cinerama.” And: Frankenheimer: "...one of the most satisfactory films I've made.” And: “Having been an amateur racer himself, Frankenheimer is intensely passionate about the subject...”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 150 and pp.151-153: “...his first original screenplay since The Young Stranger…” And: “...his most expensive production…”
- Goodman, 2003 TCM: “As could be expected, a tight race ensues with plenty of thrills, chills, and spills, before a final victor emerges from the big event.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 151-152 And p. 154-155: Frankenheimer: “I want to show what racing was really like and every incident in the film is based on truth.” And: “I used to do racing as an amateur…”
Goodman, 2003 TCM: “Frankenheimer and cinematographer Lionel Lindon used specially constructed cameras mounted on the racing cars…creative use of split-screen…” And: “Having been an amateur racer himself, Frankenheimer is intensely passionate about the subject...”
- Goodman, 2003 TCM: “To achieve the level of realism that Frankenheimer wanted, there were no "process shots" used in the film. All scenes used real cars with mounted cameras...cinematographer Lionel Lindon used specially constructed cameras mounted on the racing cars, which put us on the track with the drivers.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 159: Frankenheimer: “There was not a single process shot in the entire film.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 156-158: See Frankenheimer narrative re: Francis Thompson’s To Be Alive! (1964), and World Series televised baseball.
Goodman, 2003 TCM: “...Frankenheimer used the wide space to his advantage with a creative use of split-screen…By combining the ‘on-track’ footage with helicopter shots of the cars in a split-screen action sequence, he combats the monotony of racing cars merely driving around in circles.”
- Goodman, 2003 TCM: “For the spectacular crashes, special effects man Milton Rice created a hydrogen cannon, which functioned as a giant pea-shooter. A car could be attached to a shaft on the cannon, and then ‘shot’ out like a projectile at speeds in excess of 125 miles an hour.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 161
- Pratley, 1969 p. 156
- Walsh, 2002. WSWS: “Grand Prix, a story of race-car drivers, is largely a technical exercise, whose dramatic narrative seems accidental...”
Barson, 2021: “...The racing sequences were entertaining, but the rest of the film was largely dull.”
- Georgaris, 2021 TSPDT: “...Frankenheimer seemed to be losing his edge by brandishing style for its own sake.” - The Film Encyclopedia, 2012
- Walsh, 2002. WSWS: “Sarris suggested that the director’s style had ‘degenerated into an all-embracing academicism, a veritable glossary of film techniques.’”
- Goodman, 2003 TCM: “..earning three Oscars for Best Sound Effects (by Gordon Daniel), Best Editing, and Best Sound.”
Baxter, 2002 “...returning to France [he made] his commercially successful, biggest budget, and first colour movie, Grand Prix (1966).
Pratley, 1969 p. 149: See here for credits
- Axmaker, 2010 TCM: “...Though he'd shown darkly satire edges in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seconds (1966), he was known as a director of serious dramas with social concerns.” And: “...more farce than satire...a light comedy.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 165-166: Pratley distinguished The Extraordinary Seaman from Frankenheimer’s “big pictures” (e.g. Grand Prix and The Train)
- Axmaker, 2010 TCM: “It's a wartime comedy of a misfit unit and a Captain of questionable pedigree, a military farce, a slapstick romance and a crazy ghost story all in one strange package...incompetence of the characters on screen.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 163-164: See Synopsis for detailed sketch.
Axmaker, 2010 TCM: “..the fourth feature for rising star Faye Dunaway, who was fresh off [director Arthur Penn’s] Bonnie and Clyde (1967).”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 165-166: “...spoofing war…While [the characters] are not exactly endearing, they are treated and shown with sympathy and dignity.” And p. 172: Frankenheimer on the use of newreel clips and combat footage used for satire.
- Charles Champlin; John Frankenheimer; Directors Guild of America (May 1995). John Frankenheimer: a conversation. Riverwood Press. pp. 103. ISBN 9781880756096.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 172
- AFI: “The story is broken into segments, each titled to match five of U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s six installments of his World War II memoirs.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 169 “thematic relationship” And p. 171-173: Frankenheimer: Co-screenwriter Hal Dresner “is very much against the war in Vietnam (which I am too)...”
- Axmaker, 2010 TCM
- Barson, 2021: “The Extraordinary Seaman was released in 1969, after having sat on the shelf for two years. It was Frankenheimer’s first comedy and one of his most poorly received films...”
Axmaker, 2010 TCM: “More likely, MGM was scared off after a string of dismal screenings for exhibitors and critics, where the response was tepid at best. MGM held up the film for two years, and then gave it a nominal release before it disappeared except for infrequent television showings.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 172
- AFI: “...the picture contains at least ten minutes of newsreel footage...the release date had been delayed while filmmakers underwent the process of matching the material to the rest of the color Panavision footage.”
- AFI: “Despite the high profile of director John Frankenheimer and the popularity of Faye Dunaway following her star turn in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Extraordinary Seaman was poorly received by critics and not distributed for a large scale release.” And: “Var box-office reports indicated scattered local openings” across the US.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 186: See Frankenheimer’s comments here. Malamud forwarded the manuscript to Frankenheimer for his consideration.
- Pratley, 1969 pp. 177-179: See Synopsis.
- "The 41st Academy Awards | 1969". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
- Ebert, 1968: “...played with great sensitivity by Alan Bates…”
Adler, 1968 NYT: “The acting, from Alan Bates...through Dirk Bogarde as the cerebral, sympathetically homosexual prosecutor, and David Warner as an effete, pragmatic Count, is very fine.”
- Toole, 2003 TCM: Bates plays “a Russian Jew falsely accused of murder [and] remarkably, his only Oscar nomination.”
- Adler, 1968 NYT
- Pratley, 1969 p. 230: Frankenheimer’s comments, composite quote, minor edits for brevity, clarity.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 187-188: Composite quote from these pages, edited for brevity and clarity, meaning is unchanged.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 183: “...feel better about…” And p. 233: Frankenheimer: “I happen to love The Fixer. I don’t know how other people will react to it, but to me it is my best work.” And p. 228: “In The Fixer there is hardly a single scene that does not please me…” And p. 225: Frankenheimer: “...the only film I never made compromises on…”
Adler, 1968 NYT: “Bernard Malamud, who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Fixer" in 1967…”
Baxter, 2002: “...despite intense performances from Bates and Dirk Bogarde, the film was patchily received. Frankenheimer, who thought it his best work
- Ebert, 1968
- Ebert, 1968
- Adler, 1968 NYT
- Adler, 1968
- Higham, 1973 p. 297
- Harmetz, Aljean (April 10, 1977). "Frankenheimer Rides a Blimp To a Big, Fat Comeback". The New York Times.
- Armstrong, Stephen B., ed. (2013). John Frankenheimer: Interviews, Essays, and Profiles. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 168.
- Broeske, Pat H. (November 25, 1985). "The Curious Evolution of John Rambo: How He Hacked His Way Through the Jungles of Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. AB32.
- "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
- O'Sullivan, Kevin (June 23, 1996). "Kilmer Gets the Knife; He's Voted Least Popular by a Bunch of H'wood Big Shots". NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
- Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (May 31, 1996). "Psycho Kilmer". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
- Simon, 2008: Frankenheimer: “My dad was Jewish and my mother was Irish-Catholic, which was never an issue because my father was never a practicing Jew. He's the one who drove us to (Catholic) Sunday school. I went to a Catholic military academy for high school. I had wanted to be a priest.”
Thurber and King, 2002: “Frankenheimer was born the son of a Jewish stockbroker, and was raised Catholic by his Irish American mother...At one time he wanted to be a priest...”
- Simon, 2002
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “Possessed of a liberal sensibility and shaped by the Cold War era, Frankenheimer was an artistic eclectic...”
- Simon, 2008
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS
- Simon, 2008
- Simon, 2008
- Simon, 2008: Frankenheimer quoting JFK, presumably based on Sinatra’s report. See here for Sinatra’s role as go-between. And: Frankenheimer: JFK “loved the movie…”
- IMBd: See here for info on wife Carolyn Miller, with whom Frankenhimer had two children.
Pratley, 1969 p. 114: Frankenheimer’s comments to Pratley appear to conflate President Kennedy’s reaction to Manchurian Candidate (1962) with his assistance in the production of Seven Days in May (released in 1964). Contradicts Frankenheimer’s remarks in Simon interview, 2008.
- Pratley, 1969 p. 220, pp. 221-222: Frankenheimer
- Simon, 2008
Pratley, 1969 p. 114
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “President John Kennedy helped persuade a Hollywood studio to finance the film, according to one account, and offered White House locations for shooting. Frankenheimer’s next project centered on a plot by the head of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to organize a coup and overthrow the elected president.”
- Pratley, 1969 p. 114
- Simon, 2008
Pratley, 1969 p. 139-140: Frankenheimer: “When I returned from Europe, I had change a great deal...I saw my own country from a different perspective, from a very tragic perspective we were in Europe during the assassination of the President and we were able to judge foreign reaction to us and our behavior...I saw myself from a different perspective too.”
- Simon, 2008
Pratley, 1969 p. 221: Frankenheimer: “The deaths of the Kennedys [John and Robert] were probably the most horrible events to happen to American since [President Abraham] Lincoln’s assassination.” And p. 139-140: Frankenheimer: “...I saw my own country from a different perspective, from a very tragic perspective [when] we were in Europe during the assassination of the President and we were able to judge foreign reaction to us and our behavior...I saw myself from a different perspective too.”
- Laurier and Walsh, 2020 WSWS:
- Pratley, 1969 p. 217: “I was very active politically with Senator Kennedy…” And p. 221: “I think he represented everything that was good in this country…”
- Simon, 2008: See here for Frankenheimer quote
- Simon, 2008: “ I was there with [RFK] for 102 days” before his assassination in June 1968. Frankenheimer reportedly used his cinematic talent to counter the Kennedy’s reputation as “arrogant and cold.”
Thurber and King, 2002: “Always politically liberal, Frankenheimer spent part of 1968 working on Kennedy’s presidential campaign, acting as director of campaign spots.”
- Simon, 2008
Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “He identified strongly with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and suffered with its collapse. This is literally so: on the final day of Senator Robert Kennedy’s life in 1968, he was staying at Frankenheimer’s house and the director drove him to the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the site of his assassination.”
Pratley, 1969 p. 221: Frankenheimber: ... there was no doubt that Robert Kennedy was going to be President...Now  we are on the brink of chaos in this country. We were on our way out of it with President [John] Kennedy...I see no way out now...With Richard Nixon [as US president] God knows what will happen. We could all be dead before this book comes out…”
- Simon, 2008: Frankenheimer: “there was this tremendous involvement with Robert Kennedy. We were very, very close friends and I did all the film and television for his campaign. He stayed with me and I drove him to the Ambassador Hotel the night he was shot. All his clothes were in my house...and I really had a nervous breakdown after that.”
Thurber and King, 2002 NYT: “He spent several years in France, where he studied cooking at the Le Cordon Bleu, emerging as a gourmet chef.”
- Walsh, 2002 WSWS:
Barson, 2021: “Personal problems—exacerbated by the assassination in 1968 of his close friend Robert F. Kennedy, whom Frankenheimer had driven to the hotel where he was killed—began to take their toll, and Frankenheimer counted few real successes over the next several years.”
Thurber and King, 2002: “But despite his early success, Frankenheimer’s career went into sharp decline in the 1970s and ‘80s, when he made a series of films that were both critical and commercial failures.
- "John Frankenheimer Collection". Academy Film Archive. September 5, 2014. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
- "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List". emmys.com. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
- Abele, Robert. 2018. The Cost of War: Guillermo del Toro revels in the proficiency and poignancy of John Frankenheimer's intimate WWII epic The Train. Directors Guild of America. Winter, 2018. https://www.dga.org/Craft/DGAQ/All-Articles/1801-Winter-2018/Screening-Room-The-Train.asp Retrieved 26 July 2021.
- Adler, Renata. 1968. Screen: 'The Fixer' Put Through Hollywood Mill: Frankenheimer Directs From Malamud Novel, Alan Bates Plays Lead -- Bogarde in Cast. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1968/12/09/archives/screen-the-fixer-put-through-hollywood-millfrankenheimer-directs.html Retrieved 15 August, 2021
- American Film Institute. 2021. The Extraordinary Seaman. AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute (AFI). https://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/MovieDetails/19644 Retrieved 31 July 2021.
- Axmaker. Sean. 2010. The Extraordinary Seaman. Turner Movie Classics. https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/74365/the-extraordinary-seaman/#articles-reviews?articleId=353373 Retrieved 15 July 2021.
- Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0-29911-440-4.
- Barson, Michael. 2021. John Frankenheimer: American Director. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Frankenheimer Retrieved 4 July 2021.
- Baxter, John. 1970. Science Fiction in the Cinema. Edited by Peter Cowie. Paperback Library. New York. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 69-14896.
- Bowie, Stephen. 2006. John Frankenheimer. Senses of Cinema Great Director Issue 41. https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2006/great-directors/frankenheimer/ Retrieved 1 July 2021.
- Buford, Kate. Burt Lancaster: An American Life. New York: Da Capo, 2000. ISBN 0-306-81019-0.
- Ebert, Roger. 1968. The Fixer. Reviews, December 25, 1968. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-fixer-1968 Retrieved 15 August, 2021.
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