The Parallax View

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The Parallax View
Parallax View movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan J. Pakula
Screenplay byDavid Giler
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Based onThe Parallax View
by Loren Singer
Produced byAlan J. Pakula
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited byJohn W. Wheeler
Music byMichael Small
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 14, 1974 (1974-06-14)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Parallax View is a 1974 American political thriller film produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula, and starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss. The screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. was based on the 1970 novel[1] by Loren Singer. The story concerns a reporter's investigation into a secretive organization, the Parallax Corporation, whose primary focus is political assassination.


In Seattle, Washington, television journalist Lee Carter witnesses the assassination of presidential candidate Charles Carroll atop the Space Needle. A waiter armed with a revolver is pursued and falls to his death while a second waiter, also armed, leaves the scene unnoticed. A committee decides the killing was the work of a lone assassin. Three years later, Carter visits her former boyfriend, an anti-authoritarian Oregon newspaper reporter named Joe Frady, claiming others must have been behind the assassination as six of the witnesses to the killing have since died and she fears she will be next. Frady does not take her seriously; however, Carter is soon found dead of a drug overdose.

Guilty over disregarding Carter's pleas, Frady visits the small town of Salmontail to probe the recent death of Judge Arthur Bridges, also a witness. After engaging in a bar fight with a local deputy, Frady attracts the attention of Salmontail's sheriff L. D. Wicker, who offers to take Frady to the spot where Bridges drowned. When they arrive at the dam, however, Wicker pulls his gun on Frady while the floodgates are opening, plotting to have him drown the same way Bridges did. Frady manages to escape, while Wicker drowns. Frady commandeers Wicker's squad car, and at the sheriff's house he uncovers Parallax Corporation documents that reveal that the organization recruits political assassins.

Frady tries to convince his skeptical newspaper editor Bill Rintels he is on to a big story, connecting the dots of witnesses of assassinations who have died, but Rintels refuses to support his efforts. Undaunted, Frady seeks out a local psychology professor who assesses the Parallax Corporation's personality test taken from Wicker's desk, and deems it to be likely a profiling exam to identify psychopaths.

Austin Tucker, the paranoid aide to the assassinated Carroll and last remaining witness, agrees to meet Frady on his boat, while anxiously revealing there have been two attempts on his life since Carroll's assassination. Shortly after Tucker shows photos to Frady of the second waiter, who was the actual gunman, a bomb explodes on board, killing Tucker and his assistant. Frady survives by diving overboard but is believed to be dead. Later that night, Frady slips into the newspaper's offices and informs Rintels of his belief that he has uncovered an organization that recruits assassins, and wants the public to believe he is dead so he can apply to the Parallax Corporation under an assumed identity.

Days later, Jack Younger, a Parallax official, pays Frady a visit to let him know he is, based on his preliminary application, the kind of man Parallax is interested in. Frady is accepted for training in the Parallax Corporation's division of Human Engineering in Los Angeles, where he watches a montage that associates positive images with negative actions.

While leaving the Parallax's offices, Frady recognizes one of the Parallax operatives from a photo Tucker showed him, as the second waiter from Carroll's assassination. He watches the assassin retrieve a case from a car, drive to an airport, and check it as stowed baggage on a passenger jet. Frady boards the plane and notices a senator aboard, but cannot find the assassin, who is actually watching the jet's takeoff from the airport's roof. Frady writes a warning that there is a bomb on board on a napkin and slips it onto the drink service cart. The warning is found and the jet returns to Los Angeles. Passengers are evacuated moments before the bomb explodes.

Returning to his apartment, Frady is confronted by Younger about not being the man whose identity he has been using. Frady 'confesses' he is actually yet another man who had been trying to hide that he was a registered sex offender, and Younger agrees to validate this new identity. Later, at the newspaper office, Rintels listens to a secretly recorded tape of the conversation between Frady and Younger, then places it in an envelope with other such tapes. Rintels is poisoned by the senator's killer and bomb-planter, and the tapes disappear.

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

Frady realizes too late he has been set up as a scapegoat and attempts to flee across the catwalks, but is spotted by the police who are now in the auditorium below. As Frady runs to the reopened exit door from the catwalks, a shadowy agent (implied to be the same Parallax assassin whom the audience and Frady have seen throughout the film) steps through, killing Frady with a shotgun. Six months later, a committee that investigated Carroll's death reports that Frady, acting alone, killed Hammond out of paranoia and misguided patriotism.


Warren Beatty portrayed the protagonist Joseph Frady.



The film is based on a novel by Loren Singer. While the novel followed witnesses of John F. Kennedy's assassination who were killed, the screenplay shifted the victim to a fictional politician closely resembling Robert F. Kennedy.[2] Robert Towne did an uncredited rewrite on the screenplay.[3]

The Gorge Dam was used as a filming location.


Frady is often filmed from great distances, suggesting that he is being watched.[2]


Most of the images used in the assassin training montage were of anonymous figures or important historical figures, featuring among others Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, Pope John XXIII, and Lee Harvey Oswald (in the picture taken moments after his shooting). The montage also uses a drawing by Jack Kirby of the Marvel Comics character Thor. It juxtaposes the concepts of LOVE, MOTHER, FATHER, HOME, ENEMY, and ME. The montage "captures the confusion of post-Kennedy America" by demonstrating the decay of values and longstanding traditions.[4]

It has been compared to the brainwashing scene in the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.[5][4]

Critical reception[edit]

At the time of its release, The Parallax View received mixed reactions from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "The Parallax View will no doubt remind some reviewers of Executive Action (1973), another movie released at about the same time that advanced a conspiracy theory of assassination. It's a better use of similar material, however, because it tries to entertain instead of staying behind to argue."[6] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Neither Mr. Pakula nor his screenwriters, David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., display the wit that Alfred Hitchcock might have used to give the tale importance transcending immediate plausibility. The moviemakers have, instead, treated their central idea so soberly that they sabotage credulity."[7] Joseph Kanon of The Atlantic found the film's subject pertinent: "what gives the movie its real force is the way its menace keeps absorbing material from contemporary life."[8]

Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "We would probably be better off rethinking—or better yet, not thinking about—the whole dismal business, if only to put an end to ugly and dramatically unsatisfying products like The Parallax View."[9]

In 2006, Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty wrote, "The Parallax View is a mother of a thriller... and Beatty, always an underrated actor thanks (or no thanks) to his off-screen rep as a Hollywood lothario, gives a hell of a performance in a career that's been full of them."[10]

The motion picture won the Critics Award at the Avoriaz Film Festival (France) and was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. Gordon Willis won the Award for Best Cinematography from the National Society of Film Critics (USA).

The film's reception has been more positive in recent years. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 88% based on reviews from 40 critics. The site's consensus states "The Parallax View blends deft direction from Alan J. Pakula and a charismatic Warren Beatty performance to create a paranoid political thriller that stands with the genre's best."[11] On Metacritic the film has a score of 65% based on reviews from 12 critics.[12]

Reviewing films depicting political assassination conspiracies for The Guardian, director Alex Cox labelled the film the "best JFK conspiracy movie".[13] Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz has called the film, "a damn near perfect movie".[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Singer, Loren (1970), The Parallax View. New York: Dell, ISBN 1401069029
  2. ^ a b Kirshner, Jonathan (July 27, 2016). "In the Dark". Slate. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  3. ^ Lefcourt, Peter; Shapiro, Laura (2009-02-18). The First Time I Got Paid For It: Writers' Tales From The Hollywood Trenches. Hachette Books. ISBN 978-0-7867-4522-7.
  4. ^ a b Semley, John (November 20, 2013). "The Best Scene in the Best Conspiracy Thriller Ever". Esquire. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  5. ^ Smith, Kyle (August 14, 2020). "The Political Noir for the Age of Assassination". National Review. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 14, 1974). "The Parallax View". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 12, 2008. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 20, 1974). "The Parallax View". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  8. ^ Simon, Art (July 21, 2017). "In The Parallax View, Conspiracy Goes All the Way to the Top—and Beyond". Slate. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  9. ^ Schickel, Richard (July 8, 1974). "Paranoid Thriller". Time. Archived from the original on December 22, 2008. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  10. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (July 11, 2006). "View Master". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  11. ^ "The Parallax View". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 19, 2022.
  12. ^ "The Parallax View". Metacritic. Retrieved 2021-01-01.
  13. ^ Cox, Alex (November 19, 2013). "The Parallax View: a JFK conspiracy film that gets it right". The Guardian. London. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  14. ^ Matt Zoller Seitz [@mattzollerseitz] (March 8, 2013). "THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974). Dir: Alan J. Pakula. DP: Gordon Willis. A damn near perfect movie" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

External links[edit]