By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Framing yourself isn’t good.
Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) is an insurance agent and family man who learns that he is dying from a brain tumor and has only a few months to live. In order to provide money for his wife and children he sets himself up as the kidnapper of a wealthy businessman in an unsolved case that offered a $225,000 reward for anyone leading to the conviction of the culprit. After he is found guilty at his trial he faints and the doctors there decide to do experimental laser surgery to remove the tumor. The operation proves to be a success forcing Paul to go on a battle to prove his innocence, or risk spending the rest of his life in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Although he has done well in supporting roles Kennedy proves to be quite weak as a leading man as he shows almost no emotion in any of his scenes. When he is told of his tumor he takes it in a very matter-of-fact way without getting upset at all, which seemed unrealistic. His performance is dull and the few times that he does get upset it comes off as forced. His presence hurts the film and a more engaging, eccentric actor could’ve made it more interesting.
Eli Wallach as Paul’s attorney is terrific and the one thing that injects some energy. He is dynamic throughout and is fun to watch even during the slow parts. It was nice to see him doing a scene with his real-life wife Anne Jackson. As of this writing the two have now been married for 64 years, which has to be one of the longest marriages in Hollywood history.
The supporting cast features a long list of familiar character actors making it like spot-the-star. They include: Dana Elcar, Douglas Henderson, Steve Ihnat, William Marshall, Joan Tompkins, Robert Sampson, Leonard Stone, and Walter Brooke in an interesting duplicitous part.
Richard A. Colla’s direction is impressive. The film opens with a diverting cinema verite-style scene showing Paul going through the examination process before entering the prison, which seems unusually elaborate touch for what is otherwise just a gimmicky script. Another innovative part is when Paul is shown planting evidence at the scene of the crime and only the sounds and ambiance of the locale is heard without any music, which is more effective. Unfortunately the direction and story become much more conventional towards the middle and it is not as interesting. The film tries to be too many things and does not come together as a seamless whole. The courtroom scenes were too extended for my tastes as we know Paul is innocent, but wants to be convicted anyways, so his many prolonged conversations with his exasperated lawyer who does not know of his scheme seem rather pointless. However, when Paul is cured and then goes on a mission to find the real killer it becomes exciting as the mystery itself proves to be complex and intriguing.
The twist ending did not go over well with audiences at the time of the film’s initial release. It’s a downer for sure, but after seeing so many tacky happy Hollywood endings in my lifetime I can’t say I totally hated it. As a budding screenwriter I enjoy irony and the ending here certainly has that. It’s slickly handled and although I saw it coming others may be genuinely surprised by it. My only complaint is that it’s a bit abrupt and could’ve and should’ve been extended in some way, or given a more effective closure.
If you like a movie with a lot of twists then this film may be worth seeking out. The legendary Roy Orbison sings the title tune during a party scene and it sounds like some of his best stuff. I am surprised it didn’t chart and I wished they had allowed the viewer to hear the complete son before cutting away.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: September 11, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes
Director: Richard A. Colla
Available: VHS (as False Witness), DVD (Warner Archive)