Tag Archives: John Frankenheimer

I Walk the Line (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sheriff covers for moonshiners.

Aging Sheriff Henry Tawes (Gregory Peck) has always been a strong pillar of his community, but recently has found himself bored with his domestic life and looking for diversion. He becomes smitten with Alma (Tuesday Weld) a young woman half his age, who lives on the poor side of town with her father (Ralph Meeker) who runs an illegal distillery. Despite the risks Henry begins an open affair with her with her family’s blessing as long as Henry agrees not to report their distillery, but then a federal agent (Lonny Chapman) arrives in town threatening to shut down every moonshiner he finds. Henry’s deputy Hunnicutt (Charles Durning) also becomes suspicious of Henry’s shady actions, which forces Henry to take some calculated risks, which all backfire on him in shocking ways.

This film is a perfect testament to something that I’ve mentioned before on this blog, which is how shooting a film on-location in an actual small town versus one being built on a studio backlot can make all the difference on whether it succeeds at the box office, or not. This one was done in the tiny hamlet of Gainesboro, Tennessee, which has just over a 1,000 people and in fact its downtown, which includes the prominent courthouse, barely looks any different now then it did when principle photography took place in October of 1969. Director John Frankenheimer makes good use of the townsfolk focusing in on their old, weathered faces at the beginning and glum expressions, which helps accentuate Henry’s bored and static life as well as the abandoned, decrepit house the lovers meet-in, which illustrates their empty, vanquished souls.

The script by Alvin Sargent, which is based on the novel ‘An Exile’ by Madison Jones, allows the visuals and action to do most of the talking while keeping the dialogue subtle and concise. I even enjoyed the music interludes by Johnny Cash. Some critics at the time complained that there was no need for this as Johnny’s words that he sings seem to be simply explaining what the viewer is already seeing onscreen, but the music still conveys a raw southern flavor and Cash’s singing style makes it seem more like he’s talking to the viewer and like he’s another character in the film.

Peck’s performance is good here despite the fact that Frankenheimer wanted Gene Hackman for the role, but was forced to settle with Peck because he was already under contract with the studio. Normally Hackman would’ve been the better choice, but here Peck’s usual stiffness and detached delivery brings out convey his character’s inner turmoil. Durning is outstanding as his nefarious deputy and with his energetic and impulsive presence because an interesting contrast to Peck’s more reserved one.

Spoiler Alert!

Weld is great too even though the part she plays seems very similar to the one that she did in Pretty Poison although here at least the character isn’t portrayed as being completely evil, but instead somewhat naive and sheltered, which helps make her more multi-dimensional. Her motivations though are confusing and the film’s one major drawback. I could not understand, and the film never bothers to make clear, why she’d want to stay stuck with her family and their dismal, impoverished situation. Granted she didn’t really love Henry, which is obvious, but she had already manipulated him quite a bit,  and even had sex with him,so why not run off with him like he wanted and use his money to live a better life while also siphoning some of it back to her family to help them too?

Even if one would argue that she had a close-knit bond to her family it still doesn’t make sense. Many young woman have close ties to their family, but at some point they still leave the nest especially when vanquished to abject poverty otherwise. With her good looks a lot of doors could be opened, so why not see what else is out there? It comes out later that she’s married to another man who’s in jail, but the film glosses over this like she’s not any more in love with him than Henry and still doesn’t help to explain much. It also would’ve worked better had the viewer been left in the dark until the end as to whether she was really in-love with Henry or not instead of making it obvious that she was playing him, which lessens the shock effect for what occurs at the end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hijacker eludes the authorities.

Loosely based on the real-life incident involving a man using the alias of Dan Cooper, but later reported in the media as D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a Boeing 727 as it flew towards Seattle, Washington on the night of November 24, 1971 and parachuted out of the plane with $200,000, but whose remains have never been found. In the film D.B. Cooper is the alias for Jim Meade and is played by Treat Williams as he parachutes into a wooden area and becomes chased by Bill Gruen (Robert Duvall) who was Meade’s sergeant in the army and feels he knows him better than anyone.

Had the film made some legitimate attempt at accuracy it might’ve been moderately intriguing, but right from the start it plays fast-and-loose with the facts including having the jump take places in the sunny daytime when in reality it occurred at night during a rainstorm. The time period is supposed to be late autumn, but many people are shown doing summertime activities like having a couple going skinny dipping in a pond even though it would’ve been too chilly for that. There’s also a ridiculous scene where Paul Gleason, playing a useless character that was not needed at all, going headfirst through the front windshield of a moving car and receiving a slight cut on his right cheek as his only injury.

John Frankenheimer was originally hired to direct, but after having numerous arguments with the producers over the film’s insipid script he was fired. He was then replaced by Buzz Kulik who tried turning it into a topical drama by portraying the Cooper character as being a disgruntled Vietnam Vet. Roger Spottiswoode and Ron Shelton were then brought it to ‘jazz-it-up’ a bit with some stunt-work and the chase scene down the rapids is impressive, but the humor they put in is dumb and the ‘Dukes of Hazard-like soundtrack ill-advised.

I started to feel that it would’ve worked better had it not connected itself to the real incident at all but instead had Williams portray a fictional character all together. It also should’ve analyzed the planning/preparation phase much more and shown him pulling off the actual hijacking instead of just starting out with the parachute jump.

While he doesn’t look anything like the sketches shown of the real Cooper I still found Williams to be fun in the lead and Kathryn Harrold lends great support as his resourceful wife. Duvall is solid as usual and even though it doesn’t take place in the Pacific Northwest, which is where the real incident occurred, I still enjoyed the sunny scenery, but that’s where the good points begin and end in a movie that clearly had misfired written all over it before even one frame of it was filmed.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roger Spottiswoode, Buzz Kulik (Uncredited)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube.

All Fall Down (1962)

all fall down

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t idolize older brother.

Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty) is the malcontent son of Annabell and Ralph Willart (Angela Lansbury, Karl Malden) who is unable to hold down a steady job, is in constant brushes with the law, and beats up his girlfriends. Yet women seem attracted to his rugged good looks, his parents continue to dote on him and overlook his flaws and his younger brother Clinton (Brandon De Wilde) idolizes him. All that changes when Echo (Eva Marie Saint) comes to visit. Clinton falls for her, but when she meets Berry-Berry she instead goes for him. When he mistreats her Clinton finally sees his brother for who he is and decides to take matters into his own hands.

Although overall this is a great production one of the biggest problems I had with it is the name for the leading character. Who names their kid Berry-Berry? I have never heard of that name before and it sounds corny and silly even annoying every time it comes out of one of the character’s mouths. I was almost surprised that the actors didn’t crack-up every time they had to say it. I felt there should have been an explanation for it, but none ever comes. In my mind giving a kid that stupid name is probably the whole reason he became so troubled and difficult in his adult life.

As for the character itself I wanted more of a history to see why he became the way he did. There is no backstory and in that regard the film seems weak and even frustrating. Despite being billed as the star Beatty is not really seen all that much especially during the first hour and in some ways the film comes off more like an ensemble drama. Also, having women fall for him after literally just setting their eyes on him seemed exaggerated and overdone.

Beatty has all the necessary leading man qualities, but in this instance I don’t think he was right for the part. His performance is too reserved and aloof. I didn’t see him conveying the deep seated anger that the part demanded. In many ways it is De Wilde who gives a far stronger performance and steals the film. His boyish face and charm makes for a fantastic contrast to Beatty’s.

Lansbury is sensational. She was only in her thirties at the time, but plays a woman in her fifties and does so convincingly as well as putting on a good accent. Two of her best moments come when her husband brings home three homeless men for the holidays and she insists they only want money and not the comfort of human companionship that her husband believes and the way she proves it is amusing. The part near the end where she defends her eldest son despite all his ugly flaws is brief, but strong and one of the film’s defining moments.

Saint is also excellent in support and so is Madame Spivy. She was a bar owner in real life and plays one here. She had a masculine build and a very no-nonsense demeanor, which comes out when she throws the under aged Clinton out of her establishment.

Director John Frankenheimer does well with the material. The on-locations shooting done in Key West, Florida is striking particularly at the beginning. His use of a rain storm makes a particularly strong dramatic sequence even stronger. However, the screenplay was written by William Inge and based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy. Inge was a noted playwright and the script seems more suited for the stage as it is quite talky and lacking in cinematic elements.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video