THE YOUNG SAVAGES (1961)
**/**** Image B Sound C
starring Burt Lancaster, Dina Merrill, Edward Andrews, Vivian Nathan
screenplay by Edward Anhalt and J.P. Miller, based on the novel A Matter of Conviction by Evan Hunter
directed by John Frankenheimer
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
DVD - Image A Sound A Extras B+
BD - Image A Sound C+ Extras B+
starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury
screenplay by George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon
directed by John Frankenheimer
THE TRAIN (1964)
****/**** Image C- Sound C
starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Michel Simon, Jeanne Moreau
screenplay by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis, based on the novel Le front de l'art by Rose Valland
directed by John Frankenheimer
FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975)
**½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B+
starring Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson, Philippe Léotard
screenplay by Alexander Jacobs and Robert Dillon & Laurie Dillon
directed by John Frankenheimer
**½/**** Image B Sound B Extras B
starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård
screenplay by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz
directed by John Frankenheimer
by Walter Chaw There weren't many American directors who enjoyed a hotter streak in the Medium Cool '60s than John Frankenheimer. He had the pulse of the mid-decade sea change from the relative conservatism of the '50s, having clearly been cognizant of the long burn of the Civil Rights conversation and the constant, fraying wear-and-tear of HUAC and the Cold War. He rubbed elbows with the Kennedys, hosting Bobby at his house in Malibu the day before/of Bobby's assassination at the Ambassador, whereupon it's fairly inarguable that Frankenheimer began to lose his way. He'd continue to helm interesting films and damned impressive ones, too, like The Iceman Cometh and 52 Pick-Up, but none would have the urgent subtlety of his mid-'60s output. Instead, they'd become increasingly...remote? Detached, at least, if not occasionally outright embarrassing for everyone involved. (Prophecy, for instance--a film that tries to ride the contemporary-issue train but shows its fatigue and desperation in every ridiculous, strained minute.) In a way, Frankenheimer's Seconds, with its alienation and bodily remove, presages his own artistic transformation. I wonder whether he lost the nerve to surf the edge of the zeitgeist, leaving the low arc of our collective tendency towards self-destruction to its own shrinking concentric hells. It's possible that after The Manchurian Candidate's dead-eyed paranoia and Seconds' alarming prescience about the impotence of the American icon-as-hero, Frankenheimer was tired of being right. If it sounds like I'm ascribing something supernatural to his artistic acuity, maybe I am. Frankenheimer in this period is that rare filmmaker who works half in technical perfection and half in the unconscious, in the thrall of what Coleridge used to refer to as The Artist as Aeolian Harp. He was an instrument at the caprice of the winds of the age. He was, that is, until about 1968, when being the vessel of portent became, should we conjecture, painful enough that he tried drowning himself in booze and regret.
Start in 1961 with The Young Savages. The only thing really pointed about the picture, which is quaint to the point of incoherence and inconsequence (and I'd argue that it probably was at the time, too), is the sheer number of social ills it attempts to tackle. It's a movie more firmly in line at its heart of hearts with the rebel films of the Fifties, complete with a restoration of society at its conclusion, the punishment of anarchic agencies, and the celebration of the stodgy in a year that saw stuff like Breakfast at Tiffany's, One, Two, Three, One-Eyed Jacks, West Side Story...frickin' The Hustler and The Misfits for chrissakes--its positively prehistoric, right? Except that in Burt Lancaster's ADA Bell, there's a seed of rage festering in the personal secrets he harbours--a flicker, an embryonic idea, a carrying of Kazan's A Face in the Crowd/Wilder's Ace in the Hole torch apropos the ugly tricks the media will employ to skeletize sacred cows in proverbial minutes. Especially once the hero's attentions are focused on issues with which a society feels uncomfortable, inspiring the reflexive collective defense mechanism of wondering aloud what it is about this avatar that makes him pure enough to take on the hydras at the foundation of our moral collapse. Bell's a secret Italian, apparently, and he's had a dalliance with a harlot (Shelley Winters, typecast already) somewhere in his past: the one as vulnerable a chink in his knight's armour as the other. The Young Savages locates its relevance right there, not in the slaying of a blind Puerto Rican kid by a gang of thugs (one of whom might have benefited from Bell as a daddy once upon a time), but in the sense that were High Noon made in 1961, Marshall Will Kane would be revealed as a Jew and a whoremaster so that we could brush his eventual victory over the real corrupting forces in the universe with this umbrella of moral relativism.
The Young Savages benefits from young Frankenheimer's confident, fluid use of deep focus and tracking shots; its opening sequence, set in and around Manhattan's mean streets, is as good as anything in Wise's West Side Story at evoking the wasting of youth as awful in its briefness but laden with poetry and, dare I say, grace. In the murder that will drive the piece, depicted as a reflection in the victim's glasses, there is the echo of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, natch, and of Orson Welles's eye and affection for background-as-foreground trickery. If the dialogue (Edward Anhalt and J.P. Miller's screenplay is based on an Evan Hunter novel) creaks along under the weight of its crippling gravity and self-righteousness, even when delivered by an angry Lancaster resentful of being in a film that was essentially the celluloid version of debtor's prison, at least there's fluidity in its location shooting and in a final cut that, despite Lancaster's vocal anger at having to work on the picture (and an on-set blow-up with the director), convinced him to keep Frankenheimer around to complete The Birdman of Alcatraz.
Ultimately, what cripples The Young Savages is that it's too earnest. It's the type of thing better suited to a Stanley Kramer--a message movie of the sort Hollywood never tires of that preaches only to the choir and does more damage to the liberal clause than any dozen John Wayne flicks. With Frankenheimer at the helm and a young Sidney Pollack brought on board to coach a few real-life delinquents on the peculiarities of film acting (Frankenheimer would be instrumental in getting Pollack's directoring career going), there remains about it a sense of vitality and immediacy. Though its revelations are strictly boilerplate, there's a recognition of the ascendance of the antihero in this decade: ADA Bell is an asshole with anger-management issues (he almost kills a youth on a train, the unlikely vessel for his holy rebirth) who lies and cheats, who snarls through every interaction and acts every bit like his shit don't stink--and he's our last, best, hope. Something tells me this wasn't in the script.
Frankenheimer moved on to All Fall Down, an adaptation of William Inge's eponymous morality play about utter, irredeemable, systemic sexual decay that casts Warren Beatty as a shiftless layabout who falls in love with a predatory Eva Marie Saint (a brilliant follow-up in essence to her snakebit Eve in Hitch's North by Northwest--someone should chart the metamorphosis from the '50s to the '60s through the transformation of Saint from Madonna to whore) on an apple farm. The encore to Inge's prior Beatty showcase, Splendor in the Grass, the picture finds Frankenheimer for this short time taking on the strange role of an Elia Kazan doppelgänger. He mirrors Kazan's worker's-paradise consciousness, developing a space where he'll transition from the racial-/caste-driven sociology of these early stop/starts to that run of existential gestalt paranoia classics: The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, and Seconds.
The Manchurian Candidate remains a benchmark of the United States' coming of age in the 1960s--the harbinger of the New American Cinema, and a handy companion piece to 1964's Dr. Strangelove as the other bookend to the Zapruder film. (That'd make an interesting triple feature: Candidate, Zapruder's assassination footage, Dr. Strangelove--the evolution from the enemy without to the enemy within.) Based on a Richard Condon novel, the film marks the exact moment Frankenheimer takes a Kazan-ian premise and makes it into more than just a Cold War dialogue, more than merely another explanation of HUAC and excoriation of Joseph McCarthy or a pulpit-splintering, self-flagellating, self-pitying diatribe against the black and white of same. It's the moment Frankenheimer taps into the bigger conversation about the question of Identity and idol-building in a world of chaos and caprice: the uselessness of the individual as hero when every hero is fast the ideological--or literal--martyr. You could say that Kazan's On the Waterfront from almost a decade earlier tackles these things, but unlike it, The Manchurian Candidate has not an ounce of noble self-pity. Its hero couldn't have been a contender. Its hero is a fucking asshole and worse, a mama's boy. In the 1960s, of course, being a mama's boy makes you psycho.
Raymond (Laurence Harvey) is the hero. His mama is Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and his hapless stepfather is McCarthy manqué Sen. Yerkes (James Gregory), who's making a successful, media-driven run for higher office. Raymond returns from Korea a decorated hero; why, then, does buddy Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) keep having nightmares that Raymond is a man considerably less than what he appears? Frankenheimer stages Marco's nightmares (and, in one tour-de-force moment of mindfuck cinema, the nightmares of Cpl. Melvin (James Edwards)) as a ladies' garden party that happens to include, in tiny mnemonic slips, Chinese Nationals and fratricide. It seems that Marco is remembering a capture that never happened officially, a mind-wipe and brainwash, and the creation of a timebomb programmed to go off with the right sequence of triggers from his Communist handlers. The blackest joke of The Manchurian Candidate is that all the paranoia is true: the witch-burning senator is right, the Red Queen is completely sane, the United States is doomed because people mortally vulnerable to mutagens like the image and the catchphrase run it. To this point, there was no better vehicle for Frankenheimer's creative development in television. A scene where Iselin addresses Congress with television monitors echoing the spectacle in multifarious prismatic replication is terrifying not for Iselin's ridiculous message but for the (again Face in the Crowd) suggestion that television is the ideal carrier for this virus of ideologues and pundits. Night of the Living Dead would address this in detail in six years' time, but for now, The Manchurian Candidate nails one of its more oblique targets, the "plague of televisual evangelism," with real elegance and fury.
The real star of the show Lansbury's Mother figure; and it's key that most discussions of the film centre on the idea that what happens in the cinema of the '60s is the methodical obliteration of every single thing that used to provide succour in American culture. Religion, family, government, The Law: tenpins falling before the rolling tide of entropy. Before Vietnam becomes part of the popular conversation (it does so in 1963 with an episode of "The Twilight Zone"), before the Cuban Missile Crisis lends credence to the duck-and-cover generation, The Manchurian Candidate arrives as this harbinger of a questioning, if not an actual catastrophic slackening, of traditional values. A sequence long-derided covering the whirlwind courtship of Marco and Rosie (Janet Leigh, arguably the literal poster girl of '60s value-slackening) can be read with profit as screenwriter George Axelrod's (Breakfast at Tiffany's) continued full-frontal assault on the ridiculous rituals imposed on '50s depictions of romantic love. For a picture as assured and stylish as The Manchurian Candidate, it deserves that benefit of the doubt. The idea that America was a nation brainwashed by a censored media and Madison Avenue ad execs (North by Northwest is fantastic in opening that discussion) is implied in the margins of this piece. No accident that Marko's assignment when his superiors suspect he's suffering from PTSD is to stick him on the PR circuit. Broken by the world--aren't we all. It's a picture that Bill identifies in his excellent review as "too successful on a scene-by-scene basis to warrant any kind of straightening out," so I'll stop trying.
Lancaster's third collaboration with Frankenheimer (with screenwriter Rod Serling along for the ride), the fabulous Seven Days in May speaks of an American military coup d'état for fear that the President may be too soft on the Commies (the straight-dove correlative to ironic-hawk Dr. Strangelove) and finds peculiar topicality in the Lancaster character's belief that the best way to uphold American values is to dismantle due process and Constitutional law. A reference to High Noon's antiquated notion of righteousness is made in Frankenheimer's slow countdown of the time left for our true patriots to foil the intentions of our True Patriots. The Young Savages' issue of telling tales out of school rises again here with dalliances with an Ava Gardner-played ex-flame (and who could blame anyone for that--I mean, seriously) considered as political cannon fodder. To date, it has what might be Frankenheimer's finest use of deep focus, projecting the corridors of American power as Kafkaesque rows of endless locked doors guarded by endless personal guardians. As they go, Seven Days in May is almost as criminally underseen as that same year's astonishing, masterful, thorny, devastatingly uncertain The Train.
In it, Lancaster is master trainman Paul Labiche, giving the actor the opportunity to use some of his gymnast's build and training as Labiche manoeuvres in and around linked railcars in Vichy-France. The titular train the means through which the Nazis, under art-appreciating Col. von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), plot to transport hundreds of priceless art treasures out of Paris, the Allied advance and liberation of France serves as the ironic "Pearl Harbor" in this version of eternity. The question of the hour is how much are legacy and immortality worth in the face of friends and family. If a man is holding a gun to your daughter's head with one hand and a match under the "Mona Lisa" with the other, which do you save? It's the same dilemma at its essence as the one posed by The Dark Knight's Joker: salvation of the many vs. the rescue of the individual's hope for normalcy (of course, both options are corrupt in The Dark Knight); Labiche must decide whether to sacrifice his loyal, dedicated crew for the sake of a few hundred irreplaceable treasures. The choice would be easy if the only life at stake were yours. As it is... Impossible. Impossible.
The burden of that choice is one that, brilliantly, becomes a question of morality in representation, and Frankenheimer walks a tightrope between telling a story that's exciting and telling a story that's substantive. The replacement for Arthur Penn, whose approach proved too cerebral for the meat-and-potatoes Lancaster, Frankenheimer manages to mold a piece all of existential paradoxes whilst furnishing a glimpse of the action director into which he'd eventually morph. (Penn, for his part, goes on to the surreal experimentation of Warren Beatty's Mickey One and Marlon Brando's The Chase, then touches off the New American Cinema with Bonnie and Clyde--leading one to wonder if things would have turned out the way they did had he got on better with Old Hollywood warhorse Lancaster.) The Train, for all its desperate introspection, is fun to watch. It's The Great Escape with a brain, an outsized portion of sticky resonance, and intricate special effects shot on location without any use of miniatures. With its Spitfire attack and its complete destruction of a condemned trainyard, The Train is a landmark picture in terms of its breakneck, antic, physical ambition--the marriage of that hell to the heaven of its gravitas something that marks Frankenheimer's best films. If not for Seconds, The Train would be his defining, enduring masterpiece.
So then came the incomparable Seconds, the technical curiosity Grand Prix, the sentimental The Fixer, and seemingly one indulgence after another in Frankenheimer's surface delight in the cult of masculinity. When it's not that Omar Sharif Buzkashi flick, it's the genuine ugliness of Black Sunday; is he trying to prove something to himself? It certainly appears that way as Frankenheimer grows increasingly obsessed with competition at the exclusion of other considerations, with vengeance the sole lingua franca in every exchange between men. Consider French Connection II as the prosecution resting in the case against Frankenheimer's post-'68 films, which, despite occasional triumphs (1986's 52 Pick-Up is kind of amazing), are struck blind and dumb by testosterone, so relentlessly bellicose that they come off as childish at their worst, no better than passable at their best.
This sequel to William Friedkin's seminal procedural, four years hence, relocates porkpie-hatted Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman)--hot on the heels of kingpin Charnier (Fernando Rey), whose flight at the end of the first film left little room for a sequel--to Marseilles from the mean streets of the New American Cinema in a too-obvious, too-complicated, and failed in any case return of Paranoid Cinema product to the Nouvelle Vague wellspring. Sadly, with Popeye acting the ugly American in the City of Lights, the object proves its own superfluity. The Popeye of this film is without charm, so that the extended middle-act's tortured stripping of his charm via a forced addiction to the archfiend Smack, courtesy archfiend Charnier, seems redundant. More than redundant, it seems just. For what it's worth, Hackman is immersed in his character to the extent that it feels like a long steam-blow from his complete introversion in The Conversation: every line is punctuated by a "fuckin'" or "fuckin' motherfuckin'" followed by spurts of punching, kicking, breaking, railing. It's nice that he gets this tantrum out of his system before the same year's Hackman/Penn magnum opus Night Moves. Anyway, we have here Popeye as an addict/prisoner forced to go cold turkey once he's rescued by the gendarmerie, flanked by scenes where he's semi-comically not understood by the locals (despite his sometimes using French words like "mayonnaise"), runs amuck, and flexes his sadistic pathology all over those pussified frogs.
The last ten minutes are the best thing about it (that final shot is one of the best of the '70s), and it's no coincidence that in this ten minutes Frankenheimer returns to his technician passions and transforms French Connection II into an action picture. What felt histrionic before feels gritty now, authentic in a way that doesn't rely on rambling monologues from Hackman drunk or playing drunk, waves of stink almost visibly roiling off him. If not necessarily influential (despite occasional attempts at revival, this is a largely forgotten picture), the POV, hand-held foot chase that concludes the picture is dizzying and innovative--not the least for taking place in the disturbing filth and decay of a demythologized Marseilles. The strongest link besides Hackman to the first film, in fact, is Frankenheimer's frank portrayal of urban rot and the basic ugliness necessary to achieve any measure of justice, in whatever form it comes, in London Bridges falling down. It's only in this climax that Frankenheimer locates his film in the American 1970s at last, moving away from the pontification and deep Method into something infinitely more dangerous and immediate. Though it's one of the few pictures from this era with anything like a happy ending for its detectives, there's a proper measure of ambiguity morseled out with this uneasy idea that Popeye, rendered an icon of indistinctness at the beginning of the decade, gets his pound of flesh--and now what?
Skip ahead to the eve of the new millennium with a script and sensibility borrowed from/shared with pseudonymously-billed ghost-writer David Mamet in which groups of men in conflict are engaged in the pursuit of unknowable, unattainable prizes. More experimental than it lets on, Ronin is a throwback to Frankenheimer's The Gypsy Moths in the sense that we know what these people do in terms of function and the rest of it is time spent in their company. There's a genuinely remarkable car chase through the streets of Paris that feels like the response to the centrepiece of William Friedkin's The French Connection most were expecting the director of Grand Prix to provide in French Connection II (and a middle finger to Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A.'s against-traffic sequence, to boot; should we bother mentioning that Ronin's epilogue references the Georgetown setting of Friedkin's The Exorcist?). Here at the end of the decade in which the digital revolution took final, rigor-mortal hold over cinema, look at this as a bow of sorts for the flesh-and-blood stuntman. The film, though, is just a series of impressive images tied together like too many of Frankenheimer's swan songs by actors dying to work with him and giving committed performances in the pursuit of some long, lonesome, extended search for meaning in a world that's utterly meaningless. If the bulk of his Seventies and Eighties were spent railing against oblivion, Ronin is the end-of-days thesis that chaos is the only morality of a story that has as its heroes and heroines those titular "masterless samurai."
As such, there's no sense figuring out what ex-spook Sam (Robert De Niro) is doing in the company of other shady characters filled out by Sean Bean, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Jonathan Pryce, and on and on, chasing a steel briefcase and chewing up more innocent bystanders than a John Woo movie. Devoid of plot and never interested in narrative in the slightest, it's the crystallization of Mamet's theories of automatic, unsignified, "practical aesthetics" theatre. Freed from emotion (what is there to get emotional about?), the film deems nothing important except the next event the next event the next event; only when the smoke clears is it time to rake over the ashes for clues to significance. In that sense, the late-game cheat of making it all about the IRA and the "Troubles" makes sense, in that in the middle of an incoherent bloody struggle, an incoherent bloody movie is as good an explanation as any. More fruitful by far to take the auteurist view and say that for Frankenheimer, Ronin is surrender. It's a damn near perfect action movie entirely about the buzz of visceral experience. Compare the lightness of the picture to a film like Seconds, a commentary about lightness; or to The Manchurian Candidate, a warning against lightness; or to The Train, a condemnation of lightness. Even compare it to garbage like Prophecy or The Fourth War or Dead Bang, where you get the impression that while they had nothing to do with anything despite protestations to the contrary, ol' John was in there trying his damnedest to dance away from the abyss. Ronin is pure cinema, and that's not a bad thing for a visual medium. But, of course, the movies were never just a visual medium.
THE DVD - THE JOHN FRANKENHEIMER COLLECTION
MGM recently bundled The Young Savages, The Train, The Manchurian Candidate, and Ronin on DVD as the "John Frankenheimer Collection"--the very existence of which gives hope for a resurgence of interest in long-forgotten entries in the director's filmography like All Fall Down and I Walk the Line. The one title exclusive to this box set, The Young Savages, lacks anything in the way of special features, though folksy raconteur Frankenheimer provides in-depth, heartfelt, informative, entertaining commentaries for the remaining films that highlight every aspect of production while demonstrating a long, generous memory. It's during things like Ronin's car chase, however, that Frankenheimer really gets excited, talking about how he makes the fast driving seem faster (low angles + wide lenses) and how they bought cars that could be driven by stunt drivers on the off-camera side, or admiring the courage of the actors in sitting in as stunt people hurled them headlong towards oncoming metal. Frankenheimer's ability to name every single stunt driver down the line doesn't ring like trainspotting so much as genuine awe at what these people were able--and willing--to do for their director.
The 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Young Savages is crisp and its blacks, while shallow, are free of compression artifacts. The DD 2.0 mono audio is workmanlike. Workmanlike is, unfortunately, the best way to describe the 1.66:1 non-anamorphic rendition of The Train. It looks dupey; it ought to look amazing. I hold out hope for a Blu-ray release. The accompanying DD 2.0 mono audio is similarly long overdue for a digital remastering. Fans of Maurice Jarre should appreciate the opportunity to hear his music for the film sans dialogue and effects, however. Ronin is a repackaging of the 1999 flipper as opposed to the 2006 SE, but the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (don't bother with the fullscreen alternative) holds up surprisingly well, a bit of gatefloat during an ice rink set-piece (don't ask) and a few compression artifacts notwithstanding. The attendant DD 5.1 audio is booming and logical, albeit a tad squelched. Capping the platter, a five-minute "Alternate Ending" sees one of Sam's compatriots getting offed; according to Frankenheimer, he was forced to elide it because test audiences hated it. Here's the punchline: audiences hated the film, anyway.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - FRENCH CONNECTION II
French Connection II is shepherded to Blu-ray in a lovely 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that reproduces the picture's ugly-as-a-madras-suit colour scheme in all its squalid glory. Grain is perhaps wilfully toned down after the establishing views of Marseilles, but this has always been the more polished of the two films, and it's reproduced here with what can only be described as textural fidelity. To observe the light sheen of sweat on Popeye's forehead in the first ten minutes of the piece is to be converted to the true faith. Audio comes in original mono and a new DTS remix, with the former (configured for DD 1.0 playback) winning out mainly because it's not as processed-sounding. The first of two recycled commentaries stitches together producer Robert Rosen and star Hackman from separate sessions recorded around 2002, each speaking of the difficult shoot in vague terms and generally praising colleagues. It's obvious Hackman doesn't have much to say, something that fits my image of him as someone I adore every single time I see him in a film and also someone to whom I'm absolutely uninterested in listening. Rosen, for his part, is given to fruitless reverie, and the pace of the yakker is laconic to the point of catatonic. Better as always is a track from Frankenheimer that highlights his difficulties and hopes for the picture, his occasional run-ins with Hackman, and his ongoing battle--usually a losing one--with powers that be, who demanded a straight reproduction of The French Connection. Best is the confirmation from both Rosen and Frankenheimer that the original script called for a car-chase finale to top the first film's, although Frankenheimer stops short of admitting that Ronin was finally proof to...someone...that he could do it. For what it's worth, by the end of the marathon Hackman runs in the climax, that pain ain't acting: it's Stanislavski.
"Frankenheimer: In Focus" (25 mins., 1080p) does a fascinating thing in embedding archival footage of the director in interview on an old wood-panelled television set. It's a modest retrospective documentary that additionally gathers recollections from friends, family, and rivals (i.e., Friedkin). Friedkin speaks of Frankenheimer as his "idol," which is interesting to me because Friedkin isn't exactly known as a generous soul. It's a hagiography, of course, one that features sequences that compare shots from the films to the art that potentially inspired them. Still, I appreciated not only the strong intimation that the RFK assassination was a pivotal, devastating moment in Frankenheimer's life (if not his career), but also the recollections from certain crewmembers that working on French Connection II with an angry, fiery Frankenheimer was often a trial. Given that, the loyalty he earns from them is telling.
"A Conversation with Gene Hackman" (7 mins., 1080p) essentially just rehashes--I think probably verbatim--his minimal contribution to the picture's yak-track. Hackman correctly identifies French Connection II as "interesting" and causes me a little to want to reassess my opinion of his opinion. Herein, he also compares Frankenheimer's demeanour and drive to Friedkin's. I love, as well, that Hackman says he sensed a frustration in Frankenheimer that he was no longer doing the work he felt he should be doing. I'd agree, though I'd counter that Frankenheimer's frustration was more complex than that, related less to the burden of selling out than to his being shunted away from the pain that infects his best stuff. (The brutality of Frankenheimer's later movies is overcompensation.) You can also watch the film with Don Ellis's score isolated in DTS or scroll through an exhaustive stills gallery complete with storyboards and wardrobe mock-ups--why you would want to is another matter entirely. Remastered in HD but decidedly rough around the edges, a trailer for the original The French Connection plus three theatrical trailers for its sequel round out the disc. Seeing them is frickin' awesome, let's be honest, and the first one for French Connection II semi-suggests a thoroughly appropriate subtitle: "Popeye's Revenge." Originally published: March 25, 2009.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
by Bill Chambers Fox distributes MGM's Blu-ray edition of The Manchurian Candidate, which ports over virtually all the extra features of the 2004 DVD (in standard definition) and looks great. The 1.75:1, 1080p transfer boasts crisp contrast and detail beneath a healthy, consistent layer of grain, though I'm afraid HD proves unforgiving of DP Lionel Lindon's focusing snafus, with Frank Sinatra maddeningly blurry for the duration of his close-ups as Ben Marco attempts to deprogram Raymond Shaw. (Later in this same sequence, the image is mysteriously albeit briefly smothered in DVNR and edge-enhancement before snapping back to status quo.) Alas, that's the Devil's bargain for a presentation that plays like a freshly-struck print of one of the greatest movies ever made. Never have beads of forehead sweat seemed so tactile in black-and-white. I'm less fond of the recycled 5.1 remix, here given a DTS-HD MA platform: it's too gimmicky and literalminded in retrospect, bouncing voices around the room based on where they are in relation to the camera even in simple shot-reverse-shot scenarios. It's still neat the way the sound design matches the circular pan in the first nightmare sequence, but the hyper-directionality is overkill thereafter and this disc unfortunately does away with any English-language mono option. To make matters worse, the lossless track isn't particularly robust--I found I had to dial up the volume a few notches past my usual reference level. Still, the video is so good, and the supplements are so tantalizing, that it's not really a deal-breaker. Although they've dropped from the aforementioned DVD the photo gallery and some studio-related ephemera, MGM has, without fanfare, dug up two amusing one-minute outtakes from the Angela Lansbury and William Friedkin interviews (titled "How to Get Shot" and "Phone Call," respectively) just for this release. Originally published: May 18, 2011.
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