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Frankenheimer, John

Entry updated 11 August 2018. Tagged: Film, People.

(1930-2002) US film director. A graduate of the 1950s school of live television drama, Frankenheimer first attracted attention as a film-maker with melodramas centred on youth and social issues: The Young Stranger (1956), The Young Savages (1961), All Fall Down (1961) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). However, in his direction of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964) and Seconds (1966), all based on successful novels, Frankenheimer revealed a distinctive fantastic vision, rooted in the realities of the USA of the 1950s and 1960s, which would be a great influence on the 1970s run of post-Watergate conspiracy movies, like Alan J Pakula's The Parallax View (1974) and William Richert's Winter Kills (1979). Seven Days in May, in which the USA is threatened by a military coup, and The Manchurian Candidate are political fantasies focusing on the precariousness of the presidency, while Seconds, one of the scariest films of the 1960s, is a nightmare about Rejuvenation. These exercises in unease are confidently shot in black-and-white with the Expressionist imagination of a top-drawer Twilight Zone episode, and feature a brilliant oddball casting of his stars. Frankenheimer's films at this stage are a vision of a grey-suited corporate USA gone wrong, with recurrent themes of brainwashing, surveillance, assassination and Kafkaesque bureaucracies, many of which returned in his still-underrated comic-book gangster fantasy 99 & 44/100% Dead (1974; vt Call Harry Crown) and the large-scale terrorist thriller Black Sunday (1977). He had a commercial success with The French Connection II (1975), but his return to sf with Prophecy (1979), a hokey, expensive Monster Movie, was a major disappointment, and his subsequent films tended to be bland adaptations of best-selling thrillers. His final sf film was The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), a troubled production into which he was unhappily parachuted after original writer-director Richard Stanley was ousted early in shooting. In the last year of his life Frankenheimer attempted, unsuccessfully, to dispel a longstanding rumour of his paternity to Michael Bay. [KN/NL]

see also: Cinema; Paranoia.

John Frankenheimer

born New York: 19 February 1930

died Los Angeles, California: 6 July 2002

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