The Parallax View


1h 42m 1974

Brief Synopsis

A reporter uncovers the deadly conspiracy behind a political assassination.

Film Details

Also Known As
Parallax View
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Thriller
Political
Release Date
1974

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

An ambitious reporter Joseph Frady investigates a series of political assassinations. When his work leads him to the mysterious Parallax Corporation, Frady decides to enroll in the company's training program and immerse himself in a conspiracy that may take over his life.

Film Details

Also Known As
Parallax View
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Thriller
Political
Release Date
1974

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Parallax View


Alan Pakula's The Parallax View, a political thriller with an unmistakable resemblance to the Kennedy assassination, was not the first conspiracy thriller to emerge from Hollywood – you can trace the lineage back to The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 – and it was not a hit when it was fitfully released in 1974. But its reputation and stature has only grown in the years since and it is arguably the definitive conspiracy thriller of the seventies.

Warren Beatty stars as investigative reporter Joe Frady, though when we first glimpse him in the film he's merely a face in the crowd around Senator Charles Carroll (William Joyce). He tries to bluff his way into an exclusive gathering for the Senator at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle but is rebuffed and thus on the ground when the Senator is shot and the gunman killed in an escape attempt. "There is no evidence of a conspiracy," concludes a panel of judges, who proclaim it the work of a lone gunman. (We, of course, know there was at least one accomplice who slipped to safety.) It's the film's answer to the Warren Commission and Pakula shoots the tribunal floating in a sea of shadow, a tiny image that slowly, ominously grows larger as the credits roll. By the end of the sequence, they fill the screen with an image as distorted as their conclusions.

In those first few minutes, Pakula establishes an atmosphere of unease and a distrust of authority that never lets up. When we catch up with Frady three years later, being hounded by the police for his investigations into drug crimes and enforcement, he comes on like a dogged reporter from a thirties newspaper drama with seventies style, a mix of old school journalist chutzpah and modern sensibility. But even he is dubious of conspiracy claims until fellow reporter and ex-girlfriend Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) turns up dead (a suicide is the ruling, but Frady doesn't buy it). She's the seventh of twenty witnesses to the Senator Carroll shooting to die in the three years since, and once Frady takes up the case, he discovers that he is also now a target. With the tacit support of a paternal editor (Hume Cronyn), Frady follows his clues to the mysterious Parallax Corporation and, with the help of a former FBI agent (Kenneth Mars) and a psychologist (an uncredited Anthony Zerbe), catches the interest of a sinister recruiter (Walter McGinn). "If you qualify, and we think you can, we're prepared to offer you the most lucrative and rewarding work of your life."

The film, based on a novel by Loren Singer, is most assuredly of its time. Pakula described the film as "sort of an American myth based on some things that have happened, some fantasies we may have had of what might have happened, and a lot of fears a lot of us have had." The story comes right out of the suspicion with which many Americans viewed the Warren Commission investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the growing cottage industry of conspiracy theories of organized plots and high-level cover-ups. The atmosphere of suspicion and corruption could be Pakula's response to the growing public distrust of government, brought to a head by the revelations of criminal misconduct by the Nixon administration (which Pakula tackled directly in his subsequent film, All the President's Men, 1976).

The Parallax View marked Beatty's return to the screen after two years of political activity, raising money and actively campaigning for presidential candidate George McGovern. He had been developing Shampoo (1975) with Robert Towne, a project he would produce and star in, but he had committed to acting in The Parallax View first. "I wanted to come in and work as an actor with a director I liked," he explained in an interview. But even though Beatty was not a producer on the project, his creative involvement went beyond simply acting. A writers strike stopped all work on the screenplay and, due to Beatty's limited window of availability, the film went into production without a completed script. The script is credited to Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and David Giler (who was brought in for rewrites before the strike), but dialogue was often worked out with Pakula and the actors sometimes as little as a day before shooting and Pakula spent much of the production rewriting the script. Some of his more substantial changes include adding the assassination that opens the film and turning the character of Frady from a cop to a reporter (at the suggestion of Beatty and Giler).

The Parallax View reunites Pakula with Gordon Willis, his director of photography on Klute (1971) and perhaps the greatest cinematographer of the seventies (his work in the decade include The Godfather [1972], The Godfather: Part II [1974], All the President's Men, Annie Hall [1977] and Manhattan [1979] - and none of them, astoundingly, nominated for Best Cinematography!). Willis had earned the nickname "The Prince of Darkness" for his distinctive use of dark and shadows. Here he shrouded many of the scenes in an ominous darkness. Pakula and Willis create a visual style that favors alienation and a sense of helplessness over conventional scenes of tension and action. "The Parallax View was a whole other kind of filmmaking for me," recalled Pakula. He shot key scenes in extreme long shot to view characters overwhelmed by their surroundings and caught alone in the middle of vast, empty areas, vulnerable and isolated.

It's especially effective in the film's climax, where another assassination attempt is planned on a powerful politician in a massive conventional hall and Frady has arrived to stop it. The scene was originally supposed to occur at a crowded rally but Pakula saw the potential of the empty auditorium and reworked the scene to use the vast empty space to create a feeling of isolation and alienation. The prerecorded speech echoing through the empty hall only accentuates the eerie, surreal quality of the scene, as does the anthem-like score by composer Michael Small. It creates a surreal atmosphere and an almost abstract drama with a hero who has no personal life or definition beyond his job and his drive to discover the truth.

"If the picture works the audience will trust the person next to them a little less," Pakula reportedly told Beatty. On that score, the film works remarkably well. The seventies was rife with films, both fictional and factually based, that played off suspicions of authority and fears of conspiracy, from The Conversation (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975, also scripted by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.) and Pakula's follow-up film All the President's Men to the Kennedy assassination thrillers Executive Action (1973) and Winter Kills (1979). None of those films have the sense of helplessness and eerie dislocation, of being played by powers beyond your control and seeing it all unfold with a hopeless inevitability, that Pakula gives The Parallax View.

Producer: Alan J. Pakula
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: David Giler, Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; Loren Singer (novel); Robert Towne (uncredited)
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Music: Michael Small
Film Editing: John W. Wheeler
Cast: Warren Beatty (Joseph Frady), Hume Cronyn (Bill Rintels), William Daniels (Austin Tucker), Paula Prentiss (Lee Carter), Kenneth Mars (Former FBI Agent Will), Kelly Thordsen (Sheriff L.D. Wicker), Jim Davis (George Hammond), Bill McKinney (Parallax Assassin)
C-102m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Sean Axmaker
The Parallax View

The Parallax View

Alan Pakula's The Parallax View, a political thriller with an unmistakable resemblance to the Kennedy assassination, was not the first conspiracy thriller to emerge from Hollywood – you can trace the lineage back to The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 – and it was not a hit when it was fitfully released in 1974. But its reputation and stature has only grown in the years since and it is arguably the definitive conspiracy thriller of the seventies. Warren Beatty stars as investigative reporter Joe Frady, though when we first glimpse him in the film he's merely a face in the crowd around Senator Charles Carroll (William Joyce). He tries to bluff his way into an exclusive gathering for the Senator at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle but is rebuffed and thus on the ground when the Senator is shot and the gunman killed in an escape attempt. "There is no evidence of a conspiracy," concludes a panel of judges, who proclaim it the work of a lone gunman. (We, of course, know there was at least one accomplice who slipped to safety.) It's the film's answer to the Warren Commission and Pakula shoots the tribunal floating in a sea of shadow, a tiny image that slowly, ominously grows larger as the credits roll. By the end of the sequence, they fill the screen with an image as distorted as their conclusions. In those first few minutes, Pakula establishes an atmosphere of unease and a distrust of authority that never lets up. When we catch up with Frady three years later, being hounded by the police for his investigations into drug crimes and enforcement, he comes on like a dogged reporter from a thirties newspaper drama with seventies style, a mix of old school journalist chutzpah and modern sensibility. But even he is dubious of conspiracy claims until fellow reporter and ex-girlfriend Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) turns up dead (a suicide is the ruling, but Frady doesn't buy it). She's the seventh of twenty witnesses to the Senator Carroll shooting to die in the three years since, and once Frady takes up the case, he discovers that he is also now a target. With the tacit support of a paternal editor (Hume Cronyn), Frady follows his clues to the mysterious Parallax Corporation and, with the help of a former FBI agent (Kenneth Mars) and a psychologist (an uncredited Anthony Zerbe), catches the interest of a sinister recruiter (Walter McGinn). "If you qualify, and we think you can, we're prepared to offer you the most lucrative and rewarding work of your life." The film, based on a novel by Loren Singer, is most assuredly of its time. Pakula described the film as "sort of an American myth based on some things that have happened, some fantasies we may have had of what might have happened, and a lot of fears a lot of us have had." The story comes right out of the suspicion with which many Americans viewed the Warren Commission investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the growing cottage industry of conspiracy theories of organized plots and high-level cover-ups. The atmosphere of suspicion and corruption could be Pakula's response to the growing public distrust of government, brought to a head by the revelations of criminal misconduct by the Nixon administration (which Pakula tackled directly in his subsequent film, All the President's Men, 1976). The Parallax View marked Beatty's return to the screen after two years of political activity, raising money and actively campaigning for presidential candidate George McGovern. He had been developing Shampoo (1975) with Robert Towne, a project he would produce and star in, but he had committed to acting in The Parallax View first. "I wanted to come in and work as an actor with a director I liked," he explained in an interview. But even though Beatty was not a producer on the project, his creative involvement went beyond simply acting. A writers strike stopped all work on the screenplay and, due to Beatty's limited window of availability, the film went into production without a completed script. The script is credited to Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and David Giler (who was brought in for rewrites before the strike), but dialogue was often worked out with Pakula and the actors sometimes as little as a day before shooting and Pakula spent much of the production rewriting the script. Some of his more substantial changes include adding the assassination that opens the film and turning the character of Frady from a cop to a reporter (at the suggestion of Beatty and Giler). The Parallax View reunites Pakula with Gordon Willis, his director of photography on Klute (1971) and perhaps the greatest cinematographer of the seventies (his work in the decade include The Godfather [1972], The Godfather: Part II [1974], All the President's Men, Annie Hall [1977] and Manhattan [1979] - and none of them, astoundingly, nominated for Best Cinematography!). Willis had earned the nickname "The Prince of Darkness" for his distinctive use of dark and shadows. Here he shrouded many of the scenes in an ominous darkness. Pakula and Willis create a visual style that favors alienation and a sense of helplessness over conventional scenes of tension and action. "The Parallax View was a whole other kind of filmmaking for me," recalled Pakula. He shot key scenes in extreme long shot to view characters overwhelmed by their surroundings and caught alone in the middle of vast, empty areas, vulnerable and isolated. It's especially effective in the film's climax, where another assassination attempt is planned on a powerful politician in a massive conventional hall and Frady has arrived to stop it. The scene was originally supposed to occur at a crowded rally but Pakula saw the potential of the empty auditorium and reworked the scene to use the vast empty space to create a feeling of isolation and alienation. The prerecorded speech echoing through the empty hall only accentuates the eerie, surreal quality of the scene, as does the anthem-like score by composer Michael Small. It creates a surreal atmosphere and an almost abstract drama with a hero who has no personal life or definition beyond his job and his drive to discover the truth. "If the picture works the audience will trust the person next to them a little less," Pakula reportedly told Beatty. On that score, the film works remarkably well. The seventies was rife with films, both fictional and factually based, that played off suspicions of authority and fears of conspiracy, from The Conversation (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975, also scripted by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.) and Pakula's follow-up film All the President's Men to the Kennedy assassination thrillers Executive Action (1973) and Winter Kills (1979). None of those films have the sense of helplessness and eerie dislocation, of being played by powers beyond your control and seeing it all unfold with a hopeless inevitability, that Pakula gives The Parallax View. Producer: Alan J. Pakula Director: Alan J. Pakula Screenplay: David Giler, Lorenzo Semple, Jr.; Loren Singer (novel); Robert Towne (uncredited) Cinematography: Gordon Willis Music: Michael Small Film Editing: John W. Wheeler Cast: Warren Beatty (Joseph Frady), Hume Cronyn (Bill Rintels), William Daniels (Austin Tucker), Paula Prentiss (Lee Carter), Kenneth Mars (Former FBI Agent Will), Kelly Thordsen (Sheriff L.D. Wicker), Jim Davis (George Hammond), Bill McKinney (Parallax Assassin) C-102m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

A martini is like a woman's breast. One ain't enough and three is too many.
- Cocktail waitress
Don't touch me unless you love me.
- Joseph Frady
Ladies and gentlemen, you have been invited here today for the official announcement of the inquiry into the death of Senator Charles Carroll. This is an announcement, not a press conference. Therefore, there will be no questions. A complete transcript of the investigation is being prepared for publication on March 1st. At that time, the committee will hold a full-scale press conference. After nearly four months of investigation, followed by nine weeks of hearings, it is the conclusion of this committee that Senator Carroll was assassinated by Thomas Richard Linden. It is our further conclusion, that he acted entirely alone. Motivated by a sense of patriotism, and a psychotic desire for public recognition. The committee wishes to emphasize that there is no evidence of any wider conspiracy. No evidence whatsoever. It's our hope that this will put and end to the kind of irresponsible and exploitive speculation conducted by the press in recent months as I've said in the complete text of the hearings, which provides the bases for the committee's findings which will be published on March 1st. When you've had a chance to examine the evidence, you'll have every opportunity to ask those questions which remain unanswered, if they are any. That is all. Thank you.
- Commission Spokesperson #1
Ladies and gentlemen, you've been invited here today for the official announcement of the inquiry into the death of George Hammond. A complete transcript of the investigation is in preparation. This committee has spent nearly six months of investigation, followed by 11 weeks of hearings. After careful deliberation, it is concluded that George Hammond was assassinated by Joseph Frady. An overwhelming body of evidence has revealed that Frady was obsessed with the Carroll assassination, and in his confused and distorted state of mind seems to have imagined that Hammond was responsible for the senator's death. He was equally convinced that Hammond was somehow plotting to kill him. And, it is for those reasons that Frady assassinated him. Although, I'm certain that this will do nothing to discourage the conspiracy peddlers: there is no evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination of George Hammond. Those are our findings. The evidence will be available as soon as possible. Thank you. This is an announcement gentlemen. There will be no questions.
- Commission Spokesperson #2

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States June 1996

Released in United States on Video August 26, 1992

Released in United States Summer June 19, 1974

Shown at Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York City (Walter Reade) June 12-27, 1996.

Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 16-23, 1998.

Shown at Vancouver International Film Festival September 26 - October 12, 1998.

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 15, 1996.)

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Vancouver International Film Festival September 26 - October 12, 1998.)

Released in United States April 1998 (Shown at USA Film Festival in Dallas April 16-23, 1998.)

Released in United States June 1996 (Shown at Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York City (Walter Reade) June 12-27, 1996.)

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States April 1998

Released in United States Summer June 19, 1974

Released in United States on Video August 26, 1992