Director John Frankenheimer is dead.
July 6, 2002 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Director John Frankenheimer is dead. I don't want to make this out to be one of those "random celebrity dies and is suddenly hailed as a genius" things, but Frankenheimer's made quite a few damn good movies (and, yes, some bad ones). While his later works weren't nearly as great as some of his earlier films, his gift for filming action never went away: his 1998 film Ronin wound up on several lists of the "best car chases on film". He was supposed to helm the upcoming Exorcist prequel, but failing health forced him to step aside. Despite the dodgy source material, I would have really liked to see Frankenheimer's take on it. He'll be missed.
posted by toddshot (33 comments total)
This was unexpected and made me sad. His work in recent years was uneven, but he always gave great interviews and was clearly an intelligent and thoughtful filmmaker. And he was still considered a B+ List if not A-List filmmaker ... not bad. Sad sad sad.
posted by donkeyschlong at 5:12 PM on July 6, 2002

I have perused the imdb list and have to say that apart from French Connection 2, which in itself is not brilliant, his oeuvre seems to be cobblers. It is sad when anyone dies, but I doubt he will be missed outside his close friends and family.
A prequel to the Exorcist is something I can definitely live without, whoever directs.
posted by Fat Buddha at 5:31 PM on July 6, 2002

Birdman of Alcatraz, Seven Days in May, The Manchurian Candidate are classics.
French Connection II (even tho Friedkin's film is better) and Ronin are very, very effective examples of good storytelling.
Grand Prix and 52 Pick-Up are, well, B-movies but somehow guilty pleasures
Of course he also made appalling stuff like Year of the Gun (there's Sharon Stone tho) and The Island of Dr Moreau, a movie so incredibly bad that it's somehow impossible to believe it was made by the Seven Days in May director (check out Brando and Kilmer and Thewlis in that...).
But, I'll miss Frankenheimer, he was capable of shooting very effective action movies and thrillers, and he could film a mean car chase -- only Friedkin did better, in the first French Connection

And, also, he was Bobby Kennedy's Hollywood buddy, how cool is that?

I'll watch Ronin again tonight.
posted by matteo at 5:43 PM on July 6, 2002

The George Wallace biopic for TNT was excellent, as was Andersonville, for the same network (about the notoriously overcrowded and under-supplied Confederate prisoner of war camp in Georgia). The director won an Emmy for the latter.
posted by raysmj at 5:58 PM on July 6, 2002

I missed Birdman of Alcatraz on the list. It's very, very good but hardly a classic. Seven Days in May and Manchurian Candidate? I guess the guy was just not my cup of tea.
posted by Fat Buddha at 6:05 PM on July 6, 2002

The Manchurian Candidate: absolutely riveting, brilliant movie & movie-making. Natch, having Frankie on board makes it a must-see, and Angela Lansbury's role as the controlling mother was absolutely chilling.
posted by davidmsc at 6:54 PM on July 6, 2002

John Frankenheimer's forte in recent years has definitely been directing for TV. He won 4 Emmys (in 5 years) for Outstanding Direction for a Miniseries or Special for Against the Wall (1994) (TV), The Burning Season (1994) (TV), Andersonville (1996) (TV) and George Wallace (1997) (TV). That is a great track record.

Of his theatrical work, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is most definitely a classic. Fat Buddha, have you even seen the film?

Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1964), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Seconds (1966) are all considered to be very good films.

The most disturbing thing to me about all of this is that he was just going in for back surgery and ended up dying of a stroke. Apparently his body couldn't take the trauma.

I, for one, will definitely miss his work and I'm not even a friend or family member.
posted by dgeiser13 at 6:59 PM on July 6, 2002

If you've ever listened to Frankenheimer's commentaries (especially the one on the Ronin DVD), you'll realise that this was a guy who was absolutely passionate about every facet of movie making.

Perhaps Frankenheimer's worst crime against cinema is the fact that Michael Bay -- director of Pearl Harbor and Armageddon -- is his son.
posted by John Shaft at 7:12 PM on July 6, 2002

dgeiser13, yes I have seen the film, and I concede the guy knows how to make a film, but it is not my cup of darjeeling. Even conceding the Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, which I don't as they are definitely not classics his overall output was mediocre at best.
His T.V stuff seems interesting. There was a long two part thing on George Wallace on British T.V not long ago which was fascinating. It was very Wallace friendly though, almost a hagiography and glossed over his mad careerism and tried desperately to find excuses for his racism. Is this the Frankenheimer one?
posted by Fat Buddha at 7:16 PM on July 6, 2002

Seconds is one of the creepiest films I've ever seen. it was recently released on DVD and I recommend anyone who hasn't seen it should. Frankenheimer is an underrated artist.
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:32 PM on July 6, 2002

for anyone who hasn't seen The Train, it's a fantastic film and well worth checking out. the commentary is also quite good (not sure if they put it on the dvd or not). Seconds is also fantastic. beautifully shot by James Wong Howe.

but I doubt he will be missed outside his close friends and family.

fine, his films aren't for you but gimme a break; what an ignorant thing to say.
posted by dobbs at 7:34 PM on July 6, 2002

Fat Buddha: The Wallace biopic was a two-parter, but I don't remember it being "hagiographic." Neither did this Washington Post critic.
posted by raysmj at 7:37 PM on July 6, 2002

If for nothing else, he should be remembered for directing film's greatest car chase (Ronin).
posted by spork at 7:45 PM on July 6, 2002

I was lucky to see Manchurian Candidate on its first rerelease back in the 80s, after having been virtually under lock and key for two decades. It's astonishingly good, and its withdrawal was a crime, no matter how uncomfortable it made Sinatra and perhaps some Kennedy kin. It's slightly dated, and of course it's tied temporally to the Korean War, but it's smart and electric. Perhaps its greatest failing today is having been imitated too much. (A similar fate has befallen the Bullitt car chase, for example, to stray off topic.) Others would say that the hard-hammered Freudian psychology is nonsense, or at least opaque to younger audiences; and we have more realistic understanding of hypnosis and so-called mind-control techniques. But as a thriller it zings, and Lansbury's performance is superb. Classic by any standard; and IMDB ranks it #56 of all time.

No, they weren't all that good, but many of them were very capable, nifty thrillers, a genre which is noble and proud, and increasingly rarely done well. Ronin is a terrific bookend to that career.

Seven Days in May spoke clearly to concerns of the time, even though it makes hash of true constitutional politics. (If only they'd had someone like, oh, Eugene Volokh advise the production ....) Very dated and inaccessible because of it. It's not The Rules of the Game by any means, but definitely a high-water mark for almost any career.
posted by dhartung at 7:51 PM on July 6, 2002

The man made some really, really bad movies: "Reindeer Games," "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1996), "99 and 44/100% Dead" (1974) and "French Connection II" (1975). These movies were appallingly, astonishingly bad. And he made one great one: "The Manchurian Candidate" in 1962. It's one of my favorite movies.

Frankenheimer got a lot out of his cast in his one hit wonder. Angela (Murder She Wrote) Lansbury positively seethes with Republican evil. She does a dead on Nancy Reagan almost 20 years before Nancy Reagan did! Frank Sinatra was never able to equal his great "Manchurian" performance in another movie, (well, okay...maybe "Pal Joey").

In one key scene Frankenheimer had the genius to shoot a close up of Sinatra's face subtly, slightly out of focus during a brainwashing sequence. It was masterful.

In another scene, the editing and camera work that juxtaposes a room of evil Chinese leaders with a room of friendly, black gospel church ladies is something that is talked about in filmmaking textbooks.

I mourn Frankenheimer's passing, briefly, and then realize that the world lost him as an artist 30 years ago.
posted by stevis at 8:41 PM on July 6, 2002

Stevis -- if the IMDB is to be believed, shooting Sinatra out of focus was accidental and retained after Sinatra "had trouble recreating his performance".
posted by John Shaft at 9:21 PM on July 6, 2002

The Michael Bay paternity thing is just a rumor/industry myth, like Walt Disney's cryogenic tomb.

The director's commentary Ronin actually made me appreciate that otherwise ho-hum film.
posted by donkeyschlong at 9:39 PM on July 6, 2002

I just want to offer another "me too" about Seconds. Go watch that one and you'll enjoy a good movie.
posted by gluechunk at 10:13 PM on July 6, 2002

ds, not just rumor: Frankenheimer took a paternity test which proved he was not Bay's biological father, after an extended dispute with the birth mother.
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on July 6, 2002

If all he brought the world was Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate Frankenheimer earned the right to be considered a genius filmaker.
posted by dong_resin at 10:44 PM on July 6, 2002

Don't forget the short car chase he did for bmwfilms, Ambush.

Ronin had the best car chases I've ever seen (I admit I haven't see the French Connection). Whoever wrote that the Bourne Identity had the "best car chase since the French Connection" completely forgot 'bout Ronin. Damn I loved that movie. =)

Side note... I was searching for above quote's source and found a page with hidden classics, and a blurb about To Live and Die in LA:
To Live And Die In LA - Directed by William ( Exorcist, French Connection) Friedkin this Eighties thriller was sadly neglected on it's original release and really does deserve a second opinion. Hard edged and tough to the extreme in its depiction of violence this should have seen Friedkin back on top. Throw in the best car chase since French Connection and the Eighties forgotten man William ( Manhunter) Petterson and you have a film that should have been a hit rather than than a curiosity. Not available on DVD.
Concerning the Manchurian Candidate, did it have anything to do with the CIA? Found that site a long time ago while searching for the meaning of a band name (Manchurian Candidates).
posted by hobbes at 11:25 PM on July 6, 2002

In one key scene Frankenheimer had the genius to shoot a close up of Sinatra's face subtly, slightly out of focus during a brainwashing sequence. It was masterful.

Not quite. I saw an interview where Frankenheimer acknowledged that he knew the shot was unintentionally out of focus, but felt that Sinatra's performance on that take couldn't be duplicated, so he used it anyway.

Having said that, I'm a fan, although yes he did some lousy movies. Some can be chalked up to battle with alcohol, especially after RFK was assassinated (Frankenheimer actually drove him to the Ambassador Hotel the night he was killed). Some can be chalked up to taking on assignments he probably shouldn't have; he took over for someone else on "The Island of Dr. Moreau" after shooting had already begun. (And IIRC, he later said that he would never, ever do two things: climb Mt. Everest or work with Val Kilmer again.) But then again, Babe Ruth set records for strikeouts.

I personally think that Manchurian Candidate and Black Sunday are great thrillers (I haven't seen many of his other films.) And watch a documentary about the making of Grand Prix sometime; whatever you think of the plot, the techniques for shooting the race scenes were amazing. He used many of the same methods on Ronin (which I have not yet seen, alas).

I'm looking forward to the usual tribute programming on Turner Classic Movies within the next two weeks or so.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:46 PM on July 6, 2002

Michael Bay sucks.
posted by timyang at 4:17 AM on July 7, 2002

he took over for someone else on "The Island of Dr. Moreau"

Yup: the original director was Richard Stanley

Why, why didn't Frankenheimer stay at home instead of directing that crap?
posted by matteo at 6:27 AM on July 7, 2002

raysmj, I have not seen the biopic to which you refer, the film I saw was a staright documentary.

Dobbs, how is it ignorant to not miss someone you have never met?
posted by Fat Buddha at 7:35 AM on July 7, 2002

Dobbs, how is it ignorant to not miss someone you have never met?

I think Dobbs was referring to your assumption that nobody who did not personally know Frankenheimer would miss him, not to the fact that you would not.
posted by toddshot at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2002

exactly, toddshot. thanks.
posted by dobbs at 10:36 AM on July 7, 2002

I still don't understand.
posted by Fat Buddha at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2002

I guess everyone has their own definition of 'classic': movies, cars, etc. but most seem to agree there havn't been any made recently. I've always felt that 'Seconds', 'Seven Days in May' and 'Manchurian Cantidate' are true classics in that they plowed new ground, kept up the pace of suspence, were somewhat understated and brought out the very best in the actors, perhaps Sinatra and Rock Hudsons pinnacle. (And To live & die in LA is one good flick!)
posted by Mack Twain at 11:37 AM on July 7, 2002

To Live And Die In LA

ah the poker chip. much neglected movie.

was it JFK who asked, when he read the book (Manchurian Candidate), whos going to play the mother?
posted by clavdivs at 9:12 AM on July 8, 2002

If he did, why is that significant?
posted by bingo at 11:24 AM on July 8, 2002

Seconds made me shudder for hours afterward. Like The Manchurian Candidate , it made you look at ordinary strangers and your friends with a few moments of suspicion. A great and complex story, the direction and cinematography reinforces and challenges your assumptions, builds the characters, and becomes an invisible character. This may be the only evidence on film that Rock Hudson could act.
posted by evanwolf at 11:30 AM on July 8, 2002

because it was JFK.
posted by clavdivs at 5:25 PM on July 8, 2002

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