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John Frankenheimer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Frankenheimer
Frankenheimer - Life - portrait.jpg
John Michael Frankenheimer

(1930-02-19)February 19, 1930
DiedJuly 6, 2002(2002-07-06) (aged 72)
Alma materWilliams College
OccupationFilm director
Years active1948–2002
Spouse(s)Joanne Frankenheimer (divorced)
Carolyn Miller
(m. 1954; div. 1962)

(m. 1963)
Children2 (with Miller)

John Michael Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002)[1] was an American film and television director known for social dramas and action/suspense films. Among his credits were Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1964), Seconds (1966), Grand Prix (1966), French Connection II (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Ronin (1998), and Reindeer Games (2000).

He won four Emmy Awards—three consecutive—in the 1990s for directing the television movies Against the Wall, The Burning Season, Andersonville, and George Wallace, the last of which also received a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film.

Frankenheimer's 30 feature films and over 50 plays for television were notable for their influence on contemporary thought. He became a pioneer of the "modern-day political thriller", having begun his career at the height of the Cold War.[2]

He was technically highly accomplished from his days in live television; many of his films were noted for creating "psychological dilemmas" for his male protagonists along with having a strong "sense of environment,"[2] similar in style to films by director Sidney Lumet, for whom he had earlier worked as assistant director. He developed a "tremendous propensity for exploring political situations" which would ensnare his characters.[2]

Movie critic Leonard Maltin writes that "in his time [1960s]... Frankenheimer worked with the top writers, producers and actors in a series of films that dealt with issues that were just on top of the moment—things that were facing us all."[3]

Childhood and Schooling

"I was always a very introverted child, and as far back as seven years old, I recall finding great escape in all seriousness, I have always been terribly interested in films and it was not something that happened to me later in life. I look back and realize it was the medium I liked most." – John Frankenheimer, quoted in The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1968)[4]

Frankenheimer was born in Queens, New York City, the son of Helen Mary (née Sheedy) and Walter Martin Frankenheimer, a stockbroker.[3][5] His father was of German Jewish descent, his mother was Irish Catholic, and Frankenheimer was raised in his mother's religion.[6][7] As a youth Frankenheimer, the eldest of three siblings, struggled to assert himself with his dominant father.[8]

Growing up in New York City and became fascinated with cinema at an early age; he recalled avidly attending movies to the cinema every weekend. Frankenheimer reports that in 1938, at the age of age of seven or eight, he attended a 25-episode, 7 ½ hour marathon of The Lone Ranger accompanied by his aunt.[4]

In 1947, he graduated from La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale, Long Island, New York, and he 1951 he earned a baccalaureate in English from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. As captain of the tennis team at Williams, Frankenheimer briefly considered a professional career in tennis, but reconsidered:[9]

"I gave that up when I really started acting at eighteen or nineteen, because there wasn't any time to do interest was more toward acting in those days and an actor is what I wanted to be. I did act at college and summer stock for a year. But I was really not a very good actor. I was quite shy and quite stiff..."[10]

Air Force Film Squadron: 1951-1953

After graduating Williams College, Frankenhiemer was "called into the Air Force" and assigned to the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), serving in the Pentagon mailroom at Washington, D. C. He quickly applied and was transferred, without any formal qualifications [11] to an Air Force film squadron in Burbank, California. It was there that Lieutenant Frankeheimer "really started to think seriously about directing."[12]

Frankenheimer recollects his early apprenticeship with the Air Force photography unit as one of almost unlimited freedom. As a junior officer, Frankeheimer superiors "couldn't have cared less" what he did in terms of utilizing the filmmaking equipment. Frankenhiemer reports that he was free to set up the lighting, operate the camera and perform the editing on projects he personally conceived. His first film was a documentary about an asphalt manufacturing plant in Sherman Oaks, California.[13] Lieutenant Frankenheimer recalls moonlighting, at $40-a-week, as writer, producer and cameraman making television infomercials for a local cattle breeder in Northridge, California, in which livestock were presented on the interior stage sets. The FCC terminated the programming after 15 weeks. In addition to mastering the basic elements of filmmaking, Frankenheimer began reading widely on film technique, including the writings of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.[14] Frankenheimer was discharged from the military in 1953.[15]

Frankenheimer and Television's "Golden Age": 1953-1960

John Frankenheimer at Columbia Broadcasting Studios (CBS), 1952.
John Frankenheimer at Columbia Broadcasting Studios (CBS), 1952.

During his years in military service, Frankenheimer strenuously sought a film career in Southern California. Failing this, at age 23, he returned to New York upon his military discharge to seek work in the emerging television industry. His earnestness impressed Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television executives, landing him a job in the summer of 1953, to serve as a director of photography on the The Garry Moore Show.[16] Frankenheimer recalls his apprenticeship at CBS:

"When I stop and look back on the [The Gary Moore Show]...I was particularly well-suited for that job...what you would do is prepare a shot for the director. He would tell you what he wanted and you would get it from the cameraman...You'd also be responsible for the timing of the show. But I think - well, I know - I was born with a good eye for the camera and so the job really was playing right into what I would call my own strength."[17]

"Television scripts [of the 1950s] exploring problems at the societal level were systematically ignored (i.e. racial discrimination, structural poverty, and other social ills). Instead, critics complain, too many 'golden age' dramas were little more than simplistic morality tales focusing on the everyday problems and conflicts of weak individuals confronted by personal shortcomings such as alcoholism, greed, impotence, and divorce, for example.... [I]t is important to note that the 'golden age' coincided with the Cold War era and McCarthyism and that cold-war references, such as avoiding communism and loving America, were frequently incorporated in teleplays of the mid to late 1950s." – Anna Everett in "Golden Age" Museum of Broadcast Communications[18]

Frankenheimer was initially picked as assistant to director Sidney Lumet's for CBS's historical dramatization series You Are There, and further on Charles Russell's Danger and Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person. In late 1954 Frankenheimer replaced Lumet as director on You Are There and Danger under a 5-year contract (with a studio standard option to terminate a director with a two-week notice). Frankenheimer's directorial début was The Plot Against King Solomon (1954), a critical success.[19]

Throughout the 1950s he directed over 140 episodes of shows like Playhouse 90 and Climax! under the auspices of CBS executive Hubbell Robinson and producer Martin Manulis[20] These included outstanding adaptations of works by Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Arthur Miller. Leading actors and actresses from stage and film starred in these live productions, among them Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Mickey Rooney, Geraldine Page and Jack Lemmon. Frankenhiemer is widely considered a preeminent figure in the so-called "Golden Age of Television".[21][22]

Film historian Stephen Bowie offers this appraisal of Frankenheimer's legacy from the "Golden Age" of television:

"Along with Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer was the major director to emerge from and be influenced by the aesthetics of live television drama, which flourished briefly in the US...Frankenheimer's later fame, and his oft-repeated nostalgia for live television, have designated him as the quintessential exponent of the form: this is a crucial misconception. The aesthetics of live television were defined by their temporal and spatial limitations: all that could be shown was what could be physically created within an hour or half-hour and photographed within the confines of a small space [emphasizing] cramped blue-collar settings ('kitchen drama') because these were the most easily staged for live broadcast...[though] perfectly suited to this world of emotional intimacy and physical claustrophobia, Frankenheimer reacted instinctively against it. He sought material and visual strategies that expanded the boundaries of what could be done in live television...As the live TV director who took the medium in an explicitly cinematic direction, Frankenheimer was actually the least typical."[23]

Film career

Frankenheimer's earliest films addressed contemporary issues such as "juvenile delinquency, criminality and the social environment" and are represented by The Young Stranger (1957), The Young Savages (1961) and All Fall Down (1962).[24]

The Young Stranger (1957)

Frankenheimer's first foray into filmmaking occurred while he was still under contract to CBS television. The head of CBS in California, William Dozier, became the head of RKO movie studios. Frankenheimer was assigned to direct a film version of his television Climax! production entitled "Deal a Blow", written by William Dozier's son, Robert. The 1956 movie version, The Young Stranger stars James MacArthur as the rebellious teenage son of a powerful Hollywood movie producer (James Daly). Frankenheimer recalled that he found his first film experience unsatisfactory:[25]

"I have a very high regard for my [television] crews, because I hand pick them; on The Young Stranger I was given a crew, and I thought they were terrible and treated me very badly. It made me very bitter about the whole experience...I felt very confined, constricted and a bad director...There were so many things I thought I could have done but didn't do...As a result of this experience I was fed up with films and went back to television."[26]

Frankenheimer adds that in the late 1950s, television was transitioning from live productions to taped shows: "...a live television director was like being a village blacksmith after the advent of the automobile...I knew I had to get out..." In 1961 Frankenheimer abandoned television and returned to filmmaking after a four-year hiatus, continuing his examination of the social themes that informed his 1957 The Young Stranger.[27] Film historian Gordon Gow distinguishes Frankenheimer's handling of themes addressing individualism and "misfits" during the Fifties' obsession with disaffected teenagers:

"There was an especially true feeling to the problem of the 16-year-old boy who became 'The Young Stranger'...This film, in 1957, at the height of the problem-teen vogue, sounded a quiet note of contrast. In part, its genuine quality might be put down to the fact [both director and writer] were in their mid-twenties—much nearer to the age of their central character [James MacArthur], about twenty himself at the time (but looking younger)...What made it especially distinctive amid the general sensationalism was the triviality of the boy's misdemeanor: a minor bit of roughhouse in a neighborhood cinema...The difference between The Young Stranger, which attained a happy ending plausibly, and the general run of delinquent-problem movies was its moderation..."[28]

The Young Savages (1961)

Frankenheimer's second cinematic effort is based on novelist Evan Hunter's A Matter of Conviction (1959). Universal Studio publicity executives changed the box-office title to the vaguely lurid The Young Savages, to which Frankenheimer objected.[29] The story involves the attempted political exploitation of a brazen murder involving Peurto Rican and Italian youth gangs set in New York City's Spanish Harlem.[30] New York City District Attorney, Dan Cole (Edward Andrews), who is seeking the state governorship, sends assistant D. A. Hank Bell (Burt Lancaster) to gather evidence to secure a conviction. Bell, who grew up in the tenement district, has escaped from his impoverished origins to achieve social and economic success. He initially adopts a cynical hostility towards the youths he investigates, which serves his own career aims. The narrative explores the human and legal complexities of the case and Bell's struggle to confront his personal and social prejudices and commitments.[31] The film's arresting opening sequence depicting a killing, which is key to the plot, reveals Frankenheimer's origins in television. The action, "brilliantly filmed and edited", occurs preliminary to the credits, and is accompanied by an impelling soundtrack by composer David Armand, serving to quickly rivet audience interest.[32]

The Young Savages, though focusing on juvenile delinquency, is cinematically a significant advance over Frankenheimer's similarly themed first film effort The Young Stranger (1957).[33] Film historian Gerald Pratley attributes this to Frankenheimer's insistence on hand-picking his leading technical support for the project, including set designer Bert Smidt, cinematographer Lionel Lindon and scenarists J. P. Miller.[34] Prately observed:

"The Young Savages is far more alive and real than [The Young Stranger]...the youths might well be some of those we met in the first film, but now further along their delinquent ways. The acting throughout is authoritative, with vivid portrayals by the Italian and Puerto Rican players...the entire film is photographically alive with a strong, visual sense which was to characterize all of Frankenheimer's future work…"[33]

Though "contrived and familiar in its social concerns" Frankenheimer and leading man Burt Lancaster, both Liberals in their political outlook, dramatize the "poverty, violence and despair of city life" with a restraint such that "the events and characters seem consistently believable."[35] Frankenheimer recalled "I shot The Young Savages mainly to show people that I could make a movie, and while it was not completely successful, my point was proved...The film was made on a relatively cheap budget and shooting on location in New York for a Hollywood company is very expensive. Those were the days before Mayor Lindsay when you had to pay off every other cop on the beat…"[36]

All Fall Down (1962)

All Fall Down was both filmed and released while Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) was in post-production and his The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was in pre-production.[37][38]

This coming of age film was scripted by William Inge, who also wrote Splendor in the Grass (1961) and concerns character Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty), an emotionally irresponsible hustler, and his adoring younger brother Clinton (Brandon de Wilde), to whom Berry-Berry appears as a romantic Byronesque figure. The older brother's cruel treatment of Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), his lover who becomes pregnant, disabuses the naive Clinton of Berry-Berry's perfection. His anguished insight permits Clinton to achieve emotional maturity and independence.[39][40][41] Film critic David Walsh comments:

"All Fall Down is vaguely moralistic and conformist, and the scenes of the Beatty character's comeuppance contrived in the extreme. All Fall Down is saved by the portrayals of Eva Marie Saint, quiet and gracious, as the unfortunate Echo, and Angela Lansbury, extravagant and outlandish, as Berry-Berry's mother, within whom incestuous fires appear to blaze. Critics have noted that Annabell Willart (Landsbury) was the first of three desperately controlling mothers in Frankenheimer's films of 1962: the other two played by Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Lansbury again in The Manchurian Candidate (1961). In all three films, the father is either weak or absent."[42]

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

Birdmanof Alcatraz, publicity photo. (L to R) actor Burt Lancaster and Frankenheimer
Birdmanof Alcatraz, publicity photo. (L to R) actor Burt Lancaster and Frankenheimer

“I can’t really think of a scene in Birdman of Alcatraz I liked. I like the total effect of the film, but I don’t think there was any scene that stands out for me as being extraordinary in any way.”  – John Frankenhiemer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)[43]

Based on a biography by Thomas E. Gaddis, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) is documentary-like dramatization of the life of Robert Stroud, sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement for killing a prison guard. [44] While serving his sentence, Stroud (Burt Lancaster) becomes an respected expert in avian diseases though the study of canaries. Frankenheimer traces Stroud’s emergence from his anti-social misanthropy towards a humane maturity, despite the brutal conditions of his incarceation.[45]

In 1962, the production and filming of Birdman of Alcatraz was already underway when United Artists enlisted Frankenheimer to replace British director Charles Crichton.[46][47] As such, key production dicisions had already been made, and Frankenheimer regarded himself as a “hired director” with little direct control over the production.[48] Producer Harold Hecht and screenwriter Guy Trosper insisted on an exhaustive adaption of the Gaddis biography. The filmed rough cut that emerged was over four hours in length. When simply editing the work was ruled out as impracticable, the script was rewritten and the film largely re-shot, producing a final cut of 2 ½ hours.[49] According to Frankenheimer, he had an option in the 1950s to make a television adaption of the Stroud story, but CBS was warned off by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the project was dropped.[50][51]

Magnum Opus: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate, publicity photo. L to R, actor Angela Lansbury and Frankenheimer
The Manchurian Candidate, publicity photo. L to R, actor Angela Lansbury and Frankenheimer

Frankenheimer's 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, is widely regarded as his most remarkable cinematic work.[52] Biographer Gerald Prately observes that “the impact of this film was enormous. With it, John Frankenheimer became a force to be reckoned with in contemporary cinema; it established him as the most artistic, realistic and vital filmmaker at work in America or elsewhere.”[53]

Frankenheimer and producer George Axelrod bought Richard Condon's 1959 novel after it had already been turned down by many Hollywood studios. After Frank Sinatra committed to the film, they secured backing from United Artists. [54] The plot centers on Korean War veteran Raymond Shaw, part of a prominent political family. Shaw is brainwashed by Chinese and Russian captors after his Army platoon are imprisoned. He returns to civilian life in the United States, where he becomes an unwitting “sleeper” assassin in an international communist conspiracy to subvert and overthrow the U.S. government.[55]

The film co-starred Laurence Harvey (as Sergeant Raymond Shaw), Janet Leigh, James Gregory and John McGiver. Angela Lansbury, as the mother and controller to her “sleeper” assassin son, garnered an Academy Award nomination for a “riveting” performance” in “the greatest screen role of her career.”[56] Frank Sinatra, as Major Bennett Marco, who reverses Shaw’s mind control mechanisms and exposes the conspiracy, delivers perhaps his most satisfactory film performance.[57] Frankenheimer declared that both technically and conceptually, he had “complete control” over the production.[58]

The technical “fluency” exhibited in The Manchurian Candidate reveals Frankenheimer’s struggle to convey this Cold War narrative. Film historian Andrew Sarris remarked that the director was “obviously sweating over his technique...instead of building sequences, Frankenheimer explodes them prematurely, preventing his films from coming together coherently.”[59] The Manchurian Candidate, nonetheless, conveys though it's documentary-like mise-en-scène, the “paranoia and delirium of the Cold War years.”[60] A demonstration of Frankenheimer’s bravura direction and “visual inventiveness” appears in the notable brainwashing sequence, presenting the sinister proceedings from the perspective of both the perpetrator and victim.[61] [62] The complexity of the sequence and its antecedents in television are described by film critic Stephen Bowie:

“The famous brainwashing sequence in which Frankenheimer moves seamlessly between an objective perspective (captured soldiers in a communist seminar) and a subjective one (the soldiers attending an innocuous meeting of the Ladies’ Garden Society). This tour de force was a pure distillation of Frankenheimer’s television technique, opening with a self-conscious 360-degree pan that utilised the ‘wild’ sets which allowed TV cameras to move into seemingly impossible positions.”[63]

In 1968, Frankenheimer acknowledged that the methods he used on television were “the same kind of style I used on The Manchurian Candidate. It was the first time I had the assurance and self-confidence to go back to what I had been really good at in television.”[64] Compositionally, Frankenheimer concentrates his actors into “long lens” menage, in which dramatic interactions occur at close-up, mid-shot and long-shot, a configuration that he repeated “obsessively.” Film critic Stepen Bowie observes that “this style meant that Frankenheimer’s early output became a cinema of exactitude rather than spontaneity.”[65]

“More and more I think that our society is being manipulated and controlled...the most important aspect is that [in 1962] this country was just recovering from the McCarthy era and nothing had ever been filmed about it. I wanted to do a picture that showed how ludicrous the whole McCarthy far-Right syndrome was and how dangerous the the  far-Left syndrome is...The Manchurian Candidate dealt with the McCarthy era, the whole idea of fanaticism, the far-Right and the far-Left being really the same thing, and the idiocy of it. I wanted to show that and I think we did.”- John Frankenheimer in Gerald Pratley’s The Cinema of John Frankenheimer (1969)[66]

The Manchurian Candidate was released in the post-Red Scare period of the early 1960s, when anti-Communist political ideology still prevailed.[67] Just one month after the film’s release, the John F. Kennedy administration was in the midst of Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union.[68]

That Frankenheimer and screenwriter Axelrod persisted in the production is a measure of their political liberalism, in a historical period when, according to biographer Gerald Pratley “ it was clearly dangerous to speak of politics in the out-spoken, satiric vein that characterized this picture.”[69] Film critic David Walsh adds that “the level of conviction and urgency” that informs The Manchurian Candidate, reflects “the relative confidence and optimism American liberals felt in the early 1960s.”[70] Frankenheimer’s “terrifying parable” of the American political milieu was sufficiently well-received to avoid its summary rejection by critics.[71]

The Manchurian Candidate, due its subject matter and its proximity to the Kennedy assassination is inextricably linked to that event. [72] Frankenheimer acknowledged as much when, in 1968, he described The Manchurian Candidate as “a horribly prophetic film. It’s frightening what’s happened in our country since that film was made.”[73]

Seven Days in May

Frankenheimer followed with another successful political thriller, Seven Days in May (1964). He again bought the rights to a bestselling book, this time by Charles Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, and again produced the film with his star, this time Kirk Douglas. Douglas intended to play the role of the General who attempts to lead a coup against the President, who is about to sign a disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Douglas then decided he wanted to work with Burt Lancaster, with whom he had just costarred in another film. To entice Lancaster, Douglas agreed to let him play the General, while Douglas took the less showy lead role of the General's aide, who turns against him and helps the President.

The film, written by Rod Serling, also starred Fredric March as the President and Ava Gardner as a former flame of Lancaster's character. It was nominated for two Oscars.

The Train

The Train (1964) had been shooting in France for three days when star Lancaster had Arthur Penn, the original director, fired[74] and called in Frankenheimer to save the film. As he recounts in the Champlin book, Frankenheimer used the production's desperation to his advantage in negotiations. He successfully demanded that his name be made part of the title, John Frankenheimer's The Train; that the uncredited French stand-by director, required by French tax laws, never be allowed to be on the film's set; that he be given total final cut on the film; and that he receive a Ferrari.

Again saddled with an unworkably long script, Frankenheimer threw it out and took the locations and actors left from the previous film and began filming, with writers working in Paris as the production shot in Normandy. The poorly chosen locations caused endless weather delays. The film contains multiple real train wrecks. The Allied bombing of a rail yard was accomplished with real dynamite, as the French rail authority needed to enlarge the track gauge. This can be observed by the shockwaves traveling through the ground during the action sequence. Producers realized after filming that the story needed another action scene, and reassembled some of the cast for a Spitfire attack scene that was inserted into the first third of the film. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.


Seconds (1966) tells of an older man (John Randolph) given the body of a young man (Rock Hudson) through experimental surgery. It was poorly received on its release but has come to be one of the director's most respected and popular films subsequently. The film is an expressionistic, part-horror, part-thriller, part-science fiction film about the obsession with eternal youth and misplaced faith in the ability of medical science to achieve it.

The director of photography for Seconds was James Wong Howe, who is remembered for pioneering novel techniques in black-and-white cinematography. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the film. Seconds was Frankenheimer and Howe's last film in black-and-white.

Grand Prix

Frankenheimer on the set of Grand Prix
Frankenheimer on the set of Grand Prix

Frankenheimer followed Seconds with his most spectacular production, 1966's Grand Prix. Shot on location at the Grand Prix races throughout Europe, using 65mm Cinerama cameras, the film starred James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. The making was a race itself, as John Sturges and Steve McQueen planned to make a similar movie titled Day of the Champion.[75]

Due to their contract with the German Nürburgring, Frankenheimer had to turn over 27 reels shot there to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule anyway, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off, while the German race track was only mentioned briefly in Grand Prix. Introducing methods of photographing high-speed auto racing that had never been seen before, mounting cameras on the cars, at full speed and putting the stars in the actual cars, instead of against rear-projections, the film was an international success and won three Oscars, for editing, sound, and sound effects.

Late 1960s

Frankenheimer's next film, 1967's all-star anti-war comedy The Extraordinary Seaman, starred David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda and Mickey Rooney. The film was a failure at the box office and critically. Frankenheimer calls it in the Champlin book "the only movie I've made which I would say was a total disaster."[76]

Following this the next year was The Fixer, about a Jew in Tsarist Russia and based on the novel by Bernard Malamud. The film was shot in Communist Hungary. It starred Alan Bates and was not a major success, but Bates was nominated for an Oscar.[77]

Frankenheimer became a close friend of Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the making of The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. In 1968, Kennedy asked Frankenheimer to make some commercials for use in the presidential campaign, at which he hoped to become the Democratic candidate. On the night he was assassinated in June 1968, it was Frankenheimer who had driven Kennedy from Los Angeles Airport to the Ambassador Hotel for his acceptance speech.[6][78]

The Gypsy Moths was a romantic drama about a troupe of barnstorming skydivers and their impact on a small midwestern town. The celebration of Americana starred Frankenheimer regular Lancaster, reuniting him with From Here to Eternity co-star Deborah Kerr, and it also featured Gene Hackman. The film failed to find an audience, but Frankenheimer claimed it was one of his favorites.[79]


Frankenheimer followed this with I Walk the Line in 1970. The film, starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld, about a Tennessee sheriff who falls in love with a moonshiner's daughter, was set to songs by Johnny Cash. Frankenheimer's next project took him to Afghanistan. The Horseman focused on the relationship between a father and son, played by Jack Palance and Omar Sharif. Sharif's character, an expert horseman, played the Afghan national sport of buzkashi.

Impossible Object, also known as Story of a Love Story, suffered distribution difficulties and was not widely released. Next came a four-hour film of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, in 1973, starring Lee Marvin, and the decidedly offbeat 99 and 44/100% Dead, a crime black comedy starring Richard Harris.

With his fluent French and knowledge of French culture, Frankenheimer was asked to direct French Connection II, set entirely in Marseille. With Hackman reprising his role as New York cop Popeye Doyle, the film was a success and got Frankenheimer his next job. Black Sunday, based on author Thomas Harris's only non-Hannibal Lecter novel, involves an Israeli Mossad agent (Robert Shaw) chasing a pro-Palestinian terrorist (Marthe Keller) and a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam vet (Bruce Dern), who plan a spectacular mass-murder involving the Goodyear Blimp which flies over the Super Bowl. It was shot on location at the actual Super Bowl X in January 1976 in Miami, with the use of a real Goodyear Blimp.[78] The film tested very highly, and Paramount and Frankenheimer had high expectations for it, but it was not a hit (with Paramount blaming the failure on the special effects work in the climax, and Universal Studios releasing the similarly themed thriller Two-Minute Warning only six months prior).

In 1977, Carter DeHaven hired Frankenheimer to direct William Sackheim and Michael Kozoll's screenplay for First Blood. After considering Michael Douglas, Powers Boothe, and Nick Nolte for the role of John Rambo Frankenheimer cast Brad Davis. He also cast George C. Scott as Colonel Trautman. However, the production was abandoned after Orion Pictures acquired its distributor Filmways, and Sackheim and Kozoll's script would be rewritten by Sylvester Stallone as the basis for Ted Kotcheff's 1982 film.[80][81]

Frankenheimer is quoted in Champlin's biography as saying that his alcohol problem caused him to do work that was below his own standards on Prophecy (1979), an ecological monster movie about a mutant grizzly bear terrorizing a forest in Maine.


In 1981, Frankenheimer travelled to Japan to shoot the cult martial-arts action film The Challenge, with Scott Glenn and Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. He told Champlin that his drinking became so severe while shooting in Japan that he actually drank on set, which he had never done before, and as a result he entered rehab on returning to America. The film was released in 1982, along with his HBO television adaptation of the acclaimed play The Rainmaker.

In 1985, Frankenheimer directed an adaptation of the Robert Ludlum bestseller The Holcroft Covenant, starring Michael Caine. That was followed the next year with another adaptation, 52 Pick-Up, from the novel by Elmore Leonard. Dead Bang (1989) followed Don Johnson as he infiltrated a group of white supremacists. In 1990, he returned to the Cold War political thriller genre with The Fourth War with Roy Scheider (with whom Frankenheimer had worked previously on 52 Pick-Up) as a loose cannon Army colonel drawn into a dangerous personal war with a Soviet officer. It was not a commercial success.


John Frankenheimer on the set of Andersonville in 1994
John Frankenheimer on the set of Andersonville in 1994

Most of his 1980s films were less than successful, both critically and financially, but Frankenheimer was able to make a comeback in the 1990s by returning to his roots in television. He directed two films for HBO in 1994: Against the Wall and The Burning Season that won him several awards and renewed acclaim. The director also helmed two films for Turner Network Television, Andersonville (1996) and George Wallace (1997), that were highly praised.

Frankenheimer's 1996 film The Island of Doctor Moreau, which he took over after the firing of original director Richard Stanley, was the cause of countless stories of production woes and personality clashes and received scathing reviews. Frankenheimer was said to be unable to stand Val Kilmer, the young co-star of the film and whose disruption had reportedly led to the removal of Stanley half a week into production.[82][83] When Kilmer's last scene was completed, Frankenheimer reportedly said, "Now get that bastard off my set." The veteran director also professed that "Will Rogers never met Val Kilmer". In an interview, Frankenheimer refused to discuss the film, saying only that he had a miserable time making it.

However, his next film, 1998's Ronin, starring Robert De Niro, was a return to form, featuring Frankenheimer's now trademark elaborate car chases woven into a labyrinthine espionage plot. Co-starring an international cast including Jean Reno and Jonathan Pryce, it was a critical and box-office success. As the 1990s drew to a close, he even had a rare acting role, appearing in a cameo as a U.S. general in The General's Daughter (1999). He earlier had an uncredited cameo as a TV director in his 1977 film Black Sunday.

Last years and death

Frankenheimer's last theatrical film, 2000's Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck, underperformed. But then came his final film, Path to War for HBO in 2002, which brought him back to his strengths – political machinations, 1960s America and character-based drama, and was nominated for numerous awards. A look back at the Vietnam War, it starred Michael Gambon as President Lyndon Johnson along with Alec Baldwin and Donald Sutherland. One of Frankenheimer's last projects was the 2001 BMW action short-film Ambush for the promotional series The Hire, starring Clive Owen.

Frankenheimer was scheduled to direct Exorcist: The Beginning, but it was announced before filming started that he was withdrawing, citing health concerns. Paul Schrader replaced him. About a month later he died suddenly in Los Angeles, California, from a stroke due to complications following spinal surgery at the age of 72.


The moving image collection of John Frankenheimer is held at the Academy Film Archive.[84]



Year Title Notes
1957 The Young Stranger
1961 The Young Savages
1962 All Fall Down Nominated- Palme d'Or
Birdman of Alcatraz Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
The Manchurian Candidate Also Producer
Nominated- Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1964 Seven Days in May Nominated- Golden Globe Award for Best Director
The Train Replaced Arthur Penn
1966 Seconds Nominated- Palme d'Or
Grand Prix Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1968 The Fixer
1969 The Extraordinary Seaman
The Gypsy Moths
1970 I Walk the Line
1971 The Horsemen
1973 The Iceman Cometh
Impossible Object
1974 99 and 44/100% Dead
1975 French Connection II
1977 Black Sunday
1979 Prophecy
1982 The Challenge
1985 The Holcroft Covenant
1986 52 Pick-Up
1989 Dead Bang
1990 The Fourth War
1991 Year of the Gun Nominated- Deauville Critics Award for Best Feature Film
1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau Replaced Richard Stanley
1998 Ronin
2000 Reindeer Games
2001 Ambush Short film


Year Title Notes
1954 You Are There Episode: "The Plot Against King Solomon"
1954-55 Danger 6 episodes
1955-56 Climax! 26 episodes
1956 The Ninth Day Television film
1956-60 Playhouse 90 27 episodes
1958 Studio One in Hollywood Episode: "The Last Summer"
1959 DuPont Show of the Month Episode: "The Browning Vision"
Startime Episode: "The Turn of the Screw"
1959-60 NBC Sunday Showcase 2 episodes
1960 Buick-Electra Playhouse 3 episodes
The Snows of Kilimanjaro Television film
The Fifth Column
1982 The Rainmaker Television film

Nominated- CableACE Award for Best Direction in a Movie or Miniseries

1992 Tales from the Crypt Episode: "Maniac at Large"
1994 Against the Wall Television film

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
Nominated- CableACE Award for Best Direction in a Movie or Miniseries
Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film

The Burning Season Television film

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
CableACE Award for Best Direction in a Movie or Miniseries
Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
Nominated- CableACE Award for Best Movie or Miniseries

1996 Andersonville Television film

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film

1997 George Wallace Television film

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
CableACE Award for Best Miniseries
CableACE Award for Best Direction in a Movie or Miniseries
Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film

2002 Path to War Television film

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
Nominated- DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film

Awards and nominations

British Academy Film Awards

  • 1964 Train nominated for Best Film - Any Source
  • 1962 Manchurian Candidate nominated for Best Film - Both Any Source and British

Cannes Film Festival

  • 1966 Seconds nominated for Competing Film
  • 1962 All Fall Down nominated for Competing Film

New York Film Critics Circle Award

  • 1968 Fixer nominated for Best Direction
  • 1968 Fixer nominated for Best Film

Venice Film Festival

  • 1962 Birdman of Alcatraz nominated for Competing Film
  • 1962 Birdman of Alcatraz won for San Giorgio Prize

Frankenheimer is also a member of the Television Hall of Fame, and was inducted in 2002.[85]


  1. ^ Barson, Michael. "John Frankenheimer – American director". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Yoram Allon, Yoram; Cullen, Hannah Patterson. Contemporary North American Film Directors, Wallflower Press (2000), pp. 181-83
  3. ^ a b "Hollywood director John Frankenheimer dies at 72". Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Pratley, 1968 p. 16
  5. ^ Moritz, Charles (1964). Current biography yearbook. H.W. Wilson Company. p. 135.
  6. ^ a b Thurber, Jon; King, Susan (July 7, 2002). "John Frankenheimer, 72; Director Was Master of the Political Thriller". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Walsh, David. "Issues raised by the career of US filmmaker John Frankenheimer".
  8. ^ Bowie, 2006: "Frankenheimer felt overshadowed by a strong father..."
    Pratley, 1968 p. 17: Frankenheimer: "...I have a brother four years younger and a sister six years younger..."
  9. ^ Baxter, 2002: "...he had a fitness and determination that allowed him to contemplate a tennis career...he abandoned both tennis and his religion [i.e. Catholicism]."
  10. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 18. And p. 17: See brief comment on a father-son contretemps over Frankenheimer's pursuit of an acting career rather than tennis.
  11. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer's coursework at American University included speech and TV producing, which the USAF accepted as "qualifications."
  12. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer's remarks in quotations. And p. 21: Years in the Air Force, 1951-1953.
    Barson, 2021: "After making training films for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Frankenheimer decided to become a director."
  13. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 18: Frankenheimer states repeatedly that "nobody cared [or could care less]" what he did. He took the equipment home on the weekends to "shoot all manner of stuff."
  14. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 19-20: FCC objection was the excessive commercial content, not sanitary issues related to cows.
    Baxter, 2002: "joined the US air force in the early 1950s. Put in charge of a film unit, he immersed himself in amateur movies, training documentaries and local television work [and read] classic texts on cinema theory and practice.
  15. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 21
  16. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 21-24: See here of Frankenheimer's efforts to secure directortorial position.
    Walsh, 2002: "In 1953 he obtained a position with CBS television in New York as an assistant director and within 18 months of his discharge from the military he was co-directing a weekly dramatic series."
  17. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 24
  18. ^ Walsh, 2002: Anna Everett essay, "Golden Age" quoted here. See article
  19. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 25-26, p. 28.
  20. ^ Pratley, 1968 p. 29-30
  21. ^ Baxter, 2002: "It initiated a brilliant period of more than 100 productions, notably Playhouse 90 dramas..."
    Walsh, 2002: "Between 1954 and 1960 Frankenheimer directed 152 live television dramas, including 42 episodes of the Playhouse 90 series. He is considered one of the leading figures of American television's so-called "Golden Age."
    Barson, 2021: "one of the most important and creatively gifted directors of the 1950s and '60s."
  22. ^ "John Frankenheimer: A Master Craftsman". Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  23. ^ Bowie, 2006
  24. ^ Walsh, 2002 WSWS
  25. ^ Baxter, 2002: "The experience was unhappy - Frankenheimer had grown used to controlling his technicians..."
  26. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 41-42: Pratley quoting Frankenheimer
  27. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 43: Re: "village blacksmith", Pratley quoting Frankenheimer. And p. 47-48: Prately notes his return to "ideas, events, places and themes" he addressed in The Young Stranger.
  28. ^ Gow, 1971 pp. 113-114. See also section 5: "Individuals or Misfits" pp 104--116
  29. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 44, p. 47: the director "disliked" the new title, Gow refers to its "cheaply made second feature" impression.
  30. ^ Stafford, 2005 TCM
  31. ^ Stafford, 2005 TCM: "Bell uncovers the true murderer while making an important decision involving his own career."
    Barson, 2021: "The Young overheated but often potent courtroom drama that starred Burt Lancaster—in the first of five movies he made with the director..."
  32. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 45
  33. ^ a b Pratley, 1969 p. 48-49
  34. ^ Stafford, 2005 TCM
    Pratley, 1969 p. 48
  35. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 47-48
    Stafford, 2005 TCM: The film script "appealed to the liberal Democrat in Frankenheimer and Lancaster..."
    Baxter, 2002: "It launched a movie career that allowed the director, a liberal, who wrote and directed all of Robert F Kennedy's television appearances, to buck the system, and make several landmark social and political works."
  36. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 55
  37. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 80: Frankenheimer explains the chronology here.
    Stafford, 2003 TCM: "John Houseman and Frankenheimer eagerly agreed to do it in-between post-production on Birdman of Alcatraz and preparation for The Manchurian Candidate."
  38. ^ Baxter, 2002: "Birdman of Alcatraz was delayed when the first section had to be shortened and reshot, and, in the interim, Frankenheimer made the hothouse All Fall Down."
  39. ^ Higham, 1973 p. 294-295: "...a beautifully made film about adolescence…the boy reaches manhood by way of anguish…concerned with the theme of the outsider."
    Barson, 2021: All Fall Down "starred Warren Beatty as a callous womanizer whose adoring younger brother (Brandon de Wilde) gradually comes to despise him."
  40. ^ Baxter, 2002: "Frankenheimer made the hothouse All Fall Down, with Warren Beatty as an archetypal, Frankenheimer anti-hero drifter."
  41. ^ Walsh, 2002 WSWS: " "All Fall Down is a fairly silly work...Warren Beatty plays the impossibly named Berry-Berry Willart, a ne'er-do-well son of a quarrelsome middle class Cleveland couple...His abuse of a family friend, Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), leads to her death and the disillusionment of Berry-Berry's younger brother."
  42. ^ Walsh, 2002. WSWS
  43. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 227
  44. ^ Baxter, 2002: Frankenheimer’s “documentary style, produced an intense story of injustice and endurance.”
    Pratley, 1969 p. 58: “This film is almost pure documentary.”
  45. ^ Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “...Stroud’s transformation from a sullen misanthrope into a humane and thoughtful individual.”
    Stafford, 2003 TCM: Stroud’s Stroud’s“life-altering experience...establishing himself as one of the world's leading authorities on canaries.”
    Pratley, 1969 p. 59-60: Frankenheimer offers a narrative in which Stroud’s “character changes completely...becomes a slow, quiet, thoughtful man.”
  46. ^ Honan, William H. (September 16, 1999). "Charles Crichton, Film Director, Dies at 89". NY Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  47. ^ Stafford, 2003 TCM: Remarks on Crichton dismissal.
  48. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 64-65, p. 66: “hired director”
  49. ^ Strafford, 2003 TCM: The rough cut “ran four and a half hours [requiring a] re-write of the script. ‘That's what we did. Then we went back and re-shot the whole first part of the movie.’” Stafford is quoting from a Charles Champlin interview with the director.
    Pratley, 1969 p. 66
  50. ^ Prately, 1969 p. 64: Frankenheimer recalls that the Bureau threatened to withhold any future cooperation with CBS if they sponsered the story. He also cites anticipated difficulties handling small birds in a live TV drama.
  51. ^ Stafford, 2003 TCM: Stafford or Frankenheimer may be confusing USBP interference regarding film vs. TV
  52. ^ Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...Frankenheimer became a major cinematic force with The Manchurian Candidate…its power and influence have not been diminished.”
    Barson, 2021 Britannica: “The Manchurian Candidate is arguably Frankenheimer’s most-respected film.”
    Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “The Manchurian Candidate is a peculiar film, perhaps Frankenheimer’s most important, but certainly not entirely coherent or convincing.”
  53. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 82
    Bowie, 2006: “The Manchurian Candidate (1962) an achievement so elephantine that it tends to dwarf the others in critical assessments of its director’s work.”
  54. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 97: See Frankenheimer autobiographical remarks in Pratley.
  55. ^ Barson, 2021 Britannica: “A chilling adaption of the Richard Condon novel, it starred Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey as American soldiers who are brainwashed during the Korean War in a scheme to have a communist elected U.S. president.”
    Walsh, 2002 WSWS: brief film summary
    Pratley, 1969 p. 81-82: See Synopsis
  56. ^ Baxter, 2002: “greatest screen role…”
    Nixon, 2006 TCM: “Angela Lansbury’s Oscar-nominated performance is usually what is remembered most about the film.”
    Barson, 2021. Britannica: “Angela Lansbury, who was nominated for best supporting actress.”
    Walsh, 2004 WSWS: “Angela Lansbury is riveting as the sleeper assassin’s mother...”
    Pratley, 1969 p. 85: “Angela Lansbury is carried over from All Fall Down (1962), again a splendidly possesive mother…”
  57. ^ Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...a creative atmosphere that allowed Frank Sinatra to give what many feel is his best performance.”
    Pratley, 1969 p. 87: “...both Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey give superlative, restrained performances…”
  58. ^ Prately, 1969 p. 97: Frankenheimer: “The Manchurian Candidate is the first film I really instigated and had complete control...” And p. 98: “...I had complete control…” over the production.
  59. ^ Walsh, 2002 WSWS: Sarris quoted by Walsh.
  60. ^ Bowie, 2006: “...documentary-styled mise en scène...”
    Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “...paranoia and delirium...”
    Baxter, 2002: The Manchurian Candidate “is dominated by Frankenheimer's technical fluency…”
  61. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 85-87: Frankenheimer’s “continual visual inventiveness”
  62. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 85-87: “...the script contains no directions for the filming of the masterly ‘brainwashing’, an extremely complicated piece of filming which he devised.”And p. 87: More on shot sequence.
  63. ^ Bowie, 2006:
  64. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 98:
  65. ^ Bowie, 2002
  66. ^ Prately, 1969 p. 100-101
  67. ^ Nixon, 2006 TCM: “The nation's shameful anti-Communist era was essentially over, but its effects lingered, and the idea of presenting a McCarthy-type movement as a sinister Communist plot was outrageous.”
  68. ^ Walsh, 2004 WSWS: “Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate appeared in cinemas in the US at an extraordinary moment, October 24, 1962, in the middle of the ‘Fourteen Days’ of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 15-28), when the Cold War came as close as it ever did to becoming a nuclear catastrophe.”
    Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...both Frankenheimer and Sinatra were close friends of the Kennedy family...”
    Pratley, 1969 p. 81: Pratley reports that the film was released on 27 September, 1962.
  69. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 82:
    Walsh, 2002 WSWS: “one assumes Frankenheimer and Axelrod are making the ultimate liberal statement about ‘extremism.’”
  70. ^ Walsh, 2004 WSWS
  71. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 84: “The Manchurian Candidate provoked its share of rage and anguish...but the film was too great an achievement, both in artistic and commercial terms, to go down before it.”
    Nixon, 2006 TCM: “...a volatile and terrifying parable of American political life.”
    Baxter, 2002: “Box office receipts...were modest...the film went from ‘failure to cult classic without even being a success’”
  72. ^ Bowie, 2006: “It occupies a place in the popular memory as an eerie prediction of the Kennedy assassination a year later...”
  73. ^ Pratley, 1969 p. 98
  74. ^ p. 47 Penn, Arthur Arthur Penn: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2008
  75. ^ "Neile McQueen - My Husband, My Friend". Retrieved April 19, 2014.
  76. ^ Charles Champlin; John Frankenheimer; Directors Guild of America (May 1995). John Frankenheimer: a conversation. Riverwood Press. pp. 103.
  77. ^ "The 41st Academy Awards | 1969". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  78. ^ a b Harmetz, Aljean (April 10, 1977). "Frankenheimer Rides a Blimp To a Big, Fat Comeback". The New York Times.
  79. ^ Armstrong, Stephen B., ed. (2013). John Frankenheimer: Interviews, Essays, and Profiles. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 168.
  80. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (November 25, 1985). "The Curious Evolution of John Rambo: How He Hacked His Way Through the Jungles of Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. p. AB32.
  81. ^ "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  82. ^ O'Sullivan, Kevin (June 23, 1996). "Kilmer Gets the Knife; He's Voted Least Popular by a Bunch of H'wood Big Shots". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  83. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (May 31, 1996). "Psycho Kilmer". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  84. ^ "John Frankenheimer Collection". Academy Film Archive. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  85. ^ "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List". Retrieved May 7, 2017.


Further reading

  • Mitchell, Lisa, Thiede, Karl, and Champlin, Charles (1995). John Frankenheimer: A Conversation with Charles Champlin (Riverwood Press); ISBN 978-1-880756-09-6.
  • Armstrong, Stephen B. (2008). Pictures About Extremes: The Films of John Frankenheimer (McFarland); ISBN 0-7864-3145-8.

External links

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