Wednesday 16 June 2021

The Parallax View - 1974 film review

I've mentioned The Parallax View several times on this blog, but I don't seem ever to have discussed it in any detail. I've just watched it again (my third viewing) and my enthusiasm for the movie remains undimmed. It really is an outstanding example of the conspiracy thriller. Anyone who has read my Rachel Savernake books will know that I am keen on conspiracy stories (in fiction, not real life) but the fact is that some conspiracy novels and films are all too predictable. This is not the case with The Parallax View.

The film begins with a political assassination. A popular senator is shot while visiting Seattle's Space Needle (which I visited myself some years ago - fascinatingly, it was all but deserted because everyone was at home watching some big baseball match). The supposed killer is himself killed. But we know that the real gunman gets away scot free.

Three years later, a TV reporter (Paula Prentiss) who was present at the scene visits journalist Joe Frady (Warren Beatty). She claims that six people who were present at the time of the killing have themselves been murdered, their deaths contrived to look like accidents. Joe isn't convinced, but then she dies too. he begins to investigate...

I won't say much more about the plot, because you really have to watch the film, save to say that it is drawn from a novel by Loren Singer, about whom I know little. Apparently Robert Towne helped out, uncredited, with rewriting the script, which is lean and powerful. Beatty is perfectly cast. The director was Alan J. Pakula, whose work I admire; this film is right up there with his greatest achievements. Apparently the movie received a mixed reception when it was first released, rathert like Vertigo, another masterpiece. Although it was clearly inspired by high profile assassinations in the Sixties, it certainly stands up very well to the test of time.



Art Taylor said...

My wife Tara and I watched this last--her first time seeing it, my second but after many years. It's terrifically suspenseful and unnerving, and frankly, against the backdrop of a tense political year in real life, it hit a little too close to home in some places. The ending has always left me uneasy in other ways, which Tara and I talked about. Several questions seem to remain unanswered to me (including nuances of motive) but that shadowiness contributes strategically, I think, to the uneasiness here.

We also watched Klute but not (yet) All the President's Men--the full paranoia trilogy (and again I've seen before). Klute is also fine, but speaking of endings, the ending there seems to soften the film's edginess in some ways, stripping it of some of the power that Parallax View seems to maintain right up to the ending (and beyond).

Martin Edwards said...

I agree about the unanswered questions, Art. All part of the sinister appeal, I guess. And a very good point about Klute, a film I enjoyed long ago and ought to look at again.