THE PARALLAX VIEW is a decidedly unsettling and convincing one, its chilling game-is-rigged scenario part of the well-turned (and well-earned) wave of paranoia pictures that coursed thru the trust-busted 70s. Thriller pro Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All The President’s Men, Presumed Innocent) directed this unsparing 1974 winner about Democracy losing, starring one of Hollywood’s sharpest blades.
Downscale news reporter ‘Joe Frady’ (Warren Beatty) had been one of the witnesses to a publicly staged political assassination, but had accepted the official ‘case closed’ verdict on who-did-what & why. A few years later, the mysterious death of his ex-girlfriend, a TV reporter who’d also been a witness (and had just approached him, panicking about ‘someone’ coming after her) leads him to pry into her link with that of another witnesses ‘accidental’ death. Frady is ambitious, clever and fearless, but the deeper he gets into his search, the more dire become the revelations and consequences.
Taken from and improving on former O.S.S. officer Loren Singer’s 1970 novel, the lean, fat-free screenplay was written by David Giler (Southern Comfort) and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Three Days Of The Condor), with some uncredited rewrite polish from Robert Towne. Pakula keeps the pace swift, tension palpable. He stages exciting action scenes: the dramatic opener atop Seattle’s iconic Space Needle; Beatty’s bar-busting fight with a hooligan deputy; a death duel beneath a dam; the final nail-biting showdown in a stadium. Beatty’s in fine form, keeping any temptation to coast on cuteness at bay, giving his crusader a truth-seekers zeal marked with a survivor’s caution, and he’s physically impressive in that fist, feet & furniture fracas with the lunkhead lawman. Whether guts and smarts will suffice against the minions of the Parallax Corporation is a question, hanging in the air like an electric charge, exemplified by the satanic twinkle in the eyes of its ‘talent’ scout played by Walter McGinn.
Michael Small did the suitably ominous music; he had a knack for composing scores to tick up tension—Klute, Marathon Man, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Stepford Wives, The Star Chamber.
Not a big hit at the time with a gross of $4,800,000 only reaching 64th in ’74, renewed views of ‘View‘ have helped its reputation grow over decades filled with ever-greater public skepticism about who really runs things and what they’ll do to ensure they’ll keep on doing so. In the 2020s twilight panic zone when belfry-hatched conspiracy theories have gone into the outer limits of lunacy, it may not be comforting but at least is sobering to remember that sometimes faith gets shaken for a reason.
The threatened and the threatening: Hume Cronyn, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels, Kelly Thordsen, Bill McKinney, Anthony Zerbe, Jim Davis, Earl Hindman, Kenneth Mars, Jo Ann Harris, Ford Rainey. 102 minutes.