John Frankenheimer Collection (MGM) D: John Frankenheimer. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
The Young Savages (1961) w/ Burt Lancaster, Dina Merrill. Rating: NNN; DVD package: n/a
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) w/ Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNN
The Train (1964) w/ Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
Ronin (1998) w/ Robert De Niro, Jean Reno. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
In a career that stretched from live television in the late 40s to 2002’s Path To War, John Frankenheimer created some of American cinema’s smartest, most original thrillers through a strong understanding of both visuals and character.
The Manchurian Candidate is his certified classic, a beautifully written, acted and shot Cold War thriller of monstrous paranoia, loaded with scenes of powerful, tragic emotion. It remains highly rewatchable, even when its brainwashed-assassin plot holds no more surprises.
Frankenheimer’s thoughtful commentary enhances the movie with discussions of acting and his artistic philosophy and reasons behind his artistic choices. Those choices reveal his commitment to realism, achieved through long takes, moving camera and deep-focus shots with significant background action.
The approach is a natural fit for The Manchurian Candidate’s intimacy, but Frankenheimer makes it work just as well in The Train, a giant-scale outdoor action epic that has a French railroad man (Burt Lancaster) trying to sabotage a Nazi colonel’s (Paul Scofield) efforts to take a loot-laden train to Berlin.
The train wrecks and the station bombing are astounding and perfectly real-looking because they are – no miniatures or green screen. The effect is incredible. This time Frankenheimer’s commentary focuses on creative solutions to practical problems.
In Ronin, which has competing gangs of ex-spies killing each other for a mysterious suitcase, Frankenheimer delivers breathtaking car chases and discusses editing transitions and ways of evoking a constant sense of menace.
Frankenheimer’s second feature, The Young Savages, arrives without commentary. It suffers from an over-earnest script and some overwrought acting and dialogue but already shows the director’s artistry, and its juvenile delinquency social drama is lively and entertaining.
Taken together, the movies and commentaries provide loads of fun and great insight into the practical meaning behind that clichéd phrase “director’s vision.”
EXTRAS The Young Savages: Widescreen, b&w. English, French, Spanish audio. English, Spanish subtitles. The Manchurian Candidate: Frankenheimer commentary; Frankenheimer, Sinatra and screenwriter George Axelrod interview; Angela Lansbury interview; William Friedkin appreciation. Widescreen, b&w. English 5.1 and mono, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles. The Train: Frankenheimer commentary, music-only track. Widescreen, b&w. English, French subtitles. Ronin: Frankenheimer commentary, alternate ending. Widescreen. English, French audio and subtitles.