Parallax View, The (1974): Alan Pakula’s Conspiracy Thriller, Starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Paula Prentiss

Alan J. Pakula directed The Parallax View, a political paranoia thriller, starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss.

The Parallax View
Parallax View movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Grade: B+

The screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. was based on the 1970 novel by Loren Singer. Robert Towne did uncredited rewrite on the screenplay.

While the novel followed witnesses of John F. Kennedy’s assassination who were killed, the script shifted the victim to a fictional politician that resembled Robert F. Kennedy.

The story concerns a reporter’s investigation into a secretive organization, the Parallax Corporation, whose primary focus is political assassination.

In Seattle, Washington, TV journalist Lee Carter witnesses the assassination of presidential candidate Charles Carroll atop the Space Needle.

A waiter armed with revolver is pursued and falls to his death while a second waiter, also armed, leaves the scene unnoticed. A committee concludes that the killing was done by lone assassin.

Three years later, Carter visits her former boyfriend, Joe Frady, an anti-authoritarian Oregon newspaper reporter. She claims that others have been behind the assassination as 6 witnesses to the killing have died–she now fears she will be next. Frady does not take her seriously–until she is soon found dead of drug overdose.

Guilty over disregarding Carter’s pleas, Frady visits Salmontail to probe the recent death of Judge Arthur Bridges, also a witness. After engaging in bar fight with a local deputy, Frady attracts the attention of sheriff L. D. Wicker, who offers to take Frady to the spot where Bridges drowned.

When they arrive at the dam, however, Wicker pulls his gun on Frady while the floodgates are opening, plotting to have him drown. Frady escapes, while Wicker drowns.

Frady commandeers Wicker’s squad car, and at the sheriff’s house he uncovers Parallax Corporation documents that reveal how the organization recruits political assassins.

Frady tries to convince his skeptical newspaper editor Bill Rintels, but Rintels refuses to support him. Undaunted, Frady seeks out a psychology professor who assesses the Parallax Corporation’s personality test taken from Wicker’s desk; it’s a profiling exam to identify psychopaths.

Austin Tucker, the paranoid aide to the assassinated Carroll and last remaining witness, agrees to meet Frady, revealing there have been two attempts on his life since Carroll’s assassination.

Shortly after Tucker shows photos to Frady of the second waiter, the actual gunman, a bomb explodes on board, killing Tucker and his assistant. Frady survives by diving overboard but is believed to be dead.

Frady slips into the newspaper’s offices and informs Rintels that he has uncovered the organization. He wants the public to believe he is dead so that he can apply to the Parallax Corporation under assumed identity.

Jack Younger, a Parallax official, tells Frady that he is the kind of man Parallax is interested in. Frady is accepted for training in the Parallax Corporation’s division of Human Engineering, where he watches a montage that links positive images with negative actions.

While leaving the Parallax’s offices, Frady recognizes one of operatives from a photo Tucker showed him, as the second waiter from Carroll’s assassination. He watches the assassin retrieve a case from a car, drive to the airport, and check it as stowed baggage on a passenger jet. Frady boards the plane and notices a senator aboard, but cannot find the assassin, who is watching the jet’s takeoff from the airport’s roof.

Frady writes a warning about a bomb on board on a napkin and slips it onto the drink service cart. When the warning is found, the jet returns to Los Angeles, and passengers evacuated just moments before the bomb explodes.

Frady is confronted by Younger about not being the man whose identity he has been using. Frady ‘confesses’ he is actually yet another man who had been trying to hide that he was registered sex offender, and Younger validates this new identity.

Rintels listens to a secretly recorded conversation between Frady and Younger. Rintels is poisoned by the senator’s killer and bomb-planter, and the tapes disappear.

Frady follows the operative Younger to dress rehearsal of political rally for Senator George Hammond. He hides in the auditorium’s catwalks to observe Parallax agents posing as security personnel.

Frady realizes (too late) that he has been set up as scapegoat. He attempts to flee across the catwalks, but he is spotted by the police. As Frady runs to the reopened exit from the catwalks, a shadowy agent steps through, killing Frady with shotgun.

Six months later, a committee investigating Carroll’s death reports that Frady, acting alone, killed Hammond out of paranoia and misguided patriotism.

Frady is often filmed from long distances, suggesting that he is being watched as well as being at risk and in isolation, operating alone.

Most of the images used in the training montage were of anonymous or important historical figures, such as Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, Pope John XXIII, and Lee Harvey Oswald (in the picture taken moments after his shooting). The montage also uses a drawing by Jack Kirby of the Marvel Comics character Thor. It juxtaposes the concepts of LOVE, MOTHER, FATHER, HOME, ENEMY, and ME. The montage “captures the confusion of post-Kennedy America by demonstrating the decay of values and traditions.

Cast

Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady
Paula Prentiss as Lee Carter
Hume Cronyn as Bill Rintels
William Daniels as Austin Tucker
Kenneth Mars as former FBI agent Will Turner
Walter McGinn as Jack Younger
Kelly Thordsen as Sheriff L. D. Wicker
Jim Davis as Senator George Hammond
Bill McKinney as Parallax assassin
Stacy Keach Sr. as Commission Spokesman #1
Anthony Zerbe as Professor Nelson Schwartzkopf (Uncredited)
William Jordan as Tucker’s aide
Edward Winter as Senator Jameson
Chuck Waters as Thomas Richard Linder
Earl Hindman as Deputy Red
William Joyce as Senator Charles Carroll
Jo Ann Harris as Chrissy, Frady’s girl
Doria Cook-Nelson as Gale from Salmontail
Ford Rainey as Commission spokesman #2
Richard Bull as Parallax goon

Credits:

Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on “The Parallax View” by Loren Singer
Produced by Alan J. Pakula
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Edited by John W. Wheeler
Music by Michael Small
Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release date: June 14, 1974

Running time: 102 minutes