By Stephen B. Armstrong
John Frankenheimer may be the emblematic figure among the New York TV directors who made the journey to Hollywood in the 1950s. Like Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, Del Mann, and Franklin J. Schaffner, he always kept part of himself back in Manhattan. Having refined their directorial technique under the demands of live broadcasts before millions of viewers during the golden age of television, Frankenheimer and his live TV confreres initially struggled against a Hollywood establishment still wary of TV. But gradually they began to transform both cinematic style and the industry from the inside. After an apprenticeship on Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person and Walter Cronkite’s You Are There (he replaced Lumet), and stints on Playhouse 90 and Ford Startime, Frankenheimer’s directorial style of deep focus, long takes, and expressive camerawork coalesced on his first feature, Climax! (which was shot in L.A.), then blossomed on films such as The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. Armstrong, drawing on all available materials, argues against the conventional view of a lengthy mid-career slump. He subtly reappraises underrated dramas such as The Gypsy Moths and 52 Pick-Up, and particularly the director’s mature work for cable TV: George Wallace and Path to War. Evidence, he says, that Frankenheimer still had great work in him when he died in 2002.
Review written by John Patterson.