The John Frankenheimer Collection

The John Frankenheimer Collection
If John Frankenheimer hadn’t directed The Manchurian Candidate, we probably wouldn’t know his name at al. Certainly nobody would have justified this four-film collection, which sadly shows how dull and limited he could really be. Candidate posits Laurence Harvey as the Korean war hero who’s been brainwashed by Red forces (and his ultraconservative mother, Angela Lansbury) to kill key targets, with fellow brainwash victim Frank Sinatra standing between him and political disaster. On schedule, the film shows Frankenheimer’s tin ear for dialogue, taste for thematic grandstanding and flair for complexity that’s not actually complex. But it also has the outrageousness of George Axelrod’s screenplay, which suggests that the McCarthy Right weakened the national character more than communism ever could. After that bracing slap in the face, the rest of the films seem tiresome and turgid. The Young Savages is a faux-liberal hand wringer in which Burt Lancaster prosecutes three Italian-American punks who may or may not have killed a blind Puerto Rican kid. Lancaster, supposedly also Italian(!), wants to crush them before his own investigation gives him pause. This strains mightily to give the impression of clear-eyed intelligence but the pieces fall into place so easily and with so much boring exposition that you never buy it for a second. The Train is a little bit better, with Lancaster trying to stop the railway export of French art treasures by Nazi Paul Scofield — after a bit of blather at the beginning, this does okay as a war thriller without actually grabbing your sensibilities. It’s the kind of thing you watch out of the corner of your eye while folding laundry or unpacking from a trip. Still, it’s a damn sight better than Ronin, a tedious action film made long after the director’s glory days. Robert DeNiro heads a bunch of displaced Cold War operatives now acting as mercenaries and dealing with a mysterious briefcase everybody wants. It’s tempting to read the film as Frankenheimer detailing his fall from A-list helmer to hack-for-hire but as the film is a series of undifferentiated car chases, shootouts and terse exchanges, it really isn’t worth sorting out. There are director commentaries on all films except The Young Savages and other extras include an alternate ending for Ronin, an interview with Frankenheimer, Sinatra and Axelrod for The Manchurian Candidate, and a score-only soundtrack for The Train. (MGM)