Ed Driscoll

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER DIED TODAY

John Frankenheimer died today, at age 72, according to the Washington Post.

Frankenheimer was a director trained during the golden-age of television in the 1950s, who reached his peak in the mid-1960s with the slam-bang combination of The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds, arguably the acting highpoints of Frank Sinatra and Rock Hudson, respectively. And Ronin, with Robert DeNiro, from 1998, was a pretty good late-period Frankenheimer picture.

But I suspect The Manchurian Candidate will be his signature film–what a combination of action, science fiction, paranoia and Sinatra. Because of its Cold War theme, United Artists was leary about producing it, until JFK gave Sinatra his blessings (“Great! Who’s going to play the Red Queen?” is what Sinatra quoted Kennedy as saying when he told him he was thinking of starring in the movie), but what an eerie foreshadowing of JFK’s assignation it turned out to be, which is why it sat on the shelf from late 1964 until its stunning rerelease in the late 1980s.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Manchurian Candidate during its initial rerelease at the Ritz in Philadelphia. Its audacity and crisp black and white cinematography put the vast majority of the then-current films to shame. And watching it today on DVD is further proof of just how dumbed-down most of today’s Hollywood films remain.

UPDATE: Here’s an AP article with more details about Frankenheimer’s life, which also mentions his drinking problem of the 1970s, apparently as a result of witnessing Robert Kennedy’s assignation. Kennedy was staying at Frankenheimer’s house, and Frankenheimer drove him to the Ambassador Hotel the night he was killed in 1968.