Nov. 1, 2009
The Parallax View (1974)
Grade: 77/100

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels

What it's about. This conspiracy thriller stars Warren Beatty as a maverick reporter at a small newspaper run by crusty Hume Cronyn. As the film opens, Beatty tries (and fails) to gain entrance into an exclusive political event for Senator Carroll (William Joyce). Carroll is assassinated, but it's a good thing for Beatty that he missed the story, since the witnesses to the shooting keep dying in mysterious accidents.

Beatty is uninterested, even after his former girlfriend, reporter Paula Prentiss, shows up at his apartment, fearful for her life. She is the next witness to die, inspiring the restless Beatty to investigate the "accidents."

Multiple attempts on Beatty's life only make him more determined to unravel the Great Conspiracy. The culprit is a corporation called Parallax, whose business is political assassinations. With the help of criminologist Anthony Zerbe, Beatty fills out a lengthy Parallax questionnaire with the hope of securing an inside job there. Beatty is interviewed by an admiring (and creepy) Walter McGinn, and soon is involved in Parallax's next assignment. But can he stop the assassination?

How others will see it. Although ignored by the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, The Parallax View was well received by critics. Classic film fans will enjoy the presence of Beatty, Cronyn, and (briefly) Prentiss, but this movie is primarily for devotees of intellectual thrillers. Older audiences appear to appreciate the film more than their younger counterparts, who are probably unimpressed with the Pong game depicted here, which was actually hi-tech in 1974.

How I felt about it. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 was followed five years later by two other distressing political murders, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King. Presidential candidate George Wallace survived (but was paralyzed) in a 1972 shooting. Thus the subject of The Parallax View was topical in 1974, even though Watergate dominated newspaper headlines.

What the movie proposes is that a sinister, corrupt corporation was behind such shootings. A patsy is set up to take the fall, while the real killer slinks off unnoticed, only to resume his anarchist acts at a later time. Interestingly, Parallax itself has no political agenda. They are neither Republican nor Democratic. They simply offer their services to the highest bidder.

No such corporation ever existed, of course. Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin. But one can hardly blame the mushrooming of conspiracy tales, particularly since Oswald was in turn assassinated just a few days later. If only all of the tragic events in life really could be attributed to one criminal organization. It would make things tidy, and we would know whom to hate.

Such a murderous corporation, if it existed, would wield enormous political power. Certainly too much power to be successfully opposed by a minor league reporter like Beatty, who isn't as clever as he thinks he is. He burns through his nine lives all too quickly, and never seems to learn that what you know can hurt you, after all.