John Frankenheimer was an American film and television director known for his innovative techniques and powerful storytelling.
He directed over 50 films and TV shows during his career, including several critically acclaimed and influential movies. Here are some of the best John Frankenheimer films that you should watch:
The Manchurian Candidate (1962): This political thriller is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey, the film tells the story of a brainwashed soldier who is programmed to assassinate a presidential candidate.
Seven Days in May (1964): Another political thriller, this film stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and explores the possibility of a military coup in the United States.
The film is a tense and suspenseful drama with great performances from its cast.
Ronin (1998): This action thriller stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Natascha McElhone as a team of mercenaries who are hired to retrieve a mysterious briefcase.
The film features intense car chases and action scenes, as well as a complex plot with surprising twists.
Black Sunday (1977): This thriller is about a terrorist plot to attack the Super Bowl with a blimp filled with explosives. Starring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern, the film is a suspenseful and thrilling ride with great action scenes and a memorable climax.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962): This biographical film stars Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who becomes an expert on birds while serving time in prison.
The film is a moving portrait of a complex and troubled individual, and Lancaster delivers a powerful performance in the lead role.
John Frankenheimer’s films are characterized by their intense drama, strong performances, and innovative techniques.
Best John Frankenheimer Movies
The films listed below are some of his best and are worth watching for anyone interested in great storytelling and filmmaking.
1. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 political thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury.
The film follows a Korean War veteran named Raymond Shaw (Harvey) who is brainwashed by communist agents into becoming a political assassin.
After returning to the United States, Shaw is programmed to carry out a deadly mission, but a fellow veteran (Sinatra) begins to suspect that something is amiss and sets out to uncover the truth.
The Manchurian Candidate is notable for its innovative storytelling techniques, including flashbacks, dream sequences, and unreliable narrators.
The film also features a powerful and memorable performance by Lansbury as Shaw’s scheming mother, as well as strong performances by Harvey and Sinatra.
Upon its release, The Manchurian Candidate was met with critical acclaim, with many praising its provocative themes and subversive take on American politics.
The film has since become a classic of the political thriller genre, and is widely regarded as one of Frankenheimer’s most accomplished works as a director.
2. Seconds (1966)
“Seconds” is a 1966 American science fiction drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson.
The film tells the story of a middle-aged banker who undergoes a mysterious and highly secretive process that allows him to assume a new identity and start a new life.
One of the most notable characteristics of “Seconds” is its striking visual style. The film was shot in black-and-white and makes use of highly stylized camera angles, editing techniques, and surreal imagery to create a haunting and unsettling atmosphere.
The cinematography, by James Wong Howe, is particularly noteworthy, as it effectively captures the sense of disorientation and alienation that the protagonist experiences after his transformation.
Another characteristic of “Seconds” is its exploration of existential themes, such as identity, conformity, and the nature of personal freedom.
The film questions the idea of the American Dream and the pursuit of happiness, suggesting that such ideals may be illusory and ultimately unattainable.
The protagonist’s journey is a harrowing one, as he discovers that his new life is no less restrictive than his old one, and that he may be trapped in a cycle of conformity and despair.
Overall, “Seconds” is a powerful and thought-provoking film that challenges the viewer’s assumptions about identity, society, and the human condition.
Its innovative visual style and its exploration of weighty philosophical themes make it a landmark of American cinema.
3. The Fixer (1968)
“The Fixer” is a drama film released in 1968, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde, and Georgia Brown.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud and tells the story of a Jewish handyman named Yakov Bok who is falsely accused of murder in 1911 Russia.
The film is known for its powerful performances, particularly by Alan Bates in the lead role of Yakov Bok, and for its exploration of themes of anti-Semitism, prejudice, and injustice.
The film also features a strong script and deft direction by John Frankenheimer, who was known for his ability to tackle complex and difficult subject matter.
Overall, “The Fixer” is a gripping and emotionally resonant drama that explores the human cost of prejudice and injustice.
Its powerful performances, strong script, and deft direction make it a must-watch for fans of classic Hollywood dramas and anyone interested in exploring the complexities of social and political issues.
4. The Train (1964)
“The Train” is a 1964 war film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield.
The film is set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II and tells the story of a French Resistance member named Labiche who is tasked with stopping a train loaded with priceless artwork from being taken to Germany.
The film is notable for its intense action sequences and realistic portrayal of the French Resistance and their efforts to thwart the Nazis.
Lancaster delivers a powerful performance as the determined and resourceful Labiche, while Scofield is chilling as the Nazi officer in charge of the train.
The film’s tension builds steadily as Labiche and his team of Resistance fighters try to sabotage the train and outsmart the Nazis, leading to a thrilling and explosive climax.
The movie also explores themes of patriotism, sacrifice, and the value of art in times of war.
“The Train” received critical acclaim for its high-octane action scenes, gripping storyline, and strong performances.
The film remains a classic of the war movie genre and a testament to the bravery and heroism of those who fought against the Nazi regime.
5. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) is a biographical drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster.
The film is based on the life of Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who becomes an expert on birds while serving time in prison.
The film follows Stroud’s transformation from a violent and angry man to a dedicated and compassionate bird expert, and the relationships he forms with the birds in his care.
The film is notable for its powerful performances, especially by Burt Lancaster, who delivers a nuanced and complex portrayal of Stroud.
The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving four Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Lancaster.
Overall, Birdman of Alcatraz is a powerful and moving film that explores themes of redemption, isolation, and the human-animal bond.
It is widely regarded as one of the best films of the 1960s and is a must-watch for anyone interested in biographical dramas or great performances.
6. Seven Days in May (1964)
Seven Days in May is a 1964 political thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March.
The film tells the story of a military coup plot against the President of the United States, led by a charismatic and hawkish General named James Mattoon Scott (Lancaster).
As the President becomes aware of the plot, he enlists the help of a loyal Colonel (Douglas) to expose the conspiracy and prevent a coup.
Seven Days in May is notable for its suspenseful plot, as well as its commentary on the potential dangers of military power and unchecked authority.
The film features strong performances by Lancaster, Douglas, and March, as well as impressive cinematography and a memorable score by composer Jerry Goldsmith.
Upon its release, Seven Days in May was met with critical acclaim, with many praising its taut pacing and thought-provoking themes.
The film has since become a classic of the political thriller genre, and is widely regarded as one of Frankenheimer’s most accomplished works as a director.
7. The Iceman Cometh (1973)
“The Iceman Cometh” is a 1973 American drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and based on the play of the same name by Eugene O’Neill.
The film stars Lee Marvin as Hickey, a charismatic salesman who visits a group of alcoholics and prostitutes in a run-down bar in 1912 New York City.
One of the main characteristics of “The Iceman Cometh” is its strong ensemble cast. The film features a talented group of actors, including Fredric March, Robert Ryan, and Jeff Bridges, who deliver powerful and nuanced performances. The dialogue is dense and complex, reflecting the play’s status as a masterpiece of American theater.
Another characteristic of the film is its exploration of themes related to disillusionment, regret, and the search for meaning.
The characters in the film are all struggling to come to terms with their lives and their choices, and their interactions with Hickey bring their buried hopes and fears to the surface.
The film does not offer easy solutions or tidy resolutions, but instead presents a complex and nuanced portrait of human existence.
Overall, “The Iceman Cometh” is a challenging and thought-provoking film that rewards careful attention and reflection.
Its powerful performances and its exploration of profound existential themes make it a compelling work of American cinema.
8. Path to War (2002 TV Movie)
“Path to War” is a television movie released in 2002, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, and Donald Sutherland.
The film chronicles the events leading up to the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, with a focus on the decision-making of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The film is known for its strong performances, particularly by Michael Gambon in the lead role of Lyndon B. Johnson, and for its nuanced exploration of the political and personal motivations behind the decision to escalate U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
The film also features a powerful script and deft direction by John Frankenheimer, who was known for his ability to tackle complex and controversial subject matter.
Overall, “Path to War” is a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant film that explores the human cost of war and the complexities of political decision-making.
Its strong performances, nuanced script, and deft direction make it a must-watch for fans of historical dramas and anyone interested in exploring the complexities of American politics and foreign policy.
9. French Connection II (1975)
French Connection II (1975) is a crime thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Gene Hackman.
It is a sequel to the Academy Award-winning film The French Connection (1971) and continues the story of New York City detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle as he travels to Marseille, France to track down the drug lord who eluded him in the first film.
The film is notable for its intense action sequences, including a gripping chase scene through the streets of Marseille, as well as for Gene Hackman’s performance as Popeye Doyle.
Hackman delivers a powerful and complex portrayal of a man struggling with addiction and personal demons while trying to complete his mission.
French Connection II was a critical and commercial success, earning three Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Hackman.
It is widely regarded as one of the best crime thrillers of the 1970s and is a must-watch for anyone interested in the genre or in John Frankenheimer’s work.
10. The Young Savages (1961)
The Young Savages is a 1961 crime drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Dina Merrill, and Shelley Winters.
The film tells the story of a district attorney named Hank Bell (Lancaster) who investigates the murder of a blind Puerto Rican boy in New York City.
As Bell delves deeper into the case, he discovers a complex web of racial tensions and social inequalities that may have played a role in the crime.
Along the way, he forms a close relationship with a social worker (Merrill) and clashes with a tough-talking mother (Winters) who is fiercely protective of her teenage son, a suspect in the murder.
The Young Savages is notable for its frank portrayal of social issues such as poverty, gang violence, and racism, as well as its use of location shooting in New York City.
The film features strong performances by Lancaster, Merrill, and Winters, as well as impressive cinematography and a memorable score by composer David Amram.
Upon its release, The Young Savages was met with mixed reviews, with some critics finding the film overly simplistic in its treatment of complex social issues.
However, the film has since become a cult classic of the crime drama genre, and is widely regarded as one of Frankenheimer’s early successes as a director.
3 Characteristics of John Frankenheimer Films
Here are three characteristics of John Frankenheimer’s films:
Political commentary: Frankenheimer often explored political and social issues in his films. He was particularly interested in exploring the impact of power and corruption on individuals and society as a whole.
Some of his notable political thrillers include “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “Seven Days in May” (1964), and “Black Sunday” (1977).
Innovative cinematography: Frankenheimer was known for his innovative use of camera techniques and visual storytelling.
He often experimented with unusual camera angles, lighting, and editing to create a sense of tension and drama. In “Seconds” (1966), for example, he used fish-eye lenses and handheld cameras to create a sense of disorientation and psychological unease.
Strong character development: Frankenheimer was a master of character-driven storytelling. He had a keen eye for human behavior and psychology, and his films often featured complex and nuanced characters grappling with moral and ethical dilemmas.
His characters were often flawed and conflicted, but also sympathetic and relatable. Frankenheimer was particularly adept at working with actors and getting powerful performances out of them, which helped to bring his characters to life on screen.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch John Frankenheimer Films
John Frankenheimer was a celebrated American director known for his powerful and provocative films. Here are three reasons why you should watch his films:
Complex and controversial subject matter: Frankenheimer’s films often tackled complex and controversial subject matter, ranging from political thrillers to war dramas.
He was known for his ability to explore difficult and sensitive topics with nuance and sensitivity, making his films thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.
Powerful and dynamic performances: Frankenheimer worked with some of the most talented actors of his generation, and his films feature a number of powerful and dynamic performances. From Burt Lancaster in “Birdman of Alcatraz” to Michael Gambon in “Path to War,” Frankenheimer’s films showcase some of the best acting of the era.
Innovative and stylish direction: Frankenheimer was known for his innovative and stylish direction, which often involved the use of unconventional camera angles and editing techniques.
He was a master of creating tension and suspense, and his films are visually stunning and exciting to watch.
Overall, John Frankenheimer’s films are must-watch for anyone interested in powerful and thought-provoking cinema.
His ability to tackle complex subject matter, showcase dynamic performances, and innovate with his direction make his films some of the most memorable and impactful of his era.
Best John Frankenheimer Films – Wrapping Up
John Frankenheimer was a prolific and influential filmmaker who made a significant impact on the world of cinema with his innovative storytelling techniques and powerful themes. Here are some of his best films:
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – A political thriller about a brainwashed veteran who becomes a political assassin.
Seven Days in May (1964) – A political thriller about a military coup plot against the President of the United States.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) – A biographical drama about a convicted murderer who becomes an expert on birds while in prison.
The Train (1964) – A World War II drama about a French railroad worker who tries to stop a train carrying stolen artwork from the Nazis.
Ronin (1998) – A heist thriller about a team of mercenaries who are hired to steal a mysterious package.
Seconds (1966) – A science fiction thriller about a man who undergoes a radical transformation to escape his mundane life.
Grand Prix (1966) – A sports drama about the world of Formula One racing.
These films showcase Frankenheimer’s versatility as a director and his ability to handle a wide range of genres and subject matter.
Whether exploring political intrigue, crime, war, or science fiction, Frankenheimer’s films always provide thought-provoking themes, engaging characters, and expert filmmaking.
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