John Frankenheimer

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John Frankenheimer

John Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) was a film and television director, and American producer. Winner of numerous international awards for his classically considered films.

John_Frankenheimer’s Biography

First years

He was born in New York, being the son of a Jewish father of German origin and an Irish Catholic mother. He grew up in the Catholic faith, which he abandoned as an adult. He graduated from Williams College in Williamstown Massachusetts in 1951. He served in the Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant in the Korean War, directing films for the Air Force.

Once he finished military service, he began his career as a director on television. In the 1950s, he made about 140 episodes of the Playhouse 90, Climax and Danger series.

Film career

His debut on the big screen came in 1957 with The Young Stranger, starring James MacArthur as the young rebel. This first film is based on a chapter that Frankenheimer made for the Climax series called “Deal a Blow”. After that, he returned to television, until in 1961 he returned to the cinema with a project called Los jóvenes salvajes, in which he worked for the first time with Burt Lancaster, initiating what would be a long and fruitful relationship.

The man from Alcatraz

His next project, The Man of Alcatraz, was the product of Lancaster’s insistence. The actor, also a producer, had started the project in 1961 with another director, but he fired him and asked Frankenheimer to take charge of the shoot.

One of the problems of The Man of Alcatraz was the extension of the script. In fact, the duration of the film once the filming was finished was four and a half hours. Frankenheimer went into the editing to try to cut the footage and to be coherent. He even had to ask Lancaster to shoot certain scenes again. Finally, the film would be released in 1962, being a public success and nominated for four Oscars, including the performance of Lancaster. After the success of The Man of Alcatraz he would direct His own hell, but he would be fired by the producer John Houseman, although the film finally premiered.

The Manchurian Candidate

His next project was The Manchurian Candidate. Frankenheimer and producer George Axelrod bought the rights to the novel by Richard Condon, a work highly valued by all Hollywood studios. After convincing Frank Sinatra to accept the project, they make sure that United Artists takes over the production.

The plot of the film tells of two veterans of the Korean War, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and Major Benett Marco (Frank Sinatra), who had been captured at the front. Once released, Shaw receives a medal of honor from the government of the United States. By then, Marco begins to suffer terrible nightmares related to the brainwashing to which they were subjected during the captivity in Korea, and receives orders to assassinate a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

One of the disputes between Frankenheimer and Sinatra was the choice of the diabolical mother of Lieutenant Raymond Shaw. The director wanted Angela Lansbury, with whom he had already worked in His own hell. Sinatra’s chosen one was Lucille Ball. In the end, Lansbury would be the chosen actress. The film would be nominated for two Oscars, including best supporting actress for Lansbury.

The movie was not released for years. The urban legend tells that it was withdrawn from distribution due to the similarities of the plot that led to the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Subsequently, the director explained in a book by film critic Charles Champlin, that the real reasons why it would not be released until months later, would be because of the struggle between studies for Sinatra’s emoluments.

Following projects

After The Manchurian Candidate followed with the political thriller genre with Seven Days of May in 1964. A new version of the best-selling book by Charles Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, produced by Kirk Douglas. The actor stars as a general, subordinate to the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played by Burt Lancaster, who tries to lead a coup against the president, who tries to negotiate disarmament with the Russians. Apart from Douglas, other stars that appear in the film are Burt Lancaster, Fredric March in the role of president and Ava Gardner. The film was once again a success and was nominated for two Oscars.

The next film would be El tren, a new project by Burt Lancaster as an associate producer, who for personal differences fired director Arthur Penn and asked Frankenheimer to take charge of the shoot. The director took advantage of the desperation of the producer to negotiate advantageously their conditions. Thus, he got his name to be part of the credit title “John Frankenheimer’s The Train”, the final control in the entire production and a Ferrari car.

In 1966, he embarked on the film Diabolic Plan, starring Rock Hudson, which was one of the director’s most admired films in decades.

Afterwards, one of his most spectacular productions would arrive, Grand Prix, a film set in European car races and starring James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. The film was a revolution in terms of cinematographic technology, which would later be adapted for future motoring broadcasting. The film was shot with Cinerama 65mm cameras and introduced high-speed filming methods, incorporating cameras mounted on cars. Grand Prix was an international success and won three Oscars for best editing, sound and sound effects.

His next film would be in 1967 with the anti-war comedy The Extraordinary Seaman with David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda and Mickey Rooney. The film was a disaster both public and critical, even accepted by the director himself. Better luck had the following film The Man of Kiev, 1968, about the story of a Jew in Czarist Russia. The film had a better acceptance and its protagonist, Alan Bates, was nominated for an Oscar.

His activity had no rest. Immediately after The Man of Kiev, he made The Daredevils of the Air, a romantic drama about the arrival of some paratroopers in a small town in the Midwest, with the performance again of Burt Lancaster together with Deborah Kerr. The film did not have the welcome that the director wanted, although he confessed that it had been one of his favorites.


In the decade of 1970 and in spite of the failures, it continued being one of the directors more requested by the producers. In 1970, he performed I Watch the Road, with Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld. He traveled to Afghanistan in 1971, to perform Pride of ancestry, with Jack Palance and Omar Sharif, and then Prohibited Dreams (1973), The Iceman Cometh, with Lee Marvin and 99.44% dead, with Richard Harris.

However, undoubtedly his new stage began with the opportunity to direct the second part of French Connection. For his knowledge of French culture, he was chosen to shoot entirely in Marseille. How could it be otherwise, the sequel was a total success and allowed him to get the money and credibility for his next job, Black Sunday (1977).

The novel Black Sunday is the only work of Thomas Harris that is not of the series relative to Hannibal Lecter. The script tells the story of a Mossad agent (Robert Shaw, in the film) who tries to catch a Palestinian guerrilla (Marthe Keller) and a veteran of the Vietnam War (Bruce Dern), who plan to commit a terrorist attack on the day of the Super Bowl. The film did not have the welcome that was expected.

Decades of 1980 and 1990

A few months after the premiere of Domingo Negro, he began to have problems with alcohol, which were aggravated by the preparation of his movie “Damn Prophecy.”

This caused, among other things, the quantity (and quality) of his films to be reduced in the 1980s. Thus came The Samurai Challenge (1982), The Berlin Pact (1985), 52 Live or Die (1986), Deadly Throw (1989), The Fourth War (1990) and The Year of Arms (1991).

However, he was able to return to television in the 1990s with works like Against the Wall or The Burning Season. In 1996, he directed the adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau, with Marlon Brando, in an absolutely devastating version. In spite of everything, he could retaliate in 1998 with Ronin, starring Robert De Niro, and with Operation Reno with Ben Affleck.

He was on the list of those who could have directed the prequel to The Exorcist, but he died suddenly in Los Angeles from complications following a spinal operation to which he had been subjected.

More Facts about John Frankenheimer

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