A 1974 movie directed by Alan J. Pakula about one reporter's search for the truth about a political assassination, it embodied The Seventies
paranoia about The Government
and Who Shot JFK?
. Played by Warren Beatty
, Joe Frady is one of many witnesses to the shooting of Senator and possible presidential candidate Charles Caroll. It was modeled on the RFK, not JFK, murder, but still. Look out, spoilers!
It starts with the assassination, in which you see a second gunman was involved. The patsy assassin falls to his death after being chased by security. Later a Warren Commission-style committee says he acted on his own.
Three years later, Frady is being harassed by police who want his sources. Then he meets another reporter and witness who tells him someone is trying to kill her. She shows him a photo of just before the assassination, saying a number of witnesses have died. Frady doesn't believe her, saying he's heard it all before and there's no evidence. The next day she's dead, supposedly in a car accident after taking drugs.
Frady begins to investigate, visiting a small town where the last witness died. There, he almost gets killed by The Sheriff
, who murdered the witness and made it look like an accident. Frady has to kill him in self-defense and searches his house, finding strange literature from the Parallax Corporation. It turns out to be a personality test designed to identify sociopaths as part of an employment package. Frady uses a sociopath's answers a researcher friend provides him with. He has another friend who uses to be with the FBI create some fake identifies for him if there's a background check.
Meeting with another reporter and witness, the man says attempts have been made against his life. The reporter shows him the photo of a waiter at the assassination, whom he is suspicious of. The audience knows this is the second gunman. Shortly after, the reporter's boat explodes and kills him, Frady barely escaping it.
Frady plays dead and is approached under his alias. The representative is very impressed with his scores, but has penetrated the background he set up. Since another was set up behind that, Frady appears to be safe and goes for an "interview." Frady sits in a chair with his hands on two clear pads on the armrests, probably for checking blood pressure and skin tension, a la the lie detector. Then follows the most sinister Blipvert ever, with strange, eerily interspersed photos. It appears to be used for gauging reactions a sociopath would have. At the end, Frady has to avoid the wacked-out nephew of The Sheriff
who has been given an assignment along with him.
In the offices, he sees the second gunman from the original assassination, who leaves the building and gets into a car. Frady follows him for the airport, boarding the plane he seems to get on, suspecting his luggage contains a bomb. This reflects The Seventies
, because metal detectors had only just been introduced in that year (1974). Frady learns a candidate for the original senator's seat is on board, who says both him and his rival have angered the powers that be. Managing to warn of the bomb, the passengers get off just before an explosion occurs.
Frady gets his assignment, which is working security for the other candidate. He follows the Parallax Corporation representative there, noticing strange goings-on while the candidate rehearses a rally. He is then shot from the walkways above, where Frady was following the security men. A rifle has been left there, and he is seen from below. Frady runs for the door, which opens to a gunman who shoots him.
In a Twist Ending
, another Warren Commission-style committee announces Frady killed the candidate alone, who he supposedly believed was responsible for the original assassination. The Parallax Corporation was in fact recruiting patsies to be co-conspirators in assassinations and then set up to take the fall. Frady was led right into the trap. It seems the Parallax Corporation was Murder, Inc.
Despite its convoluted, unlikely conspiracy plot, a great movie and Seventies paranoid thriller in particular. More than anything else, this shows The Seventies
culture, in the aftermath of the JFK, RFK, MLK assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate. The movie was released the same week President Richard Nixon
Tropes featured include:
- Blipvert: The montage the Parallax Corporation shows Frady is a famous example.
- Government Conspiracy: The basic premise.
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: Frady finds a clue to the shadowy conspiracy in documents from the Parallax Corporation, some of which are a psychological test. With expert assistance Frady answers all the questions the way a sociopath would, and voilą! he's recruited as an assassin himself.
- Murder, Inc..: The Parallax Corporation seems to be this, whether or not it was a secret government front.
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The literally shadowy committee which appears at the beginning of the film, proclaiming that a Presidential candidate had been assassinated by a single gunman (who has three names, just as Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth did).
- The Other Rainforest: The setting.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The ending.
- The Bad Guy Wins: The ending.