In that golden period of early 1970s cinema, three films: KLUTE, THE PARALLAX VIEW and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, took us deep into an America of paranoia, corruption, political assassination, conspiracy and murder, courtesy of ALAN J. PAKULA.
In the first half of the 1970s, peerless director Alan J. Pakula, along with the award-winning cinematographer Gordon Willis, thrillingly showed us the dark heart of a country that was in the middle of a war and still reeling from the loss of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
In 1971, Donald Sutherland’s titular detective was paired with Jane Fonda’s prostitute Bree to winning effect in KLUTE. A mystery of a disappeared friend that hinges on a connection to a New York call girl is all Sutherland’s John Klute has to go on.
But as he becomes more and more immersed in Bree’s world, he uncovers a possible string of murders. Suicide, drug addiction, and voyeurism all feature in this brilliant depiction of a New York underbelly that no one wants to really see. Donald Sutherland is as terrific as ever in this and Jane Fonda won the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar that year for her tough and sensual performance.
1974 saw Warren Beatty’s journalist Joe Frady in THE PARALLAX VIEW, woken from his slumber of sleeping around and writing not very good articles for his editor Hume Cronyn, by the return of his ex-girlfriend, chillingly and beautifully played in one devastating scene of increasing unease by Paula Prentiss.
Her brief arrival back into Frady’s life is the catalyst that sends him on an ever darker journey to unravel a mystery which ultimately leads to the mighty Parallax Corporation – a company where brainwashing and possible assassin training are the order of the day behind the scenes. A fantastically cruel but telling ending (that Beatty echoed years later in his own political satire Bulworth) makes this one of the truly great films of the 70s.
PAKULA’s triumvirate was completed in bravura style in 1976 with ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. The greatest film about crusading journalism, sees Robert Redford’s superb Bob Woodward eventually, dynamically, team up with Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant Carl Bernstein, to expose the vast horror of the Watergate scandal and bring Nixon to his knees.
With a perfect cast that includes Jane Alexander as the book-keeper who holds the key to the money trail, Hal Holbrook as Woodward’s secret weapon ‘Deep Throat’ and Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning turn as The Washington Post’s acerbic editor Ben Bradlee, this is intelligent film-making of the highest order. William Goldman rightly won an Oscar too for his pitch-perfect screenplay, summed in Jason Robards’ killer line right before the two reporters break the story of their lives:
“Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.”
So if you’re feeling like a weekend of watching classy, well written, terrifically executed movies, uncover these ALAN J. PAKULA gems and enter a gorgeous, shadowy world of paranoia that’s never really been equalled.