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Savant Review:

The Parallax View
Paramount Home Video
1974, Color, 2.35x1 Panavision (16x9 enhanced) Single Layer / Dolby Digital English Mono, French Mono
Starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Paula Prentiss and William Daniels
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Writing credits David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Produced and Directed by Alan J. Pakula

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Joe Frady has this problem. An investigative reporter, he's closing in on the story of a lifetime, a political conspiracy of monstrous proportions. If he can get the facts, and break the story - why, it will make him the most famous newsman of the century. Nothing can stop a righteous American's fight for justice, right?

The period immediately following Watergate provided the perfect mood for a paranoid political conspiracy film. The break-ins, the 'dirty tricks,' the petty conniving of the President's Men resembled nothing less than a bush-league Impossible Missions Force at work. With the conspiracy theorists of the time gaining momentum with screen help from the likes of Executive Action and The Day of the Jackal, the ultimate paranoia of Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View seemed completely credible.


Warren Beatty plays Joe Frady, an ambitious reporter who assembles a paranoid theory of his own, after an assassination atop Seattle's Space Needle. Fellow witnesses to the killing are becoming the victims of all-too coincidental accidents, and, with the aid of fretful Paula Prentiss, recluse William Daniels, and publisher Hume Cronyn, Joe discovers evidence that a mysterious corporation called Parallax may be in the business of recruiting assassins. He concocts a daring plan to penetrate Parallax on his own, matching his wits against an organization that seemingly makes no mistakes, and allows no loose ends.

The Parallax View is a model of intelligent, nerve-jarring suspense. There are some lighter scenes, a bar fight and a car chase with the obligatory early-70's car-vaults-through-the-air shot, but even these run against expectation. One never gets a handle on whether Frady is the motivator of his own actions, or is merely being led down a well-concealed path by shadowy Parallax operatives. This also may be the only Beatty movie where he doesn't bed the leading lady - in fact, there's nary a leading lady in sight. Lots of thrillers attempt a millieu where you 'can't trust anyone, or any thing:' Parallax is one paranoid fantasy that delivers.

The centerpiece of the show is the disturbing and unique 'Parallax Test' film. It's covered in a DVD Savant entry, THE PARALLAX VIEW: the Incredible Montage . The sophisticated visual manipulations and mind-games the film-within-a-film plays with Frady's head (and ours) are a blood-chilling summation of all the themes of American political psychosis. The logical relativity of raw concepts - God, guns, brutal fathers, suffering mothers, red meat, race lynchings, Nazi tyrants and comicbook superheroes - become just so many emotional buttons in a cinema machine that can control the minds of men. It's fantastic, but credible just the same - one can almost feel the Parallax Test tapping into one's brain.

After its late, clumsy start in DVD (few 16:9 transfers, a mono soundtrack for War of the Worlds), Paramount Home Video has done a bang-up job with Parallax. The transfer is indeed widescreen enhanced 16:9, the feature which makes DVD really worth the hype. There are some minor gripes to be seen involving a scanline shimmer here and there, but by and large the transfer is terrific on this 25 year old film.

The almost complete lack of supplements is a disappointment for a film that raises such anxiety and curiosity. There is an excellent, dialog-driven, non-spoiler trailer that is far superior to 90% of today's coming attractions. There is also a French language track, and that's about it. The audio is clear and sharp mono.

Two more notes. Seen Pan 'n Scan on cable television, The Parallax View was an incomprehensible blur. Cinematographer Gordon Willis effectively uses long lenses and shallow focus to visually isolate Joe Frady in Escher-like patterns of steel and glass. Beatty is often placed to the extreme left or right of the Panavision screen, in complex compositions where it takes a second just to find him. Like most letterboxed movies, this transfer doesn't show the entire width of the frame, and a number of scenes suffer for it. The swastika disturbingly displayed next to a picture of George Washington in a brief shot in the Parallax Test sequence is half-cropped off the screen. I only noticed the swastika at a museum showing in 35mm; here even an attentive viewer might miss it entirely. Even with this cropping, however, Paramount's DVD makes Parallax'es murkier scenes look clearer than I've ever seen them before.

Tired of thrillers that substitute eye candy for logic, and mechanical mayhem for tension and jeopardy? You might find The Parallax View something unique. And if you are at all sensitive to the persuasive power of propaganda, you'll find it fascinating.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Parallax View rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Good
Supplements: Poor
Packaging: Keep-Case
Reviewed: June 26, 1999

(Note: when this article was moved from the DVD Resource site to DVD Savant, it had 3,226 hits that are not reflected in the tally on this page. 10/21/00)

See also
THE PARALLAX VIEW:the Incredible Montage,
a Savant Essay about this film.

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 1997-2001 Glenn Erickson

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