Saturday, January 04, 2014

cinema obscura: John Frankenheimer's "The Fixer" (1968)


By all appearances, a noteworthy "prestige" production - made by MGM in the late-'60s, when the studio was having one of its many tumultuous periods - has evaporated: John Frankenheimer's splendid version of Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer," starring Alan Bates in the title role.

Adapted with fidelity by Dalton Trumbo (the '50s blacklisted writer who returned to the scene via Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus," thanks to the intervention of star Kirk Douglas), "The Fixer" stars Oscar nominee Bates as Yakov Bog, a peasant Russian-Jewish handyman who becomes a victim of anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia when he's charged with a crime that he did not commit - the "ritual murder" of a Gentile child in Klev.

The film vividly traces his journey from pariah to eventual hero, detailing the tortures, indignities and humiliations that Yakov suffers along the way.

Frankenheimer gives himself over to this alien milieu with his usual artistic and humanistic abandon, offering a masterfully mordant exploration of what it takes to live and survive. Abetting him are sterling (and stirring) performances from a varied, top-notch cast - Elizabeth Hartman, Hugh Griffith, Georgia Brown, Dirk Bogarde, Ian Holm, Carol White, David Opatoshu, Murray Melvin, David Warner and, of course, Alan Bates.

10 comments:

Jeff Taylor said...

I can't believe these films are lost. Thanks for reminding me of them. I was always a fan of both Frankenheimer and Bates.

r. cohen said...

Nice to read about this film and its talented director. You captured his mise-en-scene perfectly, but lest we forget, "The Fixer" also worked in the realm of that one word: “Entertainment.”

Frankenheiimer did some nice turns directing noth anthology and episodic television before moving to theatrical features. But his featurer film work is particularly noteworthy.

Brian said...

I'm gladthat r. cohen brought up Frankenheimer's slant on mise-en-scene, since that aspect of his work is rarely addressed and he's never been considered an auteur. Here's Sarris on auteurism: “film analysis on an auteurist board would be focused” on “style” — personal style and stylistic flair–and on thematic consistency (Sarris, 1968, pp. 30-33), not particularly “mise-en-scene and how it functions,” although this typically would take up some considerable part of the focus on “style.”

Stephen said...

On Frankenheimer films, I think the really outstanding one that people are least likely to be familiar with is “The Iceman Cometh,” a work, I think, of a pitch perfect moral gravity that I think involves not just obtaining great performances (as say Lumet might do) but stylistically orchestrating them into a taut and seamless flow of meaning and emotion.

Jeremy said...

Generally, Frankenheimer certainly sustained a level of craftsmanship which has some relationship to an older Hollywood even though he is firmly of a more modern era, and it’s not of the kind one sees much of now. I am surprised that he hasn't been rated well as a visual stylist–he’s not that negligible in that regard. For example, he was quite capable of composing a shot which was not only attractive but had different elements working in different parts of the frame, sometimes in foreground and background, the kind of thing one associates more with classical directors than a newer Hollywood (I remember observing this in “The Birdman of Alcatraz” even though the movie did not affect me as it did a lot of people). For me, his limitations show more in a relative lack of depth. These are mostly handsome mainstream films, sympathetically aware of character and relationships if not that penetrating about these things and rarely very surprising.

Julian said...

At the end of the day, there will always be The Manchurian Candidate.

Joseph B. said...

I've been hoping for a DVD release of this film for years. Frankenheimer (RIP) was such an underrated director. This film and "The Challenge" from '82 are the only ones of his I've not been able to see. Thanks for writing about it!

joe baltake said...

"The Fixer" is quite something, and it’s visually one of the most interesting films Frankenheimer ever made. The locations are stupendous, and Frankenheimer, I think, was a filmmaker who rarely utilized location work. He exploited them perhaps only here and in "The Train."

Tom said...

Saw this movie while vacationing in Estonia. Couldn't stop watching.

wwolfe said...

Thanks for bringing this movie to my attention. I'm a fan of Frankenheimer, so I was surprised to realize that I'd never even heard of this movie. It's amazing how quickly a movie like this can vanish.