from "John Frankenheimer, A
Directors Guild of
America, Riverwood Press, © 1995, ISBN 1-880756-13-3
with Charles Champlin"
Film historian Charles Champlin: I think the worst review I ever gave you was
on "The Fixer."
I remember the really great reviews I get and I remember the
really bad ones. I could have almost quoted you word for word
on "The Fixer."
It was so strange, the whole
response to that picture. I mean, off of it Time did a
big takeout on me. I took it down to Arthur Knight's class at
USC, the one you teach now, and they gave me a fifteen-minute
standing ovation. The Time critic, Jay Cocks, was there.
I was expecting that I would have to go out and buy a tuxedo
for the Academy Awards. The Bernard Malamud novel, the Dalton
Trumbo script, how could I miss?
I feel better about "The Fixer"
than anything I've ever done in my life."
- John Frankenheimer (1969)
We went to New York for the opening
and the first review was Cathleen Carroll in the Daily News.
Four stars. But Renata Adler was reviewing for the New York
Times and her review came in -- a blast.
Then the next day there was yours in the
Los Angeles Times and I thought, "Well, that's it;
it's all over." To go from a fifteen minute standing ovation
to that was a big, big come-down.
I'd been in that euphoria you can put yourself
in. Most of the time you can see the down stuff coming and somehow
you're ready for it, but sometimes you put yourself in a mind-set
where you don't let yourself see it coming. There were warning
signs. Dalton Trumbo didn't like the picture at all and he wrote
me a long, long letter as to what was wrong with it. Dirk Bogarde
hated the picture.
And I have to tell you, it was a severely,
severely compromised picture. Dalton Trumbo and I made the pants
too long. I mean, we made a movie that was simply too long and
we had to cut the first part of the movie. Unfortunately, that
part was filled with joy and great love and color, the romance
with the girl, everything in the life of the guy before he was
incarcerated. We had beautiful scenes that all went in the cutting.
It was a mad moment when Eddie Lewis as the
producer convinced me that we should cut a lot and start out
with the guy's arrival in Kiev. We shouldn't have. I listened
to him and he was wrong, but I went along with it. The result
was that the movie was so unrelenting, I have no desire to see
it again. What more can happen to this poor son of a bitch? It's
so unrelenting and depressing that I have no great memories of
it. And it was a miserable experience making it.
were working in 1968 Hungary.
Yes, and it was a terrible place to be in 1968 as you can imagine.
I hated it like I never hated any other place I've ever been.
Alan Bates was divine, but Dirk
Bogarde was mean; he makes life difficult for all the other actors.
We did not end up friends.
On the other hand, I'll tell you a couple
of funny things that happened.
When we made the deal with the Hungarians
they said, "We'll supply all the below the line elements,
but you must use some Hungarian actors." I said, "Well,
that's going to be difficult unless you have Hungarian actors
who speak English. Do you?"
They said, "No, we don't but we have
great actors." I forgot about it but when we were ready
to start shooting they said they wouldn't supply anything because
we hadn't cast any Hungarian actors. Dalton Trumbo was with us
and I said, "What'll we do?"
He said, "I'll write in this part of
a police chief, and we'll cast this great looking guy."
His name was Zoltan, as I remember; we'd been introduced to him.
"And we'll give him one line," Dalton said. "'You're
under arrest.' You can shoot that in closeup and we'll dub it
later." Sounded good to me.
The scene was at a cave where they took Yakov
after he was arrested and where the body of a child was supposedly
discovered. They were going to confront him with it.
The thing was that the mouth of the cave
was, let's say, here on Mulholland Drive, but the interior was
in Palos Verdes. The two locations were that far apart.
Eddie Lewis had come over for two days because
some Metro people were coming to see how we were doing. Eddie
said, "We've got to shoot this scene in one day because
of the Metro people." I said it was impossible. He said,
"We've just got to do it."
So early in the morning I have everybody
at the mouth of the cave: Tom Bell playing a kind of Rasputin
character, Georgia Brown, Alan Bates, Ian Holm, Dirk Bogarde
and, of course, Zoltan the police chief. He's about third in
line entering the cave. We shoot it in a hurry. We're done by
eleven and we get to the interior of the cave early in the afternoon.
It's a real cave, and you had to go down
300 steps to the actual place we're shooting. Terrible. All the
equipment has to be schlepped down' it took hours. Finally we
do a rehearsal and I say to the A.D., "Where's Zoltan?"
The Hungarians had a meeting; they were always having meetings.
Then the spokesman came to me and said, "Zoltan has no lines
in this scene." I pointed out that this was a continuation
of the earlier scene and he had to be in it.
He said it was impossible: Zoltan was performing
in the theater that night. By this time, I had lost it. It seemed
like the sixty-fifth or sixty-ninth day of the movie because
we were so far over schedule because of their screw-ups. I said,
"I don't give a damn where he is. Go buy out the theater
and get him here." Another meeting. Still impossible. Zoltan
is doing Chekhov for visiting Russian dignitaries. I put my head
in my hands, and the spokesman said, "But don't worry, we
will get you Zoltan's twin brother."
"The Fixer" was
the first American film
to be shot entirely in a
Frankenheimer: That's what I said: "You've got to be
kidding." But an hour and a half later down the steps, flanked
by two enormous guys who looked as if they had to be secret police,
comes Zoltan with a terrified look on his face. Except it isn't
Zoltan, it's his twin brother, who is a physics professor at
They had burst into his house
and grabbed him from the dinner table. He obviously thought he
was going to be killed, because here in the cave were all these
people in Russian army uniforms, and even I was wearing my huge
Air Force parka with military insignia on it. If I ever have
to direct a scene with a man facing a firing squad, I hope he'll
look like Zoltan's brother. He was perfect.
Through the translator I said, "Tell
him everything's okay. All he has to do is put on the costume
and walk past the camera."
We do a first take and when he passes the
camera he looks at me as if I still might fire at him. I said,
"Cut! Tell him not to look at me." After eight takes,
I said, "Give me a Russian uniform." I put it on and
stood opposite the camera. If you look carefully you'll see me
there in the background. And Zoltan's brother looked at me and
not the camera and we finally got the shot.
There was another scene, which did not end
up in the movie, in which Yakov has to cross the river and sell
his horse. And there was supposed to be a river man's shack.
We were shooting ten miles out of Budapest, which really did
look like the Russian steppes, which it was supposed to be.
By this time whatever could go wrong was
going wrong, so I was double-checking everything. I had them
put up the boatman's shack in the studio a week before we shot,
just to be sure it was right.
I get to the location. The French cameraman,
Marcel Grignon, knew what the shot was to be. But the camera
isn't set up. I ask why, and Grignon says the boatman's shack
isn't ready. I went to the Hungarian A.D. and I said, "Where's
the goddam boatman's shack?" He said, "There it is,"
and there it was, on the ground, in five pieces. I said, "Well,
get somebody to nail it together."
"That's problem," he says in a
heavy accent. "No nails."
I said, "I'm going to kill you."
I felt that close to it. I said, "Get in one of the cars
and go into town and buy some nails. I'll pay for them."
"We cannot buy nails," he said.
"Must requisition nails from government. Two days."
to be done, it really took two days?
There's no way around it. We had to pack up and go back into
the studio that afternoon and shoot something else. The frustrations
To give you another example.
The beginning of the picture took place in the Jewish village,
the shtetl. We found an old village about thirty miles
outside Budapest that looked perfect.
I said, "I love it, but there are power
lines and television antennas. Obviously I can't shoot them."
They said, "Oh, no; do not worry."
They always said do not worry. "We take down the power lines
and the antennas."
I said, "But what about the people who
live there? They're not going to like it."
They said, "Do not worry. Leave it to
I don't have to tell you what happened. We
arrived for the shoot and I found the cameraman sitting there
totally dejected. I said, "What is it?" And he said,
"Look." And the television antennas were there, and
the power lines were up. I went to the Hungarians and said, "You
said you would take down the antennas and the wires."
They said, "But what about the people
who live there?"
"The film is one of compelling strength and
and a revelation of those who suffer and those who
cause suffering. Anyway considered,
this John Frankenheimer - Edward Lewis production
is a remarkable one."
- Film and Television Daily
must be particularly awful to go through the physical exhaustion
and all the exasperations, and then be as unhappy with the end
result as you became.
It's not good. That's why I flinched when you mentioned the movie.
You couldn't beat the system over there; you simply couldn't
beat it. All Trumbo and I could do at night was go over the script,
and remember how good the book was and plow ahead. And we made
the movie too long and we paid for it dearly.
And Trumbo turned on me savagely.
He'd been involved in every day of the shooting and he knew all
the problems we'd had. But after I showed him the rough cut,
he wrote me that five-page letter I told you about, which was
one of the most scathing I ever received, telling me all the
things that were wrong with the movie that were obvious to both
of us. He'd been there.
He was a wonderful writer, and the blacklist
hurt him badly. I guess it left him extremely defensive. |||