The Parallax View
A climate of general paranoia and distrust of the government pervaded the 1970s, reinforced by such traumatic events as: the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; the investigation into the Watergate break-in; and the controversy over the war in Vietnam. The decade saw an increase in popularity for the conspiracy thriller genre, with such films as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men and The China Syndrome offering a fascinating time capsule of the attitudes and fears of the era. One of the most memorable films of the genre was director Alan J. Pakula’s 1974 thriller The Parallax View.
The project began with the book of the same name, the first published novel by Loren Singer, who had served with the O.S.S. during World War II. In the years after the JFK assassination, a rumor spread that a statistically improbable number of witnesses had since died, helping to popularize the already prevalent idea that the murder was not the work of lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald but rather part of a wide-ranging plot. Singer’s novel told the story of journalist Malcolm Graham, a witness to a Kennedy-like assassination who discovers that a shadowy governmental organization called the Bureau of Social Structure is murdering his fellow witnesses. Ultimately, the Bureau pits Graham against his friend Tucker, the only other surviving witness, and after Tucker kills the woman with whom Graham has fallen in love (the widow of a Bureau employee in whose murder Graham participated), Graham kills Tucker. Resigned to his fate, Graham himself then dies at the hands of a Bureau agent.
Doubleday published the novel in June 1970 and the following summer announced plans to develop it as a motion picture: although the company had produced and distributed educational films, this would be their first attempt at a feature. Michael Ritchie, fresh off his big-screen directorial debut on the skiing drama Downhill Racer, was pegged to produce and direct, and Lorenzo Semple Jr. was hired to adapt Singer’s novel. Semple may have been best known for his work on the campy ’60s TV version of Batman, but he was also a respected screenwriter who had won the New York Film Critics Circle award for the cult classic thriller Pretty Poison. Semple gave his finished script, which changed the protagonist from a journalist to a policeman, to Gabriel Katzka, who signed on to produce the film for Paramount Pictures. After Ritchie decided not to direct the film after all, Katzka gave the screenplay to Warren Beatty and producer-director Alan J. Pakula for consideration.
Beatty had taken a temporary absence from filmmaking to concentrate on politics, working on George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, and had not made a film since Richard Brooks’s 1971 caper film $. Pakula admired the “bold sketches and almost impressionistic quality” of Semple’s screenplay. In June 1972, Pakula and Beatty announced that they would begin production on the film at the end of that year. The filmmakers brought a new writer on board to execute Pakula’s ideas for the script: David Giler, a veteran of episodic television who had co-written the controversial film adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckendrige. The Parallax View screenplay, ultimately credited to both Giler and Semple, diverged greatly from Singer’s novel, with the script’s policeman protagonist, Joe Frady, a surviving witness to a political assassination, going undercover to infiltrate the Parallax Corporation, a mysterious organization that recruits assassins from among society’s loners and misfits. Although the script featured elements and a few character names from the book, as well as a similarly fatalistic and downbeat ending, the only sequence that remained largely intact from novel to script to finished film was the hero’s investigation into the drowning death of a witness during a fishing trip to a small town.
The project encountered a major obstacle when the Writers Guild of America went on strike on March 6, 1973. The strike, which lasted through June 24 of that year, meant that Giler would not be able to make the changes Pakula wanted in the script, while the studio insisted that production begin as planned in April to make use of Beatty’s availability. The situation forced Pakula to write the new scenes himself during production—and even during the casting process he made major changes in his vision of the film. Pakula originally saw Lee Carter, the journalist whose mysterious death inspires Frady to begin his investigation, as “a tough kind of older woman, older than Warren, wisecracking, witty, sardonic, a lady like Lauren Bacall,” but when 35-year-old Paula Prentiss auditioned, “looking wide-eyed and vulnerable,” he cast her as Lee and changed the character to “a girl who’s crashed once too often, who was in a constant panic. It made her death more moving.”
The filmmakers first conceived Jack Younger, the Parallax operative who recruits Frady to the organization, as “six foot two, easy with a gun in his jacket holster, that classic kind of man,” but Pakula had been impressed by the performance of Walter McGinn in Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play That Championship Season, and decided to reconfigure the role for McGinn. “You expect, when Parallax comes, to get some kind of Superman figure, and what you get is this little church mouse man with some kind of strange emotional need to pull these people out. And I changed the whole part for Walter, a little man with great eyes.” McGinn made his film debut in Parallax, his subtle, insinuating performance proving to be one of the picture’s greatest assets. Sadly, after only a few more features—including roles in Farewell, My Lovely and Three Days of the Condor— a 1977 car accident would cut McGinn’s career short by claiming the actor’s life at the age of 43.
One of the most important alterations came when Pakula, after encouragement from Beatty and Giler, decided to change the protagonist from a policeman—as he was in the Semple and Giler drafts—back to a journalist, as Loren Singer originally conceived him. Shortly before filming began, Hume Cronyn, who had been cast as Frady’s boss, called Pakula, confused about his role in the film: “In the script I read, I play a police chief, and you told me a couple of weeks ago when I checked in on the phone that I was going to be a newspaper editor, and I just wanted to know if you’d settled on which of them I’m going to be. I’m shooting on Monday.” Pakula confirmed that Cronyn’s character, Bill Rintels, was now an editor, and he invited the actor to his home that Sunday. The pair worked with Beatty and the script supervisor to plan the scenes involving Frady and Rintels, with Cronyn asking Pakula’s wife for scissors and tape so he could paste the new pages together. Pakula saw Frady as “the totally rootless modern man,” and removed a scene from the script that was set in the editor’s home, so that the Rintels scenes take place in the newspaper office, which he saw as representing “much more simple American values, almost 19th century values. It represented a family, a man who was rooted, a whole American tradition that was dying, an anachronism.”
Filming took place from April to July 1973, on locations in California and Washington. The Gorge Dam on Washington’s Skagit River provided the setting for Frady’s fatal confrontation with the duplicitous sheriff, and Seattle’s Space Needle featured in the opening assassination scene (Semple’s screenplay began with a Kennedy-esque killing involving a motorcade, but Pakula found the idea of referencing JFK’s murder so explicitly “distasteful”). Pakula’s opening shot features a pan from an Indian totem pole to the Space Needle looming behind it: he felt the use of the Seattle landmark “made the whole beginning work for me,” with the shot jumping “hundreds of years into today, and there’s the Space Needle, which was like an American totem to me.” The prologue also features a Fourth of July parade, which Pakula saw as a key image for the story. “I wanted to start with Americana. And I want to start with sunlit Americana, the America we’ve lost.” He continued this emphasis on American iconography throughout the film. “That’s the old Hitchcock thing. If you’re doing a picture about Switzerland, use cuckoo clocks and chocolates. In America I used golf carts and kids making faces out of cards and the Space Needle.”
Pakula and Beatty collaborated closely throughout the production. According to cinematographer Gordon Willis, they had “in-depth discussions about everything.” Pakula told his star, “If the picture works, the audience will trust the person sitting next to them a little less at the end of the film.” Pakula would write scenes in the morning to film in the afternoon, and made the film under what he termed “hair-raising conditions,” reconceiving major elements of the film during production, such as adding a tense sequence on a passenger jet.
Willis had provided the moody yet naturalistic widescreen cinematography for Pakula’s hit thriller Klute, and he proved to be an equally integral collaborator on The Parallax View, laboring to make sure that the film’s images reinforced Pakula’s overall idea “to do Parallax in a kind of poster style, like a series of poster images. It was American baroque.” According to Pakula, Willis “never forgot that. Sometimes, right in the middle of a scene, he would say that what I wanted him to do was a violation of what I wanted the style of the film to be. Gordon always operates within a conception of the film.” Pakula wanted “a certain surrealism” for the film, in which he intended to portray America “as it is seen through a distorting glass which may point out more intensely certain realities.”
As originally written, the finale features an assassination during a crowded political rally, but according to Pakula, when he, Willis and production designer George Jenkins visited the location, “it was empty, and they were putting up all these tables, these dining room tables, which looked totally ludicrous for a banquet, an absurd place to be eating. And there was nobody in it except for these lonely waiters setting up these tables. It was terrific with nobody in it. There was something dreamlike about those tables. And [the waiters] were using their little golf carts to go from table to table with their dishes and knives and forks.” Pakula decided to change the crowded rally to a rehearsal in a near-empty auditorium, instructing Jenkins to procure red, white and blue tablecloths so that the assassinated politician “gets caught in the middle of a flag.”
Pakula spent an unusually long time on post-production, working particularly closely with editor John W. Wheeler. One of their most challenging tasks was the creation of the “Parallax test” for a sequence in which Frady visits the Parallax Corporation’s “Division of Human Engineering” as part of his interview process. The equivalent scene in Singer’s novel featured Graham looking at a series of words through a specially constructed eyepiece as sensors monitored his reactions. The scene in the Giler draft was similar, but Pakula entirely reconceived it during post-production. The new version shows Beatty only briefly before switching to Frady’s point of view for the remainder of the sequence, in which he views a series of still images interspersed with words like “Love,” “Mother” and “Me.” Pakula’s assistant Jon Boorstin (who would go on to write Pakula’s 1986 thriller Dream Lover) collected photographs for consideration; Pakula and Wheeler spent four months assembling and editing the montage, resulting in the film’s most famous sequence. Incorporating everything from historical paintings to movie stills to documentary photographs of Depression-era America, Pakula designed it “to rip you into a kind of frenzy of rage if you are one of the people who have been left out of society and to see if you are one of the ones who have been unwanted, one of the tragic people who are the unknowns of society, people society doesn’t care about.”
The Parallax View received mostly excellent reviews upon its release in June 1974. Judith Crist in New York proclaimed it Pakula’s “best film to date a tidy, taut, and stylish thriller that functions as political chiller as well,” while the critic from Cosmopolitan found it “exciting, wonderfully directed by Alan J. Pakula, and so real you can taste the metal of fear in your mouth.” New Times’ Frank Rich praised Beatty’s return to the screen, writing that the star “showers the screen with a magnetic vitality that cannot be matched by any other American movie actor.” But Paula Prentiss in her brief but pivotal role as the doomed Lee received the best notices, with Gordon Gow in Films & Filming calling her “excellent” and Cynthia Kirk in The Hollywood Reporter citing her performance as “extremely effective.” Gordon Willis’s cinematography received much-deserved praise as “beautiful” (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner) and “dazzling almost a show in itself” (Playboy), and although Oscar voters ignored the film, the Giler-Semple screenplay earned nominations from the Writers Guild of America and the Mystery Writers of America. Warren Beatty, who was notoriously choosy about his projects, described it as “an important subject and a film I respect.”
Pakula’s film may be very much a product of its time, but it holds up remarkably well when viewed more than three decades later, both as a stylistic tour de force and as pure entertainment. One of the most striking elements of the film is its mixture of the realistic and fantastic. The plot is often outlandish, but Pakula maintains an aura of naturalism through the marvelously subtle performances he obtained from his cast, an ability he exploited to even greater effect on his next film, All the President’s Men. Beatty brought his relaxed, low-key charm to his leading role, making his character’s fate even more shocking, while the supporting cast provided a bevy of memorable performances, including Paula Prentiss’s heartbreakingly terrified reporter, Walter McGinn’s unnervingly friendly Parallax operative, and Bill McKinney (who had recently played an especially chilling villain, the hillbilly rapist in Deliverance) as the silent assassin. Pakula chose to keep the characters and their relationships understated and implied, rather than overexplaining them. “One of the problems in that film that interested me was sketching in characters that I had no time to explore, sketching them in one scene, and giving a sense of relationships underneath that you never explore but are there.” The past affair between Frady and Lee is only referenced in passing, while there are subtle hints about the relationship between the doomed political aide played by William Daniels and his bodyguard (both the Singer novel and the Giler draft made Daniels’s character explicitly gay).
Similarly, Gordon Willis’ superb cinematography balances low-key, realistic lighting with striking widescreen compositions; his asymmetrical images showing Beatty dwarfed by modern architecture give the visuals something of a science-fiction quality, reflecting Pakula’s desire “to deal with a bigger canvas, man in his relationship to society.” Pakula saw Parallax as “a whole other kind of filmmaking for me. In many ways it’s the most visually stylized film of anything I’ve ever done,” depicting an America “that has become Kafka-like, in which you never meet the bad guys.” Many film critics would compare Parallax to John Frankenheimer’s 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate, but Paukla saw an important difference between the two thrillers. “In 1962, films still had to show audiences that the bad guys were North Koreans. Now, with reality sounding more bizarre daily, it was possible for me to show an American audience that the sickness and perversion of assassination comes from within the fabric of our own society.”
Pakula also viewed Parallax as a means to invert the traditions of Hollywood drama. “In America, most films are about good and evil. But the difference—in the American myth as compared to the European myth—is that in America, the evil is always known. For example, in the Western evil is the guy at the other end of the street with the gun during the shootout.” But in Parallax, we never see the main villains, never learn their ultimate motive, and the hero’s attempt to uncover them only leads to his being murdered and framed as a traitor, perhaps as dark an ending as you will find in a Hollywood film. Pakula felt that his film “takes a lot of those American myths, all the most ‘movie’ versions of the indestructible hero figure, carried almost to the point of kitsch, and says ‘this is what has happened to them.’ The American hero character who can do anything, who can survive anything and expose the truth in the end, has been destroyed. We can’t believe in him anymore.” Pakula observed that Frady “imagines the most bizarre kind of plots, (but) is destroyed by a truth worse than anything he could have imagined.”
The lighthearted tone of the early scenes in the small town of Salmon Tail, with a barroom brawl and car chase (accompanied by rollicking music), leads the audience to expect a more mainstream Hollywood thriller with a happy ending. Pakula regularly subverts our expectations of Frady as a traditional movie hero: one of the director’s many inspired changes was to keep Frady out of the actual assassination scene in the film’s opening. Lee refuses to bring him up to the Space Needle as her guest (Pakula makes it unclear whether she refuses to do so out of spite due to a shared history, or because she genuinely does not know him) and his not being an actual witness makes it much more plausible that he could infiltrate Parallax, since he would not be on their hit list (both the Singer novel and the Giler draft had him actually witness the killing). The film’s ending, however, suggests that Parallax may have been onto Frady the whole time, another subversion of his heroic status.
Even the hero’s name is unheroic, “Joe Frady” suggesting a mocking mixture of Dragnet’s Joe Friday and the schoolyard taunt “’fraidy cat.” Rather than giving Beatty a typical movie star entrance, Pakula and Willis introduce Frady as little more than an extra in the opening scene of Lee interviewing the soon-to-be-assassinated politician in front of the Space Needle. It is difficult to believe that until shortly before filming commenced, the film’s protagonist was planned as a policeman instead of a journalist. The film’s sense of expanding paranoia would never have worked nearly so well with a cop hero backed up by the police department, and Frady’s isolated nature is one of the film’s most evocative elements—the Giler script gave him a longer scene with a girl briefly glimpsed in his motel room when Lee visits, as well as a love scene with a woman who helps him escape from Salmon Tail after the car chase, but Paklua wisely excised both scenes.
Pakula chose a deliberately elliptical style of storytelling for The Parallax View, leaving narrative gaps and allowing the audience to fill them in, much in the same way a conspiracy theorist has to connect the dots between facts: apart from the two assassinations that bracket the story, the main deaths (a framed busboy, Lee, the sheriff, Tucker, Frady) occur off camera. For Pakula, the film “depended on a certain kind of hypnosis to work. And if you stop and explain it to such an extent that you break the hypnotic rhythm of the film, you make it more believable on an intellectual level, (but) the thing that may pull that audience emotionally can fall apart.”
The Parallax View was only the fourth film directed by Paukla (following over a decade as a producer for director Robert Mulligan, their projects together including To Kill a Mockingbird and Inside Daisy Clover), but as he had done with his two previous films, Klute and the seldom-seen romantic tragicomedy Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Pakula hired Michael Small to compose the score.
Small felt that he had immersed himself too deeply in the dark world of Klute while scoring that film, and resolved not to make that mistake again. “I have since learned to be very careful, to keep a distance, to portray but not get overly involved. I always give the audience an ‘out,’ an elegant escape route. That is where artistry should enter into it. After all, fear of what is going to happen next is what it appears to be at all. Perhaps it is really dealing with the unknown, an archetypal human impulse that involves awe and wonder as well. That is why I like films that are suggestive, not specifically horrible or repulsive. To me ‘noir’ style always has mystery and distance. There is the space provided for an experience that can be quite subtle.” Small did, however, feel while working on it that the project had unusual relevance to its era. “I remember when I was scoring it, Patty Hearst was being held hostage and they were broadcasting her statements every day. It was a time where there was a lot of paranoia and speculation about the Kennedy assassination. It was still a very alive feeling in the mid-seventies.”
Small decided to compose an anthem as his main theme, finding anthems “both terrifying and very attractive. I’ve always been attracted by patriotic anthems—and scared by them. You not only have The Star-Spangled Banner, but you have Deutschland über alles. The skewed patriotic anthem worked not only as underscore, but became signature for the overall point of view of the story.”
Small’s score is relatively brief, and he left the opening assassination unscored, his music beginning with an announcement from an investigative panel leading into the opening credits. “The opening of the film was constructed with this very long dolly shot of appeal judges who look so august and solemn in the act of pompously dismissing a case in a way in which the audience senses may be a total whitewash and fraud. Although you might expect to hear ‘official’ sounding music in this type of scene, here there is a strange and ominous tone to it. But then there is a paradox. The music opens up on a certain chord, you’re taken in, swept along, and even moved by it. Something irresistible is pulling at you. Anthems have a mysterious power to move you, almost in spite of yourself. Therefore, in a certain way, the film is exploring conspiracy as skewered, inverted loyalty.”
Pakula was particularly impressed by the way Small’s music helped to characterize the film’s villains. “We never discuss who they are, but they hide behind the patriotic music that whips people up and makes it seem like they’re all American and patriotic. It has a kind of John Philip Sousa march feeling about it, but he also did a trumpet thing with it and it was almost like playing taps for an America that was. It worked on so many levels and it was really what characterized the heavies.”
Small had to compose and record the source cue for the Parallax test scene on a tight deadline— “I don’t think Alan even heard it. It was just one of those magical events”—but the director was pleased with the result. “He started out with that wonderfully simple little folk melody, and then it’s all very simple Americana and terribly innocent. And then it just builds into this kind of acid-rock hysteria.” Cynthia Kirk in The Hollywood Reporter singled out this sequence for praise in her review, particularly its “steely, piercing musical score by Michael Small.” Small even incorporates a motive from the test cue into the scene that follows, in which Frady tails the silent assassin from the Parallax offices.
For the film’s end credits, Small converted his dark anthem into a patriotic march. The director explained that they “dubbed it so it didn’t sound to you like it was marching across the screen. And you hear cheering sounds along with this cheerful music. But you know it’s the sound of evil. It’s being used to make you think they are patriotic.”
The critical acclaim for the film and its score caused Small to be typecast as a composer for conspiracy thrillers—ultimately, it is the genre with which he remains most associated even today—and he followed Parallax View with such other similarly themed projects as Marathon Man, The China Syndrome (for which his score ultimately went unused), Rollover (another Pakula film) and The Star Chamber. But Small did not resent being pigeonholed, admitting, “I find the ‘conspiracy’ genre one of my favorites. The intrigue of it, the topicality of the political dimension can be so intense and involving, it really lends itself to music so well.” Pakula remarked that “we’ve shared our paranoia together,” and ultimately felt that Small’s Parallax, along with Klute, was “one of the best scores I’ve ever had,” and that they “were two of the most important scores in films of mine in terms of the part they played in telling the story.”
Pakula worked with many of the top composers in Hollywood during his nearly three decades of directing features, including Marvin Hamlisch, James Horner and John Williams, and the director felt among the things these musicians had in common with Small was that “they all worked conceptually. I only work with people I feel can work that way. The score can say things that nothing else can say. It can in some ways make you feel inside a character. That’s my favorite use of it. There’s something when the music plays back in your mind, it should bring up some subtext of that film for you. On an emotional level you understand the film better because of the music. Not just feel it more, but you understand it more.”
Small would ultimately score nine of Pakula’s 16 features (Pakula died in 1998, and Small in 2003), the director appreciating his “almost child-like joy in composing and in working on the film.” Pakula openly acknowledged the special nature of their collaboration: “It’s wonderful because you have a shorthand. The other thing I love about working with Michael is that every film is different, which is what I try to do myself. He doesn’t try to go back to old scores for old solutions. He has the same excitement about starting over each time. The best film composers are wonderful dramatists, as much as a screenwriter is. They understand dramaturgy and they contribute to it. Michael really understands that, he really has a great sense of storytelling.” Interviewed in the mid-1990s, Pakula was as impressed with Small’s work on Parallax as ever. “When seeing The Parallax View recently I was again struck by what an extraordinary accomplishment that score was and what it did for that film.” —
The author wishes to acknowledge two invaluable research sources for this article: Jared Brown’s book Alan J. Pakula: His Films and His Life, from which many of the Pakula quotes about the making of The Parallax View were drawn; and Rudy Koppl’s profile of Michael Small in the Autumn 1998 issue of Music from the Movies, whose interviews with Small and Pakula featured many of the quotes regarding the Parallax score included in this essay.
- 38. Main Title
- During the film’s unscored opening sequence, Senator Charles Carroll (William Joyce) is assassinated—supposedly by a lone gunman acting as a waiter—at Seattle’s Space Needle. Small’s score enters after the suspected killer falls to his death: a mid-register pulse, militaristic snare and a wide-leaping paranoia motive mark a shot of the dead politician before the film cuts to an exterior of the Space Needle. Back at ground level, another suspicious waiter (Bill McKinney) flees the scene.
- The pulse continues through a transition to an announcement issued several months later by a seven-man panel investigating the assassination. The camera slowly pushes in on the committee as its chairman dismisses the notion of a second assassin. Composer Small casts doubt over his speech with the score’s main theme, a pseudo-patriotic anthem that struggles to maintain purity amid the dread-ridden pulse and the paranoia motive. At the conclusion of the chairman’s statement, the opening credits unfold over a freeze-frame on the panel; Small transfers the melody to trumpet, the piece building in intensity through the brief credit sequence.
- 39. The Morgue
- Three years after the assassination, television reporter Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss)—a witness to the senator’s murder—visits with investigative journalist Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty). She informs him that six witnesses to the assassination have mysteriously died and she fears that she will be next; despite her tearful pleas for help, he remains unconvinced. Small’s music reenters on a quick cut to Lee’s body lying on an examination table in a morgue, the ominous pulse joined by the paranoia motive and the main theme. Frady remains silent throughout a medical examiner’s explanation of how Lee died from a drug overdose, the music reinforcing the reporter’s suspicion that she was murdered.
- 40. Sheriff’s House
- Frady follows up one of Carter’s leads by visiting the small town of Salmon Tail, Washington, where he investigates the “accidental” death of another witness to the assassination. After surviving an ambush by the local sheriff, L.D. Wicker (Kelly Thordsen), Frady visits the lawman’s home to snoop for clues. Unnerving flute varies the paranoia motive over a pedal point as Frady discovers a briefcase full of literature about the Parallax Corporation. The cue dissipates after Deputy Red (Earl Hindman) arrives at Wicker’s house; when the phone rings, Red answers, inadvertently alerting Frady to his presence.
- 41. Car Chase
- Frady escapes from the house with the Parallax briefcase but Red spots him speeding off in the sheriff’s car. The score erupts into a propulsive chase cue comprised of taunting country fiddle, biting winds (offering accelerated bits of the main theme) and pop rhythm section. Frady manages to lose a pursuing Red before the cue climaxes when he crashes into a grocery store.
- 42. Testing Center
- Frady visits a psychologist, Prof. Schwartzkopf (Anthony Zerbe), who determines that a personality test found in the briefcase is designed to identify homicidal characteristics. A questioning figure for flute and bass clarinet alternates with a breathy bass flute and harp pulse and electronics as Schwartzkopf resolves to have one of his murderous patients take the test for Frady.
- 43. Out to Sea
- Austin Tucker (William Daniels)—a former aide to Senator Carroll and another witness to his murder—finally agrees to meet with Frady. A bleak variation on the main theme plays as Frady joins Tucker and his assistant (William Jordan) on a yacht, the material unfolding as the sailboat heads out to sea. The cue dissipates when Austin begins to show Frady slide photographs taken at the Space Needle the day of the assassination.
- 44. Slide Art and Austin Sleeps
- Frady studies the slides but is unable to identify the mysterious waiter who fled the scene of the murder. A nagging, repeated-note figure for brass and electronics mixes with the paranoia motive, representing the unidentified assassin. After Tucker loses interest in the reporter and rests on a couch in the ship’s cabin, swelling textures mark a passage in time as the yacht continues its journey. The music reinforces an unspoken tension for Frady standing at the boat’s stern while Tucker and his assistant talk in secret by the bow. Small reprises the main theme’s variation from “Out to Sea” before the boat suddenly explodes—Tucker and his assistant die instantly, while Frady escapes into the ocean.
- 45. Parallax Test
- Using a fake identity, Frady is accepted for training at the Parallax Corporation by company representative Jack Younger (Walter McGinn). At Parallax headquarters, Frady undergoes a visual response test: a five-minute slide show of keywords (“Mother,” “Father,” “Me,” “Home,” “Country,” “God” and “Enemy”) and warm, patriotic images set to music. Small’s disturbing source piece for the test balances benign country-pop and male humming with rich Americana brass, blaring organ and driving, militaristic percussion. The music maintains its steady, insincere optimism (with only an occasional lapse into subtle discord) even as the montage begins to accelerate at a disturbing rate and casually mixes images of death and carnage in among the more nostalgic photos.
- 46. Art in Cafeteria and Suitcase Bomb
- A dread-ridden cue combines several of Small’s motives as Frady tails the mysterious waiter from the Space Needle photos. Nervous bassoon readings of the main theme’s opening figure sound when the reporter first spots him in the lobby of the Parallax headquarters; the villain’s nagging motive from “Slide Art” marks a freeze-frame of his face that clearly identifies him. A warped suggestion of the country music from “Parallax Test” plays as the assassin exits the building, before an intermittent pulse alternates with the paranoia motive for Frady following him to his car. The film segues to the Parallax operative arriving at a parking lot and retrieving a suitcase from another car, the main theme playing cautiously as Frady spies on him from afar. As the man arrives at an airport and checks his suitcase as luggage—for a flight that carries a senator—anguished developments of the main theme for piercing, upper-register strings play against a harp ostinato based on the tune’s opening pitches. The score continues to build tension with this material through shots of the suitcase being loaded onto the plane, before agitated string readings of the paranoia motive cry out over the pulse as Frady arrives on the tarmac and boards the aircraft. A final reading of the waiter’s motive rings out, giving way to a threatening sustain of tremolo strings for a shot of the Parallax operative watching from atop an airport parking garage as the plane begins to take off. (In a subsequent unscored sequence, Frady alerts the flight crew to the presence of the bomb; the plane turns around in mid-flight and is evacuated before the bomb detonates.)
- 47. Gunmen Search
- Frady’s investigation leads him to a rehearsal for a political rally at a large indoor arena. In the rafters above the banquet hall, the reporter spies on Parallax men while political candidate George Hammond (Jim Davis) assists with a sound check and a marching band rehearses several upbeat tunes. Pandemonium ensues when shots ring out and Hammond collapses, with one spectator spotting Frady on the catwalk. An unnerving bed of sul ponticello string effects, bass flute trills and murky winds sounds as the Parallax men make their discreet escape from the rafters after planting a rifle on the catwalk near Frady, who continues to hide.
- 48. Joe’s Final Run
- After police arrive at the stadium, a tentative reading of the main theme joins the paranoia motive as Frady—set up as a patsy—creeps along the catwalk. When a band member calls out “I see him!” the main theme escalates on brass amid piercing tremolo strings for Frady making a mad dash toward an exit door. The cue climaxes just before he is shot by a silhouetted gunman standing in the doorway. (The finished film omits a mournful trumpet solo intended for a lingering shot of the vast banquet hall.)
- 49. End Title
- The camera slowly pulls back from another investigative panel as its spokesman pins Hammond’s murder on Frady. When the chairman (Ford Rainey) finishes his statement, the committee members abruptly disappear, leaving the end titles to unfold over their empty chairs, while Small presents the “Out to Sea” variation of the main theme as a distant, triumphantly perverse march that plays to the sounds of a cheering crowd.—