The opening is composed with what Dreyer once called "a feeling for the strong vertical," the camera reveals Seattle's Space Needle tower behind a totem pole, where the senator's murder occurs in the midst of Independence Day pageantry. A commission of executives, boxed-in by the frame, announces the dearth of "evidence of a wider conspiracy," yet these are Watergate times, and Alan J. Pakula presents his inquiry as a necessary act of "irresponsible speculation." Six witnesses to the assassination have turned up dead, news reporter Paula Prentiss materializes from behind a glowing curtain as the seventh victim, moments later she's lying on the blueish morgue slab. Shaggy muckraker Warren Beatty negotiates a new identity with Kenneth Mars at the amusement park's ersatz Union Pacific ride, and starts his own investigation; a bar brawl has a flavor of Shane while Out of the Past figures in the fishing-rod laceration by the roaring dam, Nature itself is infected by paranoia. The path leads to four-star skullduggery at the Parallax Corporation, where finding conspiracy operators is a rigorous business and Lang's dictum ("Someone is out to get me") is imprinted on personality questionnaires. The survey is just half the road to enter the company, the other half lies in Pakula's bravura centerpiece of Kuleshovian perception -- the indoctrination collage, a meteor-shower of images and words ("COUNTRY," piles of cash, "MOTHER," apple-pie, KKK, "HAPPINESS," porn mags, lynching) shot through the applicant's brains until "ME" is Thor in the land of Washington and Hitler. The challenge is to reconsider The Manchurian Candidate (and Seconds) in a cold, sober light, Pakula and Gordon Willis' cinematography wring the ominous from the ordinary with utter severity: Engulfing architecture, the bomb warning scribbled on a napkin, the cup of coffee that exterminates Hume Cronyn. All of the decade's political distrust and self-scrutiny is funneled into the pitiless climax, with Yankee Doodle trumpeting in the empty auditorium while unsavory dealings fill the roof girders above -- a nation awakening to systematic darkness and clarity. With William Daniels, Anthony Zerbe, and Walter McGinn.
--- Fernando F. Croce