John Frankenheimer’s Service Comedy

I’m a big admirer of John Frankenheimer’s early work from such live TV dramas as The Comedian (1956) and Days of Wine and Roses (1957) to his peak achievements of the sixties: All Fall Down (1962), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seconds (1966). I’ve also enjoyed several of the more commercial projects he helmed throughout his career such as Seven Days in May (1964), Black Sunday (1977) and Ronin (1998). Unfortunately, his reputation has suffered over the years due to several box office bombs and critically maligned movies – The Horsemen (1971), Story of a Love Story aka Impossible Object (1973), 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), Prophecy (1979), Dead Bang (1989), and especially The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), which had a highly publicized and chaotic production history.  Yet the most notoriously panned film of his career is easily The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) and in Frankenheimer’s own words, “It was the only movie I’ve made which I would say was a total disaster.”  So, I finally decided to see for myself if the movie lives up to its notoriety.

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How to Wreck a Hollywood Soiree

You don’t have to go back that many years to compile a long list of Hollywood films in which white actors are cast as Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific islanders, Arabs, etc. In fact, this controversial practice continues into the 21st century with such conspicuous portrayals like Jake Gyllenhaal as an Afghan orphan in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) and Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013). If you were creating a top ten hall of shame, however, it’s a good bet that Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) starring Peter Sellers in brownface makeup as Indian film star Hrundi V. Bakshi would be near the top of the list. Yet, the film is considered by many film critics and movie lovers as one of Edwards’ best comedies and has a cult following that has nothing to do with racial stereotypes. It is also considered a radical departure from other comedies of that time for its improvised, almost experimental approach to the genre.  

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