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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Conspiracy Movies, Part 2 (originally published 8/97)

Last week I recommended some vintage conspiracy movies, the kind of films that would be considered required viewing by Mel Gibson's character in "Conspiracy Theory." In the intervening week I'm happy to report that I've once again managed to elude the clutches of the jackbooted government thugs, the international Communist conspiracy, the aliens who landed at Roswell, and the guys who shot Kennedy. Assuming that you've done the same, let's take this opportunity to round out our list of conspiracy films while we still can.

"The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946). Conspiracies come in all sizes. James M. Cain specialized in telling stories about the small, seamy variety. In this film adaptation of Cain's sordid novel, John Garfield stars as a drifter who takes a job at a diner in order to be close to the owner's sexy wife (Lana Turner). For a time, the two carry on a torrid affair under the oblivious nose of the husband. Finally, unable to tolerate the cheerful benevolence of the man they've betrayed, they plot his murder.

"The Groundstar Conspiracy" (1972). There's an explosion at a secret space project called "Groundstar." The only survivor is a young man (Michael Sarrazin) who is believed to have been in the process of stealing classified information from the project at the time of the explosion. He can't confirm that, however, because the concussion of the blast has left him with amnesia. The project's no-nonsense security chief (George Peppard) is convinced that there's more here than meets the eye and is doggedly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. If I tell you any more, I'll spoil it for you. I shouldn't even tell you that it was based on a novel by L. P. Davies called "The Alien," but I will, just to pique your interest. This gripping and stylish little gem has been unjustly overlooked, and deserves to be rediscovered.

"Blow Out" (1981). Here's a tasty little paranoid fantasy for those of you who enjoy lively visuals. It's from director Brian DePalma at the height of his "look Ma, I'm directing" period. Having paid tribute in his own way to Alfred Hitchcock in "Dressed To Kill," (1980), DePalma here attempts a variation on Michelangelo Antonioni's classic "Blow-Up" (1966), in which a photographer accidentally captures what might be a murderer in the background of one of his pictures. Here we have a movie sound recordist (John Travolta), who accidentally records an auto accident involving a prominent politician. There's a tire blowout on the recording, but there's also another sound just before the tire blows. Was it a gunshot?

"Silkwood" (1983). It's been a while since Karen Silkwood died, so perhaps I should recapitulate the story. These are the facts: Silkwood worked at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Plutonium Recycling Facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. She became concerned about what she believed to be inadequate safety precautions at the plant. While driving to meet with New York Times reporter David Burnham to go public with her story, she died in a car crash. All manner of speculation surrounded these facts, most of it centering around allegations of foul play on the part of the company against a potential whistle-blower. Writers Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen and director Mike Nichols took this real-life conspiracy theory and adapted it for the screen. The first-rate cast included Meryl Streep as Silkwood, Kurt Russell as her boyfriend, and Cher as her best friend.

"The Package" (1989). Sergeant Johnny Gallagher (Gene Hackman) is supposed to deliver a prisoner (Tommy Lee Jones) from Germany to the United States, but along the way the prisoner escapes. Frustrated at losing his "package," and finding himself in deeper and deeper trouble, Gallagher determines to track the man down. His search, however, leads him to more than he bargained for. It seems that military men on both sides of the Cold War are in collusion with each other. Their common goal is to forestall the imminent outbreak of peace, which could adversely affect their careers.

I was also going to recommend a wildly paranoid classic film noir from director Fritz Lang called "Ministry of Fear" (1944), but I discovered to my horror that it has not been released on video. Of course, they'll claim that it's because of copyright clearances or print availability. Personally, I think it's a plot.

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