5/10
THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE (Stanley Kramer, 1977) **
4 August 2007
Kramer, first as a producer and then a director, had been at the forefront in dealing with important social themes in Hollywood (THE DEFIANT ONES [1958], ON THE BEACH [1959], INHERIT THE WIND [1960] and JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG [1961] were his best films); by the late 60s, however, his particular brand of investigative style went out-of-date. In its place – largely in the wake of the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations – the Kafkaesque political thriller became fashionable; unsurprisingly, Kramer decided to try his hand at this as well – but the end result proved middling at best.

He certainly had his heart in the right place by choosing Gene Hackman, one of the finest actors of his generation, for the lead role – having already appeared in such superb pieces of alienation and paranoia as Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION (1974) and Arthur Penn's NGHT MOVES (1975). His supporting cast looks impressive enough on paper, but they're given little to do: Candice Bergen (who's supposedly decorous here but is saddled with a highly unbecoming wig!), Richard Widmark (appropriately craggy in the role of a leading member of the secret organization), Mickey Rooney (amusingly cantankerous as Hackman's prison pal), Edward Albert (playing Widmark's young, ambitious and confrontational sidekick, thus making an interesting foil for the world-weary Hackman) and, in perhaps the least rewarding part of the lot, Eli Wallach (as Hackman's 'job' co-ordinator).

The film looks good but is bogged down by a rather icky central romance and the deliberate obliqueness of its narrative (starting with the hokey credit sequence). The effectively ironic revelation, then, is unfortunately followed by a number of other less convincing (not to say unwarranted) plot twists in quick succession – the last of which even rips off GET CARTER (1971)!
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