John Frankenheimer

1962 photo

1998 photo

John Frankenheimer was born February 19, 1930, in New York, the son of a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. He graduated from Williams College and tried to become a professional tennis player. He learned to make movies in the Korean War, serving in the Air Force Motion Picture Squadron. After the war, he worked in live TV production for CBS and would direct 157 TV programs 1954-60, including several dozen Playhouse 90 live TV dramas. His first Hollywood film was The Young Stranger in 1957 about youth vs. the father, and the theme of the outsider. He joined the new generation of auteurs Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray and Arthur Penn. He made Young Savages for Arthur Krim's United Artists studio in 1961 with Burt Lancaster as an assistant DA investigating tenement gang crime. He also cast Burt Lancaster as the prisoner Robert Stroud in the 1962 film Birdman of Alcatraz. In 1962, he made The Manchurian Candidate but the film was withdrawn from circulation in a profit dispute between Sinatra and Krim. In 1963 he made All Fall Down with Eva Marie Saint, Warren Beatty, Karl Malden, Angela Lansbury as the domineering mother of young Brandon de Wilde growing up in a small town. In 1964 he made Seven Days in May from a screenplay by Rod Serling with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and Frederick March as the president (remade in 1994 as the TV movie The Enemy Within with Forest Whitaker and Sam Waterston). In 1964 he made The Train with Burt Lancaster as an American soldier trying to stop Nazi Paul Scofield from taking paintings out of Berlin at the end of the war. In 1966 he made Grand Prix with James Garner and Seconds with Will Geer as the evil antogonist to Rock Hudson seeking the American Dream in Malibu. In 1968, his career was at a crisis (see the article by Fred Bernstein).

Soon after Robert Kennedy's death in 1968, he moved to Europe with his second wife, actress Evans Evans, made a few unsuccessful films, and took cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu, emerging as a trained chef. He returned to the United States in the early 1970s, making The Iceman Cometh (1973), and The French Connection II (1975), and the very successful thriller Black Sunday (1977) about a terrorist who planned to crash a blimp into the Superbowl. By 1980, Frankenheimer had reached a low point in his career, suffering from alcoholism, but he stopped drinking in 1981 and tried to return to work with the successful 52 Pick-Up (1986) and the failure Dead Bang (1989). The political thriller, The Fourth War (1990) was not as well-made as The Manchurian Candidate. His Year of the Gun (1991) was a conspiracy film about an innocent American journalist in Rome, Frankenheimer returned to television with the HBO network the 1990s and directed two Emmy-winning films in 1994: Against the Wall about the Attica prison riots shot in newsreel style, and The Burning Season about the Brazilian activist Chico Mendes who fought against the exploitation of workers in the Amazon rain forest. He made Andersonville (1996) and George Wallace (1997) for TNT. His later movies included The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) and Ronin (1998) and Reindeer Games (2000). He died at the age of 72 on July 8, 2002, of a stroke due to complications following spinal surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.


  1. Reindeer Games (2000)[Director]
  2. Ronin (1998)[Director]
  3. George Wallace (1997) (TV)[Director] [Producer]
  4. Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996)[Director]
  5. Andersonville (1996) (TV)[won Emmy as Best Director]
  6. Burning Season, The (1994) (TV)[Director] [Producer]
  7. Against the Wall (1994) (TV)[Director]
  8. Year of the Gun (1991)[Director]
  9. Fourth War, The (1990)[Director]
  10. Dead-Bang (1989)[Director]
  11. "Tales from the Crypt" (1989) TV Series[Director (episode "Maniac at Large")] ... aka "HBO's Tales from the Crypt" (1989)
  12. Riviera (1987) (TV)[Director (as Alan Smithee)]
  13. 52 Pick-Up (1986)[Director]
  14. Holcroft Covenant, The (1985)[Director]
  15. Challenge, The (1982)[Director] ... aka Sword of the Ninja (1982)
  16. Prophecy (1979)[Director]
  17. Black Sunday (1977)[Director]
  18. French Connection II, The (1975)[Director]
  19. 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974)[Director] ... aka Call Harry Crown (1974)
  20. Iceman Cometh, The (1973)[Director]
  21. Story of a Love Story (1973)[Director] ... aka Impossible Object (1973)
  22. Horsemen, The (1971)[Director]
  23. I Walk the Line (1970)[Director]
  24. Extraordinary Seaman, The (1969)[Director]
  25. Gypsy Moths, The (1969)[Director]
  26. Fixer, The (1968)[Director]
  27. Grand Prix (1966)[Director]
  28. Seconds (1966)[Director]
  29. Train, The (1965)[Director]
  30. Seven Days in May (1964)[Director]
  31. All Fall Down (1962)[Director]
  32. Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)[Director] [Producer] [Writer]
  33. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)[Director]
  34. Young Savages, The (1961)[Director]
  35. Turn of the Screw, The (1959) (TV)[Director]
  36. Days of Wine and Roses (1958) (TV)[Director]
  37. Comedian, The (1957) (TV)[Director]
  38. Young Stranger, The (1957)[Director]
  39. "Playhouse 90" (1956) TV Series[Director]
  40. "Climax!" (1954) TV Series[Director]
  41. "Danger" (1950) TV Series[Director]


History Department | Filmnotes | revised 4/8/03 by Schoenherr