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USA 1976
Directed by
Sidney Lumet
117 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


This Paddy Chayefsky-penned satire of corporatised television and specifically its nightly 'news' programming is regularly touted as one of the best films of the 1970s. I am less than convinced. Allowing for period appetite for tales of conspiritorial cartels at various levels of society it's all too hyperbolic in its depiction of mindless ratings avarice and too speechifying to have much credibility as a behind-the-scenes look at its subject. On the other hand it is too earnest to work as parody or black comedy. There are observations about rampant commercialism in the media that no doubt are as true today as they were then and the Patty Hearst/Angela Davis/Black Power allusions are fun for those who can recall those heady days, but the broadness of its brush tends only to undermine the effectiveness of Lumet's film whilst of course no one at the time could have anticipated the internet as disrupting the hold of television on the public (does anyone watch television these days?).

Peter Finch won his only Oscar for his performance as Howard Beale, but, energetic as he is, surely it was a sympathy vote. Had he not died two months before the awards, William Holden, who played Beale's boss, and was also nominated in the Best Actor category, probably would have won. Faye Dunaway (in a role originally offered to Jane Fonda, whose dad, Henry, had been offered the Howard Beale role) picked up an Oscar for Best Actress in what is probably the best performance of her career whilst the largely unknown Beatrice Straight won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her impressive but short ten minutes of screen time (Anthony Quinn holds the record with a nine minute appearance in the Van Gogh biopic, Lust For Life) as Holden's cuckolded wife. Chayefsky won Best Original Script in the same year that William Goldman picked up Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on Alan Pakula's All The President's Men a much better 'political' film.




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