15 Thrillers From The ‘70s You May Not Know

15 Thrillers From The ‘70s You May Not Know

Sporting the old ‘70s Warner Bros. logo at the top (much like “Magic Mike” did earlier in the year), Ben Affleck‘s “Argo” spells out its throwback intentions right from minute one — this is going to be a picture in the mold of the ’70s thriller, which often came with a strong political bent. Affleck’s movie is also part Hollywood satire which trades in some loose and from-the-hip Hal Ashby tenors, but at the end of the day, the movie is a CIA thriller with a political nature that has upset both modern-day Iranian and Canadian governments.

You already know the big ‘70s thrillers such as “All The President’s Men,” “The French Connection,” “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Parallax View,” “The Conversation” and many many, but the genre goes far and deep. With Affleck’s “Argo” hitting DVD/Blu-ray this week (and very possibly winning the Best Picture prize at the Oscars on Sunday) and clearly indebted to the movies of this bygone era, we picked out 15 lesser-known ’70s thrillers you may not have seen yet. Some are great, others surprisingly far from perfect, some are just kind of flat and uninspired. Consider this the second and third advanced course of genre, assuming most of you have already passed the introductory class.

Z” (1969)
We begin with a movie that technically doesn’t belong, but we’re putting it in here anyway. This 1969 film directed by Costa-Gavras sets the benchmark for the modern fast-paced political thriller, and remains as fresh, exciting, and thematically charged today. There would be no “Argo” if there were no “Z,” and its influence is readily apparent especially on the style of Ben Affleck‘s film. Based on novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, it is the thinly fictionalized account of the 1963 assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis, and from the beginning, the film goes so far as to say that any resemblance to real events is not accidental, and is purely intentional. From that, we know this film won’t be pulling any punches in its indictment of dictatorial government corruption. “Z” is French language, though the city or country where it takes place is never specified, and much of the filming took place in Algiers. The plot revolves around a politician (Yves Montand) who is killed during a riot after a campaign rally stop, and the surrounding investigation that indicates the military’s role and premeditation in what appeared to be a random act of violence. As the outside Examining Magistrate brought in to investigate the events, Jean-Louis Trintignant earned himself a Best Actor award at Cannes in 1969, and he is absolutely riveting, even behind his character’s trademark sunglasses. He is steely, methodical, and unrelenting, swayed only by the facts. During the film’s explosive climax, while he starts to pull all the threads together during his questioning of witnesses, the restless camera moves in and around their faces within a confined space, heightening the tension as he puts every little seemingly random event together to paint a picture of widespread corruption and guilt. He hits the phrase “nom, prenom, occupation” harder and harder with each witness as he goes higher and higher up the food chain, stopping only with the general, played by Pierre Dux. Aside from sharing the same star as “Amour” in Trintignant, like that film, “Z” is also one of the few films to be nominated for both the Best Picture and Best Foreign Film Oscars. The fast-paced and visceral thriller drops the audience directly into the events right away and without much introduction, the constantly moving camera keeping up with its ensemble cast as they careen through the spaces they inhabit, maintaining the electric energy of the events (helped in no small part by the percussive score). Zooms, handheld and tracking shots keep us in step with them on streets of Algiers, or zipping along on a tiny three-wheeled truck with murderous thugs or in a car full of campaign staffers. This taut and tightly wound film manages to be both epic in scale and intimate in scope, and is completely ballsy in its direct address of the inner workings of governmental and military corruption head on, and from a variety of different angles. A classic that has managed to feel as edgy and explosive today as it might have 44 years ago, this is the gold standard for political thrillers with bite. [A]

The Kremlin Letter” (1970)
“If you miss the first five minutes, you miss one suicide, two executions, one seduction and the key to the plot,” boasted the 20th Century Fox poster for John Huston’s Cold War espionage thriller. And it’s true, the complex and ultimately convoluted plot of “The Kremlin Letter” has so much going on you need a scorecard to keep up, but by then it’s hard to care about what happens to this cast of characters during the bitter betrayals that follow. Set in the winter of 1969-1970 at the height of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, the film begins with a brilliant young naval officer with an eidetic memory mysteriously thrown out of the navy to be recruited by an ageing collection of freelance mercenary spies trying to recover a stolen letter that could implicate the U.S. government in a conspiracy with Russia against Red China. Neither side can afford to let this letter come to light and so infiltrating their way into Moscow, they quickly discover all kinds of treason, crosses upon double crosses, betrayals and twists. The team is colorful and includes a drug-dealing pimp, the daughter of a safecracker taught the tricks of the trade, a ruthless avuncular figure and a sophisticated gay man who knits in the middle of meetings. But much like “The Anderson Tapes” (which you’ll read about shortly) this spy thriller co-starring Ingmar Bergman actors Bibi Anderson and Max Von Sydow, plus Orson Welles and George Sanders sounds intriguing and appealing only on paper. The reality is this Moscow-set thriller stars a bunch of unexceptional lesser-known character actors (Patrick O’Neal, Richard Boone, Nigel Green, Dean Jagger, Barbara Parkins) none of whom are compelling enough as individuals or even as supporting members of this large ensemble. As Rone, the naval officer, O’Neal, perhaps the de facto lead, is particularly emotionally aloof (or bored) in an already dispassionate movie which doesn’t help its case. There’s sexual blackmail, sexual violence, perversion and bits of juicy-sounding intrigue here and there, but “The Kremlin Letter” lacks suspense and momentum — its narrative engine is constantly stalled by some overly complicated tangent, subplot or double cross. While Jean-Pierre Melville himself endorsed the film as one of the best of its genre, it’s far from it. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” or “All The President’s Men” this is not. [C-]

The Offence” (1972)
While many of Sidney Lumet’s films centered around the police dealt with corruption, this curious, minimal entry asked what would happen if an officer was compromised by something from within his own mind. Starring Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson, “The Offence” opens with a slo-mo sequence that would make Zack Snyder proud, with the detective savagely beating and killing a suspect in an interrogation room. The movie then jumps back, and in the first half hour, shows us the events leading up to what we’ve just seen. Johnson and the rest of the department are looknig for a serial child molester preying on local children, and after an exhaustive manhunt, they bring in somebody who Johnson and even his colleagues think may be their man — based not on evidence, but on their gut instinct. Johnson is so determined to get an answer he winds up killing the suspect. From there the film really only has two more long extended scenes. In one, which nearly grinds the film to a halt, Johnson returns home and gets into a domestic squabble with his wife who wants him to share his dark secrets and feelings with her and when he does, she’s horrified to the point of vomiting. The next is an interview back at the police station with an investigator tasked with getting Johnson’s complete version of events. Finally, the film closes by jumping back to the talk Johnson had with the suspect and the dark, disturbing explanation for his overreaction is posited. It’s bold, challenging material but it’s ultimately trumped by the time-jumping narrative which treats the revelation as a twist, cheating the film of greater dramatic heft. And while Connery is in great form, the overly talky two-hour picture drags at times and never quite matches the crackling intensity the actor is bringing to the part. An interesting but not entirely rewarding inversion on Lumet’s continued study of law enforcement. [C]

Day of the Dolphin” (1973)
One of those premises that make you wonder what everyone was thinking when they signed on, “Day of the Dolphin” is perhaps now most famous for its tagline — “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States.” This makes it sound like a campy classic, but it’s actually much more interesting than that, and well worth a watch, even if it is wildly uneven. Based on the best-seller by Robert Merle, and originally set to be directed by Roman Polanski (who pulled out after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate), the film ended up as a reteam of “The Graduate” pair of director Mike Nichols and writer Buck Henry, who underlay some knowing absurdity, even if the film is incredibly earnest on the surface. George C. Scott headlines as Dr. Jake Terrell, a marine biologist who, with his wife Maggie (Trish Van Devere, who married Scott after filming) has managed to teach dolphins to communicate with humans. But their backer (Fritz Weaver) turns out to actually be the head of a sinister conspiracy, and kidnaps two of the creatures, Fa and Bea, in order to train them to the kill the President of the United States by attaching a limpet mine to his yacht. Nichols’ refusal to treat the film as a B-movie is sort of admirable, and when you subtract the far-fetched premise (which isn’t that much sillier than “The Ipcress File“), it’s actually a remarkably effective paranoid thriller to sit alongside something like “The Parallax View,” with shadowy semi-government organizations and corporate conspiracies. Scott is committed and winning in the lead role, and the film, while bonkers, is very rarely boring. If only it had ended the way the novel did, with dolphins towing the central characters out to sea as a nuclear war breaks out… [B-/C+]

The Day of the Jackal” (1973)
Probably the best known title on this list, it’s relatively underseen status may come as a result of the fact that this crackling procedural doesn’t boast any name-brand stars. Indeed, Fred Zinneman would later wonder if his decision to go with the (at the time) largely unknown Edward Fox in the title role would be one of the reasons for its middling box office reception. And perhaps it was, but artistically the choice was the first of many that led to one of the genre highlights of the decade. Based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth and adapted by Kenneth Ross (who also penned “The Odessa File”), the film takes place just after the real-life assassination attempt of Charles De Gaulle in August 1962, and dreams up another coordinated effort by the French Organization of the Secret Army (OAS). Beleaguered by their failures and slowly being undone by leaks from within their own organization, the OAS decide to hire an outsider for one last shot (pun intended) at killing De Gaulle, and the man for the job is The Jackal. As internationally renowned for his reputation as his anonymity, The Jackal accepts and quickly gets to work, and the first half of the film is marvel of intrigue as we see this chameleon put all the pieces together for his job, with a cool, calculating head, combined with a hand that isn’t afraid to quietly kill anyone who gets in his way. But as ‘Jackal’ shifts into the second half, it turns up the heat and becomes a manhunt as the unflappable detective Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) is tasked by the French government to track him down. Even running at two and a half hours, Zinneman’s picture moves at a breathless pace, racheting up the tension right up until De Gaulle gets into the crosshairs. It’s easy to see how this film’s combination of stylistic cool and crime-solving realism influenced contemporary efforts like David Fincher’s “Zodiac” or Anton Corbijn’s “The American.” But none of it works without Fox’s chilling lead perfomance as The Jackal, a charming chameleon, who commands terror by the simple measure of his everyman persona. And Lonsdale is equally strong as the foil, with Zinneman’s movie presenting two analytical minds headed on a collision course. Boasting gorgeous European locations and strong combination of action and tactical problem solving, ‘Jackal’ is a must watch, sitting among the top tier of the ticking clock thrillers. [A-]

Badge 373” (1973)
Released two years after “The French Connection,” and quite obviously inspired by it (to the point that it was even based on the exploits of the same gruff New York City detective that Gene Hackman‘s Popeye Doyle was inspired by), “Badge 373” doesn’t quite pack the same punch but it’s still an admirable thriller that tries to capture much of the city’s social and racial unrest within a nifty murder mystery. In the opening sequence, Robert Duvall‘s detective is involved in a raid on a disco, which results in a young Puerto Rican man falling to his death from the roof of the club. Duvall is kicked off the force, but drawn back into intrigue when his ex-partner is murdered in what appears to be a professional hit. Making things considerably more complicated is that the mystery leads him back into the world of Puerto Ricans in New York City (a world that includes drugs, gunrunners, and revolutionaries). The movie has a tendency to ramble (at 116 minutes, it’s way too long, with whole sections that could have been easily trimmed), but it’s also pretty groovy (complemented wonderfully by J.J. Jackson‘s infectiously jazzy score), anchored by a truly great and almost uncomfortably intense performance by Robert Duvall. Directed by TV director and film producer Howard W. Koch, at the time of its release, cries of racism were leveled against the movie, which aren’t entirely unfounded, but it’s still a compelling page-turner of a film, and if you’ve ever wanted to watch Duvall drive a bus full of people into an army/navy surplus store, then this is the movie for you. [B]

Executive Action” (1973)
Only in the 1970s could a studio (albeit small one) green light and make a film about a JFK conspiracy theory that posits that a right wing faction with military and industrial interests had the President killed. And no, we’re not talking Oliver Stone‘s “JFK” that turns Warren Report crusader Jim Garrison into a truth seeking hero and seems optimistic by comparison. In a modern-day movie, this film would center on protagonists trying to stop an assassination in a what-if scenario. But in the dark and cynical “Executive Action,” the leads of the movie are all villains who carry out the assassination of John F. Kennedy without even one moralistic note to sugarcoat their actions. An unsentimental, cold, matter-of-fact type procedural, “Executive Action” depicts a right wing cadre — shady industrial, political and former U.S. intelligence figures — who simply cannot sit back and abide the President pulling out of Vietnam and backing the Civil Rights Movement. David Miller’s film doesn’t depict the men as patriots, just cold, ruthless politicians whose dissatisfaction with the current administration won’t abate. Starring Burt Lancaster as a black ops specialist and Robert Ryan as the mastermind behind the plot you’ve got to wonder what kind of actors would agree to star in such a picture if it was made today (Ed Lauter and other character actors co-star; Will Geer plays a conspirator who looks like Colonel Sanders). Much more apolitical than you’d think, while the right-wing agenda is clearly at work, its hardly a GOP smear film and more like the typically paranoid ‘70s thriller. Still, released on November 7, 1973, almost two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the JFK Assassination, the film hit theaters amid major political outrage and controversy and was pulled after only a few weeks (and wouldn’t hit home video until at least a decade later). “Executive Action” isn’t completely convincing, and sometimes is a tad dry, but it’s a decently entertaining and engaging thriller despite having no one to sympathize with or root for and no actors terrifically compelling aside from Lancaster, doing serviceable, but hardly essential work. [B-]

The Laughing Policeman” (1973)
One of the great overlooked thrillers of the ’70s, “The Laughing Policeman” is a loose adaptation of a best-selling Swedish novel of the same name (by authors/lovers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö). It’s a just-the-facts-ma’am thriller starring a grim-faced Walter Matthau as a detective investigating the death of his partner, who was murdered in a seemingly random massacre on a bus. Of course, it’s not at all random, and it takes a whole bunch of detectives (including his new partner, played by a heavily mustachioed Bruce Dern, and a charismatic Louis Gossett Jr.) to figure out exactly what the fuck happened. Directed by underrated journeyman filmmaker Stuart Rosenberg, “The Laughing Policeman” is dazzling in its simplicity. The first thirty minutes of the movie consist of only the bus murder set piece and the aftermath, which includes everything from the little Asian man calling in the crime to the toetags being wrapped around the bodies. Other times Rosenberg leaves the main investigation to follow other cops for no other reason than additional atmosphere (like Gossett Jr., who throws a pimp on the ground and then yells, “You better be reaching for a sandwich because whatever it is, you’re gonna have to eat it!”), or stages sequences where dialogue overlaps to an almost Robert Altman-degree. Even the final confrontation has an air of documentary-style plainspokenness. (Less admirable is the film’s sometimes queasy attitude towards sexuality and – specifically – women. At one point Matthau slaps around his dead partner’s girlfriend because she took some racy photos and he repeatedly refers to a gay character as a “fruiter.”) Still, it’s easy to imagine that director David Fincher was inspired by the film’s San Francisco setting and no-nonsense approach when making his own cut-and-dried masterpiece, “Zodiac.” [B]

The Anderson Tapes” (1974)
Starring Sean Connery, boasting the feature debut of Christopher Walken and directed by Sidney Lumet, what’s not to love about this heist and crime thriller? Well, it turns out, quite a bit. While the actors are fine — including character actors Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, and comedian Alan King playing against type as a mob boss — the material is weak and the pace and direction is often far from thrilling. Connery plays Duke Anderson, a just-released career-criminal who uses mob funding to pull off an ambitious heist. He recruits prison pals (Walken, Stan Gottlieb) and is also forced to work with men he doesn’t know or fully trust (Val Avery, Paul Benjamin). What he doesn’t knows is his every move is being taped and surveilled by several law enforcement agencies trying to put a squeeze on the mobsters. Being that it’s the ’70s and fads came into vogue, the film is punctuated and peppered by a transitional Quincy Jones-written score of swirling electronic hiccups, burbs and farts, surely there to imply the sinister machinations of being observed and tracked at all times, but serving nothing other than to make the picture appear more dated than it is (the rest is overly jazzy in a Lalo Schifrin sort of overdone way). During its heist, the picture picks up and the character actors are interesting throughout, but “The Anderson Tapes” lacks the spark and rudder of most classic crime thrillers from the ’70s. The second Connery/Lumet collaboration of five films together, the movie is a minor Lumet misfire, but at 98 minutes, it actually relatively painless as well. [C+]The Odessa File” (1974)
Based on the best-selling novel by “Day of the Jackal” author Frederick Forsyth, “The Odessa File” begins with an almost “Indiana Jones“-y prologue, where sweaty Nazis conspire in the desert about launching warheads that will effectively wipe out Israel (some are nuclear bombs while others carry germs and other assorted nastiness). This is followed by on-screen text (by Forsyth) claiming that the film is based on “carefully documented research,” that Odessa really existed, and that that there really was a plot hatched after World War II by former Hitler higher-ups to launch an attack that would effectively end Israel. Um. Okay, except that the real Odessa was mainly used to facilitate the escape and relocation of former Nazis, sort of like an evil version of the Underground Railroad. Anyway, “The Odessa File” is still a crackling thriller about a reporter (Jon Voight, rocking a surprisingly solid German accent) who, immediately following the Kennedy assassination (and the suicide of an elderly concentration camp survivor), sets about to infiltrate and expose the mysterious and sinister Odessa. The film boasts a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (probably the least annoying thing he’s ever composed) and a scenery-obliterating performance by Maximilian Schell as Eduard Roschmann, the so-called “Butcher of Riga.” Ronald Neame directs with all the seriousness he can muster (it mostly works), and it’s aided hugely by British cinematographer Oswald Morris‘ lush, almost 3D photography. Its provocative historical setting gives it some much-needed oomph, even if the premise sometimes borders on the insanely ludicrous. [B]

The Internecine Project” (1974)
Perhaps the weakest thriller in this bunch, sometimes you wonder if studios just picked out a semi-enigmatic word out of a hat and said, “I wonder if we could make a thriller out of this?” Not to be confused with American writer-director-producer Barry Levinson, ‘Internecine’ was produced and written by the other American Barry Levinson (i.e. the guy who had nothing to do with “Diner,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Rain Man,” etc. and sadly has no interesting credits to his name). Starring James Coburn, this mildly interesting but mostly unremarkable and run-of-the-mill-thriller centers on a cunning and opportunistic former secret agent on his way to become a key Presidential advisor. However, he’s got a shady past, so he concocts an intricate plan where the four people who have dirt on him — including a high-class prostitute and a masseur — will kill one another. While Lee Grant (as a journalist and former lover) and Harry Andrews have some colorful supporting turns within, the rest of the cast is as forgettable as the movie. Notable British jazz musician and composer Roy Budd (“Get Carter“) wrote the score, but it’s not particularly compelling. Directed by British filmmaker and writer Ken Hughes (known for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and 1967’s “Casino Royale“), if you’re looking to fill all the holes and gaps in your ‘70s thriller knowledge, we suppose you can take the movie for a requisite spin, but it’s for completeist die-hards of the genre only. [C-]

Black Sunday” (1977)
Best be assured that when Steven Spielberg was preparing to make “Munich” — easily his best film of the aughts — the filmmaker was screening John Frankenheimer‘s terrorist thriller “Black Sunday” for mood, tenor and tone (John Williams scored both movies and we swear he subtly steals from his own oeuvre). Fortunately for Spielberg he wasn’t watching the picture for pace and rhythm as this is the achilles heel of what might be an otherwise excellent thriller fit for the top of the ’70s canon. As it is, “Black Sunday” is a very good picture, but one that comes with engrossing sequences that are soon delayed by long passages of expository plot talk that lets the air out of the tension. Sprawling and lengthy at two-and-a-half hours, Frankenheimer’s picture centers on three central characters, an American Vietnam POW turned against his country (Bruce Dern), a European member of the Palestinian Black September terrorist movement (Marthe Keller) and Robert Shaw, aka Quint from “Jaws,” showing his range as a an Israeli Mossad agent hot on the trail of this plot to blow up a blimp above of a Super Bowl game in Miami that the President is scheduled to attend. Fritz Weaver co-stars as an FBI agent, but the film is largely a three-wick fuse that could have burned a little faster. The opening is electrically charged, the conclusion gripping (minus the climactic visual FX explosion which is sadly pathetic) and the character beats throughout are rich. But the middle isn’t taut and sags — this is a picture that should have had more running tension throughout. Still, it’s an engaging and occasionally crackling thriller despite its flaws. [B]

The Domino Principle” (1977)
One of the weirder thrillers from this period (which is really saying something), “The Domino Principle,” directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Gene Hackman and Mickey Rooney (wait, what?), begins with a confrontational faux documentary sequence with voiceover that basically suggests that every person in the audience is under the control of some shadowy unseen power. It’s a pretty nutty way to start a movie, and somewhat tonally inconsistent with what follows, which is compelling in its own right. The film follows Hackman’s character, a Vietnam vet convicted of killing his lover’s husband, who is approached by a mysterious man (Richard Widmark) and given the opportunity to leave prison in exchange for pulling an assassination for an unnamed organization. At 97 minutes, the film is incredibly leisurely paced, with the first act basically consisting of a series of interviews with Hackman trying to figure out whether or not he’s fit for the mission, and the second act focusing on Hackman’s non-assassination work outside of prison, which includes reconnecting with his former flame (Candice Bergen with a thick, not-entirely-convincing Southern accent). But part of the fim’s distinct charm is the way that it combines a small, human story of redemption with these kind of overtly stylistic flourishes (exemplified by a soft-focus love scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Brian De Palma movie). And while it somewhat sags under the weight of too many third act plot twists (and there isn’t nearly enough Eli Wallach as one of the agents), it remains a beguiling, offbeat ’70s thriller just the same, one that strives for social consciousness (it is Stanley Kramer, after all) but ends up instead just being super entertaining. [B-]

Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (1977)
One of the weirdest, funniest and coolest movies of the ’70s (period), “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” concerns a group of men who escape from a military prison, who take over a top secret military instillation and threaten to start a nuclear war unless the President reveals some very dirty business involving Vietnam. It even takes place slightly in the future of…1981! Burt Lancaster plays the leader of the rogue military guys (in a performance that clearly inspired Ed Harris in Michael Bay‘s hugely popular “The Rock“), heading up an admirably all-star cast of noted character actors that includes Joseph Cotton, Paul Winfield, Burt Young (who casually refers to Winfield’s character as “Africa”), Richard Widmark and Charles Durning as the hapless president whose thorny moral position is established early and put to the test throughout the movie. “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” directed by the colossally underrated journeyman filmmaker Robert Aldrich (who else could have directed “Kiss Me DeadlyandThe Dirty Dozen?”), makes wonderful use of the split-screen editorial technique, utilized often to show the geographic relationship between different characters at the same time (a year after De Palma used it to similarly great effect in the climax of “Carrie“), adding to the mesmerizing, almost hypnotic nature of the movie (also helpful: Jerry Goldsmith‘s punchy, unobtrusive score). “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” was unjustly marginalized and, until recently, only notable in the pop culture mainstream for inspiring the title of the season seven Sideshow Bob air-show episode of “The Simpsons.” Thankfully, Olive Films recently released the film, with a sparkling new high-definition transfer on DVD and Blu-ray, complete with an extensive documentary detailing the film’s importance as a pulpy confrontation of America’s involvement in Vietnam. [B+]

The China Syndrome” (1979)
Released mere weeks before the real-life nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the reception of “The China Syndrome” undoubtedly benefited from its topicality and seeming prescience. But the film still holds up years later as an effective, compelling thriller. Admirably stripped of unnecessary embellishments like a romantic subplot or an overly tricksy shooting style, instead it focuses on Jane Fonda‘s TV reporter, ambitious to graduate from fluff pieces to hard news, after she and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) witness a nuclear near-disaster, which is only narrowly averted by company employee Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon). Godell’s subsequent transition from line-toeing company man to suspicious investigator to justifiably paranoid whistleblower, provides the film with much of its emotional power, detailing the toll that such activity can take on one good man, who is inevitably treated as a pariah by colleagues anxious not to rock their bosses’ boat. One of the highlights of James Bridges‘ directorial back catalogue, it is said that his more classical style of filmmaking found him out of favour in the blockbuster era of the 1980s. But this restraint means the film has stood the test of time well: in its low-key tone it is almost the archetype for a whistleblower film, yet it never feels too familiar. It garnered Oscar nominations for Fonda and Lemmon, and also for the script, though ironically, Fonda was beaten out by Sally Field for “Norma Rae,” a role Fonda turned down. [B+]

We could obviously keep going on and on. Other well-known ‘70s thrillers you should know include “Marathon Man,” “Night Moves,” “Klute” and crime thrillers like “The Seven Ups,” “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Outfit” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” Slightly lesser known but just as interesting is crime film “Charley Varrick” (you could do a whole sub-genre of Walter Matthau or James Garner ‘70s flicks too). Other ‘70s thrillers to watch (and some we’ll surely tackle next time) include Costa Gavras’ hard-to-find on DVD “State of Siege,” Bernardo Bertolluci‘s hard-to-find “The Spider’s Stratagem,” Steven Spielberg‘s little-seen 1973 Made-for-TV political thriller, “Savage,Sam Peckinpah‘s espionage thriller “The Killer Elite,” Irvin Kershner‘s “Raid on Entebbe,Richard Lester‘s “Cuba” starring Sean Connery, Theodoros Angelopoulos‘ “Days of 36,Claude Chabrol‘s “Nada,” “The Boys From Brazil,” “Winter Kills,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Farewell, My Lovely,” “The Eagle Has Landed,” “Report to the Commissioner” (Richard Gere’s screen debut), “Freelance,” “Man On A Swing,” and maybe “Capricorn One” if we ever do ‘70s thrillers with an outer-space bent. Thoughts? Your favorite lesser-seen/little-known ‘70s thriller? We’ll surely be back for more at some point.
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– Rodrigo Perez, Drew Taylor, Oliver Lyttelton, Kevin Jagernauth, Katie Walsh and Jessica Kiang

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Comments

MAL

Disagree with your opinion on the Kremlin Letter but aside from that SUPERB list and comments.

NC

So funny you used the screenshot of Barbara Steele in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday in lieu of the later Frankenheimer film.

Tom Swift V

Coma. No other film has quite this sense of paranoia without fully crossing over into horror the way Invasion of the Body Snatchers does. Anyone looking for the exact tone of the ’70s fear of corporate control need look no further, though The China Syndrome is a very good companion piece.

charles in charge

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Alec Guinness – best le Carre adaptation ever.. Suitably paranoid and really well done.

Michael A. Gonzales

Wonderful list, but how you can call a great film like The Anderson Tapes a "misfire" is a mystery to me.

Gaines

Great list, love the sub-genre, lots of titles I haven't heard of, and definitely gonna check out.

One of my favourite '70s thriller was "Two-Minute Warning" (1976). Mind you, it's not a great film (not sure if it's a little known gem, or simply little known; last time I've seen it was 10-ish years ago, so I probably need to rewatch it at some point to see if it holds up), but it builds its suspense nicely – it's about a nameless, faceless sniper targeting a football stadium, the authorities trying to prevent the attack, and a bunch of disparate people, including Beau Bridges, Martin Balsam and Gena Rowlands, going to/preparing for the big game -, and it has Charlton Heston's detective playing off of John Cassavetes as a SWAT team leader.

Marshall Fox

Here's a worthy, offbeat title: "Winter Kills" (1979) –a totally interesting paranoid folly (from a book by Richard Condon) with a killer cast: Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Malone, Toshiro Mifune, Richard Boone, and an uncredited Elizabeth Taylor!

Fürchtegott

Paul Schraders "Blue Collar" with a fantastic cast (Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto). No supercops, no supervillains – but a very realistic view to the economic downfall at the end of the Seventies. A "social" thriller.

Dave

Straight Time and another Connery flick, The Great Train Robbery

sidney falco

Great article…I could read about 70's thrillers forever…a very under-rated TV gem is Michael Crichton's PURSUIT. It's based on a book he wrote under John Lange entitled "Binary" and he directed it too. Top tension as a political extremist plans to spread stolen nerve gas in a city where a political convention is being held. Government agent Ben Gazarra is sent to catch him. Joe Bob says, "Check It Out!!"

max

Good list.
Another picture I'd love to shoe-horn in is Richard Lester's terrific sea thriller from 1974, JUGGERNAUT. It was an obvious influence on Jan De Bont's 1994 action thriller, SPEED.

Ron Paul Reubens

"John Williams scored both movies and we swear he subtly steals from his own oeuvre"

Wouldn't be surprising considering he has stolen from everyone else's.

G.T.O.

Nice article ! Day of the Jackal is a great film.

Todd

Into the "interesting other" category I'll throw out 1972's "Prime Cut" by Michael Ritchie. Featuring the seedy underbelly of the Kansas City ground meat mafia (in an apparent drug war with the Chicago mob), Lee Marvin, and Gene Hackman as a character named Mary Ann.

Not great, but awesome.

wes

Day of the Jackal and Z!

MODAREC

The “Black Sunday” screenshot is from Mario Bava’s Italian horror “Black Sunday” from 1960. It’s a great film too.

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