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Pains, Trains And Automobiles

March 20, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After watching "Against the Wall," you may want to check out some of John Frankenheimer's best feature film and television work at the local video outlet. Two of his finest aren't yet on video, though can be caught on TV from time to time.

Birdman of Alcatraz (MGM/UA): Wonderful 1962 drama chronicling the true story of Robert Stroud, who became a world-renowned authority on birds while serving time in Alcatraz. Sensitively directed by Frankenheimer, the film features Oscar-nominated performances from Burt Lancaster as Stroud, Telly Savalas as a guard and the great character actress Thelma Ritter as Stroud's mother.

Days of Wine and Roses (MGM/UA and Wood Knapp): Frankenheimer cut his director's teeth during the 1950s doing live television. This 1958 "Playhouse 90" penned by J.P. Miller is one of his best. Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie star in the harrowing drama about a young couple who become hopeless alcoholics. Four years later, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick starred in the acclaimed feature film version.

Grand Prix (MGM/UA Home Video): A huge international cast, including James Garner, Yves Montand, Eva Marie Saint and Brian Bedford, star in this entertaining race-car drama. Though the film is overlong and predictable, Frankenheimer keeps the action moving with spectacular race sequences. With a wonderful Maurice Jarre score.

The Manchurian Candidate (MGM/UA Home Video): Simply one of the greatest movies ever made. Frankenheimer directed this 1962 political thriller within an inch of its life. Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury, in a chilling Oscar-nominated performance, star. Bizarre and frightening.

Playhouse 90: The Comedian (Video Yesteryear): Frankenheimer directed this live TV classic from 1957. Rod Serling penned the disturbing drama about a popular comic who mistreats everyone around him. Mickey Rooney gives one of his best performances as the egomaniacal comic, and he's matched every step of the way by Mel Torme as his weakling brother. Edmond O'Brien and Kim Hunter also star. The opening sequence is amazing.

Seven Days in May (Paramount Home Video): Frankenheimer followed up "Manchurian Candidate" with this equally inspired 1964 political thriller about a secret military plan to overtake the U.S. government. Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Edmond O'Brien and Fredric March head the cast. Rod Serling penned the intelligent script.

The Train (CBS/Fox): High-speed excitement. Frankenheimer directed this 1965 action-adventure about the French resistance trying to stop a train carrying art treasures to Germans. Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Michel Simon star.

The Iceman Cometh and Seconds: Two of Frankenheimer's best movies are not available on video, but are definitely worth taping when they air on TV. "The Iceman Cometh" is Frankenheimer's inspired 1973 version of Eugene O'Neill's landmark play. Though Lee Marvin doesn't quite work as the salesman Hickey, the film features amazing performances from Robert Ryan and, in his last film role, Fredric March.

"Seconds," an offbeat 1966 thriller, features Rock Hudson's best performance. A middle-aged businessman (John Randolph) gives up his old life for a new identity (Hudson), but soon discovers his new life isn't what he expected. Excellent black-and-white cinematography by the legendary James Wong Howe. "Seconds" airs Saturday at 2 p.m. on the American Movie Classics channel.

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