A Movie A Day: TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)
91,000 People. 33 Exit Gates. One Sniper...
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I fucking love sniper movies. I love sniping in war games like CALL OF DUTY and even GEARS OF WAR and HALO. The idea of being so far removed from your target while at the same time being incredibly intimate with him/her/it…. I don’t know. Maybe I’m a voyeur and I don’t know it. I’ve never been a peeper, like George McFly up in trees, or anything, but that’d help explain why I love these kinds of stories so much.
Maybe it’s my love of cinema, which in a strange way is very much like being a sniper, observing people going about their lives not aware they’re being watched. That could be part of it, too.
Whatever the reason, I love sniper movies. And I love ‘70s event movies. THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, EARTHQUAKE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, etc. Big casts, big spectacle… Love ‘em. So, I was radically predisposed to love this film.
The film takes place during a big championship game at the LA Memorial Coliseum, which, if memory serves, was the location for one of the early 24 season finales, also involving a sniper. We follow a dozen different people, most of them attendees watching the game. We also follow the sniper himself, but never get a good look at him. We know him by inserts, essentially. We see shots of him working his gun, eating Baby Ruth’s, we see his feet, and many-pocketed jacket, but not his face. Not until the end of the movie and even then we never get a good, clean look at the guy.
What I love about the way director Larry Peerce (A SEPARATE PEACE) shot the sniper is just how much character he gave him without seeing any of his features clearly. It’s all in the little details, like how meticulous he wipes down his gun and small things like a fucked up, bruised and chipped thumbnail.
The way we drop in and out of the many characters’ stories is also very inventive. At the beginning we get a little set-up with all the main characters. We meet an older couple (Gena Rowlands and David Janssen) getting off a plane, we meet the quarterback for the Los Angeles team (played by real life quarterback Joe Kapp), a pickpocket duo of a cute young woman (Juli Bridges) and respectable-looking old guy (the great Walter Pidgeon), a young father (Beau Bridges) and his family, a police captain (Charlton Heston), Martin Balsam’s head of security at the coliseum, John Cassavetes’ SWAT leader (we first see them taking down an abusive man in a domestic situation and his crew is all decked out in what could have been the leftover wardrobe from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD!) and, of course, the sniper himself.
In fact, we start with him lining up a shot out of a hotel window. I figured they were going to show him testing his rifle and scope, maybe dry-firing at the nice-looking couple riding their bikes and minding their own business. But then the man’s chest explodes with a squib that would give Paul Verhoeven a rape-boner.
Right off the bat the violence is intense, graphic… sure, it’s ‘70s red paint blood, but damn if it doesn’t look real in the context of the movie.
We follow the sniper from the hotel, after he breaks down his weapon and conceals it in the many pockets of his jacket, to the car and to the coliseum, where he sneaks up into a perfect out of sight spot just above the scoreboard.
There are dozens of likely targets. If he’s a professional, he could be after the Mayor who is in the stands, he could be after the gambler who is in deep with the bookies, he could even be after the President of the United States, who is supposed to give a speech at half time.
While the sniper takes aim at the crowd below, we assume to scope out the territory and make final adjustments to his weapon, we drop in and out of these characters’ day. For instance, the sniper will look down at Jack Klugman, who is the gambler deep in debt, everything he has riding on this game and we’ll get to spend some time with Klugman as he chats up the priest (Mitchell Ryan) sitting next to him, asking to have a good word put in for Los Angeles to win by more than 2 points. If this bet doesn’t pay off, he’s going to get killed.
Then the sniper will turn and look down at Gena Rowlands and David Janssen. I’m not exactly sure what their story is, just that Rowlands is in love with Janssen and keeps pressing him to show any sort of feelings for her. You can tell he likes her, but he’s also kind of dismissive of her. They’re in to root for Baltimore.
Beau Bridges is credited ratherly highly for his character, who does very little. He’s kind of an asshole in the movie, to tell the truth. He starts out as a likable father, taking his wife and two sons to the big game, but when one of his kids wants a hat from a vendor in the park he gets a backhand to the face for telling the vendor that his daddy was fired and doesn’t have any money. Bridges then buys the hats and gives them to the kid and everything is supposed to be alright again, I guess.
Bridges spots the sniper before anybody, catching a glimpse of him through his binoculars, but it’s only a glimpse and when he looks back there’s nothing there.
The guys in the control room, shouting orders to all the different cameras, are the ones who spot the sniper first, thanks to a camera on the Goodyear blimp catching him from above. Heston is called in and, in turn, calls in Cassavetes to set his guys up to be ready to take this dude out at a moment’s notice.
The idea is to quietly get the likely targets out of harm’s way and not cause a panic with the 90,000+ people in the crowd, so Heston keeps a lid on things, allowing Cassavetes’ guys to get in place for the greenlight to take the sniper out. He says he’ll hand over control of the situation at the two minute warning of the game, being played throughout the whole movie.
Much like yesterday’s John Cassavetes movie MIKEY & NICKY, this film couldn’t be made today. I don’t know of anybody with the patience and confidence to tell a story where we don’t know the motives of the killer and the plot isn’t convoluted and filled with unlikely inside moves and backstabbing.
TWO MINUTE WARNING is a simple story told with much ambiguity and that’s what I ultimately grabbed on to. The ending is crazy, lots of death and mayhem. In fact the movie got an R-rating for violence alone. A lot of the characters we have been following get nailed and we never find out if this nut was targeting anyone specific or just creating mayhem. I love that! Because after you get to know some of these people, there is enough mystery left to them and their circumstances that you could reasonably assume they’d be a target.
The character economy is pretty great for a movie this big. A lot of that success is due to casting great, great character actors that can give you the image of a person without a whole movie’s worth of screentime to build them up. Take Brock Peters as the head of maintenance… he only has 2 or 3 scenes, but he spends them screaming at Martin Balsam and Charlton Heston, defending his job. He makes an immediate impression.
Now, I heard that there was a weird TV cut of this film… and upon investigation it seems that the censors had to cut something like 45 minutes out of the movie (not sure what they’d cut outside of some bloody bullet-hits and some gaping wounds) and didn’t like the tone, so they asked the studio to shoot some filler that explained everything. Peerce took his name off this cut, which showed that the sniper was really there to distract the cops from an art robbery of some sort. Lame. Glad that version’s not the one on the DVD because I think removing the ambiguity would kill this movie.
It’d be easy to recommend a double feature for this one… the obvious one would be BLACK SUNDAY, with Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern. That’s also set during a big football game. But I’d say stick with the sniper angle and seek out Peter Bogdanovich’s first movie, TARGETS, featuring Boris Karloff and a sniper modeled after Charles Whitman (UT Tower).
Final Thoughts: Tons of gore, fun characters, a catchy yet creepy score by Charles Fox, Merv Griffith singing the National Anthem, Heston grimacing for an hour and a half and Cassavetes coasting on pure machismo charisma all add up to make this an incredibly entertaining and fun movie. I wasn’t looking forward to it, getting to the film really late in the night (hence the early morning posting… hopefully I’ll be able to get some pre-BNAT errands run before I crash and burn for the day), but it raced by. The unexpected ambiguity really pushes this one over the top. It’s not Citizen Kane, but if you like to be entertained and think most of today’s thrillers are over-complicated castrated PG-13 nightmares, then you’ll get a big kick out of this one. I know I did.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Monday, December 8th: THE SENTINEL (1976)
Tuesday, December 9th: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)
Wednesday, December 10th: WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? (1965)
Thursday, December 11th: BEING THERE (1979)
Friday, December 12th: THE PARTY (1968)
Saturday, December 13th: CASINO ROYALE (1967)
Sunday, December 14th: THE STRANGER (1946)
Only a couple of movies to go before our Peter Sellers Marathon! Can’t wait, but I’m also very much looking forward to the next couple movies, including tomorrow’s THE SENTINEL, a horror movie with a huge awesome cast. We’ll be following Martin Balsam over. See you folks for that soon!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 8, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST
Dec. 8, 2008, 10:59 a.m. CST
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:08 a.m. CST
I saw it on TV in the UK a looong time ago and then caught part of it shortly after moving to the US but could never find out what the name was. Then, ah, Google and IMDB.<p>Could you make this film today? Yes, but it would never make a dime at the box-office and I imagine the critical response would be interesting: a mix of repulsion over the violence and weighty thoughts on government watching over us and protecting us and unseen threats. Whatever. I don't think this movie needs to be remade, it should just be celebrated as a great thriller of a bygone era.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:18 a.m. CST
by Stuntcock Mike
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:19 a.m. CST
by The Eskimo
I've been waiting for this review for a while now. I have a certain geeky love for sports-based movies (seems kind of condradictory, doesn't it?), and this is one of my favorites. The direction and pacing makes this film, because without a good director this hodgepodge of shots and characters could've easily turned into a big mess confusing. I am really glad you gave this one a thumbs up!
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:22 a.m. CST
by The Eskimo
Don't you hate talkbackers who correct themselves in a follow-up posts even though we all realized what you meant the first time? Yeah, me too.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:25 a.m. CST
by Abominable Snowcone
Even as a kid I thought it was brilliant, despite the ambiguous ending.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:26 a.m. CST
Sigh.<p> I just have to express that every now and again so I don't become lost entirely in all the other supposedly important things that my brain should really be concerned with.<p>
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:29 a.m. CST
...going to see this with my father (R.I.P.) at the (now torn down) Northland Cinema in St. Louis, MO. I was a little dude (only 3/4 years old maybe) and I don't remember much about it - except for how intense the music was.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:45 a.m. CST
I love that! Trivia point - Gena Rowlands was married to Cassavetes and I think was in a number of films in and directed by him. One of the great things about this series is Quint has hit on a number of films I'd never heard of prior. I might have to check this one out...
Dec. 8, 2008, 12:15 p.m. CST
by Sir Nigel Lengthington-Smythe
Also has a sniper at the Coliseum.
Dec. 8, 2008, 12:26 p.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
I own his autobiography, and have re-read it several times. It's interesting reading. And yet, I never heard of this movie. Now after reading this reviw I need to see it. Thanks for the education Quinn.
Dec. 8, 2008, 12:38 p.m. CST
I was so glad to see the TARGETS shout-out. Karloff was so excellent in that. "Is Boris Karloff gonna have to smack a bitch?"
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:02 p.m. CST
...See The Sniper (1952) by Edward Dmytryk. It is a film noir that follows a psychotic looser who goes around shooting women and sending letters to the police begging to be stopped. Not quite as good as Targets, but some of the death scenes have some real impact (no pun intended). <p> I also want to say thanks Quint for such a great column. One of the joys here isn't so much to read about movies I haven't seen, but instead to see your reaction to movies that I love. I think we can all relate to the thrill of showing a movie we love to someone who hasn't seen it and getting to see their reaction to it. Can't wait to see your take on some of the Sellar's movies and the Stranger.
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:06 p.m. CST
or maybe just from the tv ads, etc, at the time of its release it just stuck with me. Either way, it's all very familiar to me.<p>By the way, they could do this movie "today"; it was done just 6 years ago. It was called "Phone Booth".
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:09 p.m. CST
Gena Rowlands was in The Notebook, directed by John Cassavetes' son, Nick (who is also her son)
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:11 p.m. CST
How much did you love The Conversation?
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:15 p.m. CST
Then you are a voyeur.
Dec. 8, 2008, 1:37 p.m. CST
Is mindnumbingly amazing. What a fantastic and brilliantly executed thriller. Another example of the kind of movie that doesn't seem to exist any more.
Dec. 8, 2008, 3:09 p.m. CST
of the DC sniper. I don't believe there was ever a terrorist sniper in this country before the DC sniper. It would just hit too close to home now just like they can't make a movie with jets colliding into skyscrapers.
Dec. 8, 2008, 3:24 p.m. CST
A really great and unique low-key horror slow burn. Think you'll really dig it, Quint!
Dec. 8, 2008, 3:58 p.m. CST
Actually, there has been many "terrorist" snipers in the US before the Beltway sniper: Charles Whitman, Mark Essex, Joseph Paul Franklin, etc. But I do think the Beltway sniper has left a bigger impression then the others, mostly do to the fact they seemed to have a better grasp of "showmanship", leaving behind notes, death cards and such. But while people might not be able to deal with a sniper-killer in a movie just yet, wait one or two years and then they will be able to handle it again, unlike the plane into the building thing you mentioned (still a ways before we can see that happen as entertainment again).
Dec. 8, 2008, 4:11 p.m. CST
a mess of ripped off ideas from other, better horror movies and some genuinely odd imagery. Michael Winner meets Dario Argento, basically. That said, I'm more than happy to see it again - must have been 20 years since I saw the flick. And, yep, there's a great cast assembled, if nothing else. And if Gus Van Sant can make a post-Columbine think-piece like ELEPHANT, there's plenty of room for a sniper thriller...
Dec. 8, 2008, 4:34 p.m. CST
Especially when coupled with '70's Hackman.
Dec. 8, 2008, 8:34 p.m. CST
Charlton Heston was just so cool in the 70's. You knew you were in for a good time when you went into the theater to see a movie he was staring in. The man didn't take crap from apes, earthquakes or snipers. And forget "I Am Legend", if you want the real deal, then check out Chuck in "The Omega Man". If only he had not turned down the role of Brody in "Jaws".
Dec. 8, 2008, 9 p.m. CST
...the thinking man's Forrest Gump
Dec. 8, 2008, 9:18 p.m. CST
by Charles Grady
Oh, man, the TV cut is something else; Definitely from that era when Uni used to bizarrely reconfigure and recut their movies for the TV cut; TMW was a mainstay of mid-80s syndicated TV late-night or afternoon movies, and they'd ALWAYS show the "expanded" cut, usually over two nights, meaning it was over 3 hours long and pretty much a totally different movie. When I finally saw it on Encore in the '90s, I couldn't believe how lean and efficient (though still cheesy) it was; The TV cut has long scenes inside an art museum and robbers busting in to steal paintings; Really, just fucking ODD that they'd go back out and FILM SHIT FROM SCRATCH to put into a network TV showing (though I guess Carpenter did this when making Halloween II: shooting padding footage for the original's broadcast.) Like, imagine now, WB ordering the Wachowskis back onto the soundstage like in *2011* to film an extra ten minutes of SPEED RACER.
Dec. 8, 2008, 9:53 p.m. CST
Curious to see your reaction to that one. It's a pretty wierd flick, but I've always dug it.
Dec. 9, 2008, 3:37 a.m. CST
But I think you could have squeezed Dr Strangelove in the Sellers films there.
Dec. 9, 2008, 9:25 a.m. CST
These are films Quint owns but has never seen. As much as people are shocked at some of the films on his list as it is, if Quint had put Dr. Strangelove on the list I think the shock and outrage would literally be transferred through the internet to him from readers and cause him to spontaneously combust.
Dec. 9, 2008, 11:41 a.m. CST
by Napoleon Park
I heard that gay talk show host and game show creator Merv Griffith and actress Martha Griffin are not related. Is that genetic, is it because they have different last names or am I thinking of George and Martha Plimpton?
Dec. 9, 2008, 12:44 p.m. CST
From what I can glean from the past few reviews, he's a 'hopeless romantic' who 'loves a good sniper movie'. You should put that on your online dating profile, buddy! Seriously, great column. Keep it up.
Dec. 9, 2008, 5:10 p.m. CST
It was Barry Morse! Nine years after killing the One Armed Man, he changed his mind about Kimble being innocent and decided to stop chasing him and just blow the sunnavabitch away!
Dec. 10, 2008, 12:24 p.m. CST
Do yourself a favor and rent it today! They nailed the Whitman character!
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