Generally regarded as a weak film in the careers of all those involved, let’s look at the fact that this Stanley Kramer film allows some heavyweight talent to share the screen together which I have time and time again pointed to as being of great importance as we look back upon the history of film. The foursome I refer to are Gene Hackman spending time on camera with Mickey Rooney, Eli Wallach and Richard Widmark. One of these actors alone is enough to get me sitting in front of a TV screen, all four is a sure fire must see no matter the end result.
Admittedly the film starts with a weak montage of the history of crime and assassination that is more confusing than helpful in the end. Moving on past the stylish credit sequence we’re to find hardened convict Gene Hackman doing a long stretch with aging Mickey Rooney for a cellmate. The duo will tangle with a couple of thugs for a customary prison washroom brawl to let us the viewers know that Gene and his pint sized pal are not to be crossed. They’re mean mothers.
In to the prison comes the mysterious Richard Widmark who seems to have pull with the warden. He begins an intense interviewing process with Hackman over several meetings. Widmark gives us that famous grin and smug laugh on several occasions as Gene attempts to piece things together. Yes sir, Gene’s a Vietnam vet who was a specialist in the search and destroy operations. Read that as a man who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and highly skilled with a weapon. Combine these facts with the opening montage of assassins and it’s pretty obvious that Widmark is hoping to recruit Hackman as an assassin in exchange for his freedom.
When the arrogant Edward Arnold shows up in Widmark’s place for the next meeting, Hackman gets aggressive and finds an enemy in Arnold though he does gain his freedom in a sham break out with “The Mick” tagging along. Gene is far from free though. He’s under constant surveillance despite being reunited with wife Candice Bergen on the beaches of Costa Rica. Also turning up as part of the “organization” is Eli Wallach. Hackman is going to find himself a slave to the trio of money men who have sprung him from prison, seemingly left Rooney dead in a ditch and will hold Candice (You can call me Candy) hostage until his target has been removed.
Hackman is going to have a hard time trusting anyone in this group of power hitters and from the outset one can’t help but think he’s going to end up The Patsy. Double crosses, car bombs and friends thought long dead are sure to appear on opposing sides as Gene tries to free himself from his debt and make off with wife Candice to some sort of island paradise away from his chains of bondage.
“The Dominoes start to fall. Just who is the target?” Don’t you just love those tag lines on the original trailers?
It’s a rather dreary film attempting to give us some sort of mysterious political intrigue as to who’s behind the world’s assassinations without really giving us any detail on just who the mark is. Hackman comes off as mean, Wallach bored, Rooney playing it tough, Bergen in need of a new hair style, Arnold slippery and Widmark coming off best with a role that fits him. While Hackman is trying to find a way out with wife Bergen, it’s ironic to note that just a few years earlier he was trying to kill her in the western The Hunting Party. In that star studded oater, she again played his wife who prefers the wild ways of outlaw Oliver Reed to her husband and rancher Hackman. She’d also appear opposite Gene in Bite the Bullet, a Richard Brooks film I’d easily recommend.
Special mention here that this was the final film of long time character actor Jay Novello. An actor of countless credits and easily identifiable. He retired following this film and passed on in 1982.
This one can be easily dismissed but for fans of the cast, you’ll have to add it to your watch list I suppose. Then again if you’d rather save yourself 97 minutes, you could watch the three minute trailer and see the key plot points exposing the majority of the surprises that Kramer’s film has in store for you. You could easily fill in the blanks with a little bit of guessing.
The Domino Principle has been released on blu ray as a double feature with another 70’s flick I love to revisit on occasion, The Cassandra Crossing.