With all the monologues–there aren’t any conversations, just one character talking while another listens–in The Fourth War, it feels like an adaptation of a play. It’s not. It’s based on a novel, which must be a brief read since War is plodding at ninety minutes. Given Frankenheimer got his start in television–adapting plays–one might think he’d notice treating War like a play would produce a better result.
He does not.
He also doesn’t realize Roy Scheider is a lot more interesting a devolving lunatic than as a misunderstood American hero. Harry Dean Stanton–who gives the film’s best performance as Scheider’s commanding officer–occasionally has voiceovers explaining and qualifying Scheider’s actions. It’s a terrible move, especially since the film later turns Scheider’s adversary–an atrocious Jürgen Prochnow–into a stereotypical evil commie.
Scheider similarly suffers. He’s good when he’s unlikable, but it’s Roy Scheider, half his onscreen persona is being likable. Once Lara Harris enters as the girl he needs to help, War falls even further to pieces. Harris isn’t bad, but it’s like she got the job to fool audiences watching the trailer into believing Isabella Rossellini is in the picture.
Tim Reid shows up–occasionally–as Scheider’s second-in-command. His lack of screen time, and Frankenheimer’s reliance on summary storytelling for really simple scenes, makes one wonder if War ran out of money during filming and the script got hacked down.
But in Frankenheimer’s tired hands, the film wouldn’t have been better longer.
Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross, based on the novel by Peters; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Robert F. Shugrue; music by Bill Conti; production designer, Alan Manzer; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by New Age Releasing.
Starring Roy Scheider (Col. Jack Knowles), Jürgen Prochnow (Col. Valachev), Tim Reid (Lt. Col. Clark), Lara Harris (Elena), Harry Dean Stanton (Gen. Hackworth), Dale Dye (Sergeant Major) and William MacDonald (MP Corporal).