The Fixer (1968):

The fixer is Yakov Bok (Alan Bates), the man introduced with his tools, shearing himself in front of a cracked mirror; John Frankenheimer follows with silhouetted long shots and Cossacks raiding the Jewish ghetto, climaxing on a puppy-on-a-stick throwaway to sum up the cruelty. Russia, 1911: Bates finds Hugh Griffith soused in the street, and he's ready to let the anti-Semitic officer freeze when Elizabeth Hartman, Griffith's daughter, pops up to congratulate Bates on his "Christian feeling" and invite him into their luxurious home, stuffed with hunting trophies and angels. "Sacrifices we all have to make," reminds a fellow struggling Jew, so Bates passes as gentile until the cover is blown, tossed in prison amid hysterical accusations of a child's ritualistic murder. Dirk Bogarte reprises the King & Country magistrate, grayer, sadder, and more aware of the injustices of the system -- he dubs the apolitical prisoner a "historical necessity," and posits to him that "it is not madness that turns the world upside down, it's conscience." One of the many chunks from Bernard Malamud's novel uttered rather than shown on the screen, courtesy of Dalton Trumbo, who makes sure Bates literally voices the screenplay, whether pondering escape or laying a goy gal. Refusing a confession, Bates endures enough rats, soup in the face and shredded soles to make Job proud, although he's willing to settle for a Christ analogy, clinched after flipping through the Bible. (Would it be as blasphemous to note that priest Murray Melvin in fervid low-angle weirdly resembles Falconetti?) Frankenheimer already knows incarceration out of Birdman of Alcatraz, and plans escapes of his own -- a cut from battered solitary cells to posh St. Petersburg marble floors, where effete nobleman David Warner spells out that it's better to hate a Jew than the Tzar, then from anguished close-up at the surgical slab to a Fiddler on the Roof number via descending crane. The intolerance tract strains, yet the urgency of politicization finally slams through chilly period piety and into '68 heat. With Georgia Brown, Ian Holm, Carol White, and David Opatoshu.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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