The Parallax View is a 1974 American dramatic thriller film directed and produced by Alan J. Pakula, and starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss. The film was adapted by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr and an uncredited Robert Towne from the 1970 novel by Loren Singer. The story concerns a reporter's dangerous investigation into an obscure organization, the Parallax Corporation, whose primary, but not ostensible, enterprise is political assassination.
The Parallax View is the second installment of Pakula's Political Paranoia trilogy, along with Klute (1971) and All the President's Men (1976); in addition to being the only film in the trilogy to not be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, The Parallax View is also the only film in the trilogy to not win, or be nominated for, an Academy Award.
TV newswoman Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) is one of many witnesses to the public assassination of presidential candidate Senator Charles Carroll (Bill Joyce) atop the Seattle Space Needle. A waiter armed with a revolver is chased but falls to his death. Meanwhile, a second waiter, also armed with a gun, leaves the crime scene unnoticed. A special committee decides that the assassination was the work of a lone gunman.
Three years later, Carter visits her former boyfriend and colleague, newspaper reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty), in Portland, Oregon. Lee tells Frady that she feels there is more to the killing—that six of the witnesses to Carroll's assassination have died and she fears she will be next. Frady does not take her seriously. Not long afterwards, Carter is found dead and her death is judged by the police to be either a voluntary or accidental drug overdose.
Investigating Carter's leads, Frady goes to the small town of Salmontail whose sheriff, L.D. Wicker (Kelly Thordsen), attempts to trap him below a dam after an alarm has sounded indicating that the floodgates are opening. Frady narrowly escapes but the sheriff drowns. Frady finds information on the Parallax Corporation in the sheriff's apartment and learns that its real business is recruiting political assassins.
While interviewing Carroll's former aide, Austin Tucker (William Daniels), aboard Tucker's boat, a bomb explodes. Frady survives but is believed dead, and decides to apply to Parallax under an assumed identity. Jack Younger (Walter McGinn), a Parallax official, assures Frady that he is the kind of man they are interested in. Frady is accepted for training in Los Angeles where he watches a slide show that conflates positive images with negative actions.
Frady later spies a Parallax man he recalls from a picture Austin Tucker showed him of a waiter taken the day Senator Carroll was murdered. He follows the man and watches him take out a bag from another car's trunk, then drive to an airport and check it as baggage on a plane. Frady boards the plane himself. He notices a senator aboard, but not the Parallax man. Frady writes a warning on a napkin which he slips into the drink service cart. The warning is found and the plane returns to Los Angeles. Everybody is evacuated—just before a bomb explodes.
Frady's generally skeptical editor Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn) listens to a secretly recorded tape of a conversation Frady had with Jack Younger. A disguised Parallax operative delivers coffee and food to Rintels' news office. The editor is poisoned and the tape is removed.
Continuing his investigation, Frady follows the Parallax assassins to the dress rehearsal for a political rally for Senator George Hammond (Jim Davis). Frady hides in the auditorium's rafters to secretly observe the Parallax men, posing as security personnel, also in the rafters. Too late, Frady realizes he has been set up as a "patsy" or "fall guy", as Hammond is shot dead by an unseen gunman. As Frady is trying to escape, he is sighted in the rafters by the marching band's tuba player, and a Parallax agent kills Frady with a shotgun.
The same committee which determined a lone gunman killed Senator Carroll now reports that Frady, acting alone, killed Senator Hammond. The committee further express the hope that the verdict will end political assassination conspiracy theories. They do not take questions from the press.
- Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady
- Paula Prentiss as Lee Carter
- Hume Cronyn as Bill Rintels
- William Daniels as Austin Tucker
- Walter McGinn as Jack Younger
- Kelly Thorsden as Sheriff L.D. Wicker
- Chuck Waters as Thomas Richard Linder
- Earl Hindman as Deputy Red
- William Joyce as Senator Charles Carroll
- Bettie Johnson as Mrs Carroll
- Bill McKinney as Parallax Assassin
- Jo Ann Harris as Chrissy – Frady's Girl
- Ted Gehring as Schecter – Hotel Clerk
- Lee Pulford as Shirley – Salmontail Bar Girl
- Doria Cook-Nelson as Gale from Salmontail
- Jim Davis as Senator George Hammond
- Joan Lemmo as Organist
- Kenneth Mars as Former FBI Agent Will Turner
- William Jordan as Tucker's Aide
- Edward Winter as Senator Jameson