Director and actor
Lamont Johnson passed away in October at age 88. Every obituary I have read
leads with the sentence "Emmy- winning director..." and he did
do marvelous work on episodic TV (The Twilight Zone), "Movies of the Week" (That Certain Summer) and mini-series (Lincoln). On a personal level, I will always remember him as one the best, most underrated
directors of the 70s. One of his films- The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972) stars George Peppard -who has never been
better- as a ruthless government investigator in the first,
and, imho, best of the classic conspiracy thrillers
from the 70s (All The President'sMen, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, Executive Action). Like much of Johnson's best
television work, complex political, moral and ethical issues are weaved into an
engrossing melodrama. Unlike the other fine films mentioned , there
is real pathos here. One cannot help but feel an emotional connection
to Michael Sarrazin and Christine Belford as they
struggle to make sense of their shattered lives. The final confrontation
between Sarrazin and Peppard in a deserted security complex is absolutely
mesmerizing, and will leave you breathless. The Groundstar
Conspiracy was not a box-office
hit, but it did receive considerable critical acclaim. When
it made its network television premiere,
TV Guide promoted it with a "Close-up" review -
an honor reserved only for the most prestigious motion pictures. A true
suspense classic, it deserves to be rediscovered by future generations of film
French poster for The McKenzie Break
Another 70s thriller worth seeking out is The McKenzie Break (1970) starring Brian Keith. Keith plays a
Irish/British officer tasked with preventing German soldiers from escaping an Allied POW camp in Scotland (!) This one of the most
intriguing WWII films ever made. A classic battle of wits combined with
exciting action, this dynamic film, like Groundstar, has an unforgettable climax.
For the Cinema Retro
family, the passing of Mr. Johnson is especially poignant. A fan of old
-time radio, I am a regular listener to Greg Bell's satellite radio program Radio Classics on Sirius/XM. One evening, whilst listening
to an episode of Tarzan, Mr. Bell
informed his audience that Tarzan was voiced by none other than Lamont
Johnson. Thrilled by this news, I proposed an article featuring
an interview with Mr. Johnson, to CR. editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer.
Lee was supportive of the idea and encouraged me to begin preparation.
I tried as hard as I could to reach Mr. Johnson over the summer but
to no avail. I will always regret the missed opportunity.
In the meantime, I recommend visiting the Archive of American Television web site where
you can access a lengthy interview conducted with Lamont Johnson about his
outstanding work in the medium.