Friday, January 11, 2013

Film Pairing — The Young William Petersen, Signs of Things To come

William Friedkin directed the low-budget film To Live and Die in L.A., based on the novel by Gerald Petievich.  It’s a fast moving, stylish piece of cinema — with the notable presence of the music of Wang Chung — about secret service agents and the pursuit counterfeiters. A largely unknown and svelte William Petersen was cast as the primary secret service agent, supported by a cast that included Willem Dafoe, John Turturro and Dean Stockwell.  This is a great Friday night escape, with visually riveting, tense action, but with little to tax the mind.

The success of this film and especially Petersen gave the future CSI principal a second film in which to shine — Manhunter, directed by Michael Mann.  Like To Live and Die, there is what some might say is an overriding sense of style.  It may only have been a little ahead of its time.  The film ages well and is gaining increasing support as a cult DVD hit.  Manhunter, oddly enough foreshadowed two other cinematic events — the first appearance of the character Hannibal Lecktor* and the extensive use of crime scene technology to solve crimes long before Petersen, many years later, starred in a show that would set the bar for such forensics-centered crime-solving drama in the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its impersonators and incarnations. 

Manhunter was based on Thomas Harris’ first book about Hannibal Lecter*, Red Dragon.  According to Wikipedia, Harris was not thrilled with the film, so the book was made into a second film, Red Dragon, in 2002. Anthony Hopkins reprised his stunningly scary Silence of the Lambs role in the remake, which is essentially a prequel to Silence. Brian Cox nonetheless made a fine psychopath as the imprisoned Hannibal in Manhunt, and Tom Noonan, also does a fine job as the current madman and Hannibal wannabe, who must be stopped before he kills again.

The 2002 version (Red Dragon), probably riding on the box office and critical success of Silence of the Lambs and the chilling performance of Hopkins, was a more successful film than Manhunter at the times of their respective releases.  However, time is more than redeeming the earlier version.  There are many who regard Manhunter as the best of the Hannibal Lecter* series even though it not part of the “official” collection.  Petersen, however, did not go on to be a major Hollywood lead. On the other hand, fame did not escape him. As many people know of Petersen’s Gil Grissom on the highly popular CSI for nine seasons as they do of Hopkins’ Hannibal. 

While I am tempted to suggest fava beans and a nice Chianti for the evening, that should be saved for Silence of the Lambs.  However, a hearty red is not out of the question nor is sipping some Scotch on the Rocks.

*The spelling of Lecktor is used for Manhunter.  Lecter is used in subsequent movies


Anonymous said...

Nice review of the movies but Petersen played Gil Grissom in CSI.
Gus Grissom was an astronaut.

Ronald Tierney said...

Oops. You are exactly right. A mind and fingers disconnect. Thanks. I've made the correction.