Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wanted: Fans of John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy"

To be frank, you won’t find many people who have actually seen this famous misfire and even fewer folks willing to confess they liked it. I proudly admit I have an affection for Prophecy, but heck, even the film’s director disowned it. Some films just don’t get any respect.

The film’s lead, Robert Foxworth, was pretty much pigeon-holed as a TV actor. His greatest success, from a commercial standpoint, was as the vanilla hero of the 1980s prime-time soap Falcon Crest. However, he was much better as an super-intelligent android in the underrated TV movie The Questor Tapes (an unsold pilot, I think). He also starred in several TV movies with Elizabeth Montgomery—they were a real-life couple for many years, until her death.

Unfortunately, there’s no Elizabeth Montgomery in Prophecy, only a bland Talia Shire as a pregnant cellist named Maggie. That leaves Foxworth to carry the load as Maggie’s intense physician husband Robert. After years of caring for poor inner-city patients, Robert gets an opportunity to resolve an environmental dispute between a paper mill and the local Indians in upper Maine. (A friend says he can easily explain to Robert—who’s a physician, not a government intermediary—what to do.)

Talia wonders: "Where's Rocky
when you need him?"
Shortly after their arrival in the wooded northeast, Robert and Maggie hear about a legendary Indian creature called Katahdin that guards the land. They also discover that several lumberjacks are missing, many Indian children are being born dead or deformed, wild animals are going crazy, and tadpoles are growing to the size of bass. To top it all off, they encounter this huge monster resembling a mutant grizzly bear that doesn’t like humans. Hmm…maybe the big city life wasn’t so bad after all!

I suspect this all sounds very hokey, but the setting (actually Canada) works well and there are several memorable scenes. The best is Katahdin's second major attack, in which our protagonists huddle in an underground tunnel and are forced to hear Katahdin brutally slaughter helpless victims. There’s also a surprisingly cruel scene in which a young boy in a banana-shaped sleeping bag tries to hop away from the lumbering beast. Surely, we think, a child will be spared. That’s about the time that Katahdin swats the kid against a tree and sends feathers from the sleeping bag scattering into the night.

Foxworth: "Sinatra gets a Frankenheimer
classic...I get Katahdin!"
Alas, after a gripping climax, the film comes to a convoluted end. A major subplot involving Maggie’s unborn baby is never resolved. Katahdin's demise seems rushed (there’s a thematic link between Maggie’s baby and the beast, though it’s never fully explored). It looks as if the studio tampered with the film’s ending or Frankenheimer tired of the project and just wanted to be done with it.

I first saw Prophecy in a Bloomington, Indiana theatre that was showing second-run movies for $1. I liked it then, but enjoyed even more when I saw it on cable in the 1990s. I eventually bought the tape and watched it with my nephew. He said he liked it. That’s two of us, at least.


  1. Well, you can add me to your list of admirers. I liked it! I seem to remember reading a book by Stephen King about horror movies, and he liked it too, so we are in good company. Prophecy was riding the crest of the first wave of environmental concern when it came out, and I remember being particularly horrified about the inferred fate of Talia Shire's unborn child. She had eaten the fish! (Remember?: "We not only have to find someone who can fly this plane but who DIDN'T have fish for dinner!")

    I didn't know Prophecy was such a bomb. I saw it on television and liked it a lot. I do remember thinking even then, with the 1979 unruly hair and beards for men, that Robert Foxworth looked a little like Sasquatch. Well, he was in the right place!

    Love this write-up!

  2. I, too, am a fan of this film. It makes me feel like I'm missing something if I admire a film that its director has disowned. But some directors can still add their own flavor to a film under the pressure of a bad script or a pesky studio or budgetary constraints. They may not be happy with the results simply because they're recalling the bad experience.

    In any case, I can easily say that PROPHECY is an enjoyable flick, and Frankenheimer, whether he liked it or not, did a great job with it. And I kinda like the convoluted ending. I agree that it has all the signs of a studio getting its grubby hands on it, but it's a delightfully peculiar film, and the ending is equally strange. It could have been better, but, in many ways, it could have been much worse.

    Entertaining write-up, Rick. I'm happy to see that it's available on DVD, so I can give this gem another viewing!

  3. I, too, have seen this movie and like it a lot, Rick. It moves quickly along at a good pace and is exciting. I have seen this film many times over the years. I really like Talia Shire in as Foxworth's wife. She plays the sweet quiet wife quite well. She makes you feel for her character unlike Foxworth, who gives his usual bland performance. The end is an questionable one about her baby, but then many movies now end the same way. I think they should have made a sequel. I know I would have enjoyed it. Good review, Rick. I would like to see it again.

  4. Rick, not a fan (haven't seen it), so am I not wanted? I liked Talia Shire in the first 2 Rocky's though. I wouldn't mind seeing the sequence with the little boy in the banana sleeping bag, too.