THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE (1977) Heavily butchered Gene Hackmen led mess of a conspiracy/thriller.

dominoprin_betaboxTheme Song:

“Someday Soon” by Shirley Eikhard

Interesting Dated References: Paranoia, The Man™, punching people in the thigh as hard as you can to start a fight and then winning said fight.

Best Line: Delivered by an excited Mickey Rooney in prison — “Before you know it they’ll be sending us tap beer, a couple of 18-year-old pussies … we can play hide the weenie every night!”

Social Context: This movie deals with issues the hippies were struggling with as they became responsible adults, and rather than saying, “Hey being a hippie is an unrealistic farce,” they instead tried to blame “they” or “the man” for forcing them to conform. If they ever pulled their heads out of their asses they would have realized growing up and conforming is just a fact of life and they should stop blaming people with more money than them.

Summary: I’ve been avoiding this movie for weeks. When you look at the back of a Betamax box and see Mickey Rooney and Gene Hackman with a really bad 70s moustache looking back at you, anyone is bound to be intimidated. I noticed a sticker on the front of the box down in the credits. The sticker said “Running Time: 102 Minutes.” Out of curiosity I scraped it off. Underneath I found it to say “Running Time: 106 Minutes.” The fact they found this enough of an error to print a correction sticker is odd enough, but, more important, what happened to these additional four minutes? Did they ever even exist? Was it a printing error? The prospect of watching a movie with four minutes shaved out is a little daunting and usually results in a convoluted plot.

To start off, this movie opens with a bizarre voiceover sequence that seems reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Or at least what I assume 1984 sounds like since I’ve never actually read the book. The anonymous voiceover talks about “them” and “the man” and how “they are controlling us” with images of public upheaval and large computers. It’s pretty confusing and a little bit confrontational considering it was 1977. The whole montage seems a bit dated with its photos of large tape reels and data machines spinning, but you can’t really fault them for working with the stock footage they had at the time. In this montage, the meaning of “The Domino Principle” is explained and we are told to watch as one man is transformed.

After the assassination/big brother intro, the soft melodic theme song begins to play over a well done title sequence involving dominoes being stacked over pictures of a young Gene Hackman. It’s a pretty nice visual, but it’s far too early in the movie to make any sort of judgment calls. The movie officially starts with Hackman in jail and fully mustachioed. Hackman was imprisoned for allegedly killing his wife’s former husband. There are allusions to the fact he may be wrongfully imprisoned, etc. Through a series of meetings and lots of talk about “they,” Hackman agrees to assume a new identity and work for “they” in exchange for the release of he and Rooney.

Once out, Rooney is killed, a series of gray-haired men interact with Hackman, and the whole fucking time not one single detail about why Hackman was selected or what is his mission is given. Look, I’m all for mystery and shit, but all we’ve learned is “they” want “Hackman” to “assassinate” some “guy.” Online nerd resources indicate this movie was originally submitted to the studio as three hours long, then edited down to 106 minutes and then edited even further to 102 minutes. So at best, this is a bastardized version of what may have been a shitty plot to begin with.

Then 100 minutes goes by. It’s a good thing they explained what “the domino principle” meant in the beginning montage because I have no clue how it plays into the plot. Look at this fucking wallpaper:

That’s insane. And I’m still confused as to why, if this movie was originally three hours long and they edited it down to 1.5, that there’s a 45 minute sequence of Hackman flying in a helicopter. I don’t know, Hackman shoots some guy in his backyard, his wife is taken hostage, he argues with more gray-haired guys. His wife gets released, all the other guys that were telling him what to do are killed, then his wife gets killed, then there’s an out of place freeze frame of Hackman’s face, then the movie keeps going. And finally the movie ends.

There’s simply not much I can say about this movie. Obviously there’s been a lot edited out. It’s hard to take anything seriously when you know there’s an entire hour missing. This movie was trying to be right in line with other such 70s conspiracy films like The Parallax View, Marathon Man, Day of the Condor, etc. But it failed. I was neither in suspense or thrilled. I was more just confused and distracted by that fucking wallpaper.

Poster and Box Art: The theatre poster pictured above is also featured as the Betamax art. It’s pretty standard for a thriller/conspiracy movie. Interesting enough, it is actually not the original poster:

This is way more awesome but I think we all can tell why audiences needed something a little more visual to get compelled to go see this movie. I don’t care how much credit you give your audience, they still need to see at least one picture of an actor or actress that’s in the movie. I also found a foreign poster:

This looks an awful lot like the similarly-themed Marathon Man poster. That certainly doesn’t help distinguish itself from other films, but it probably helped confuse people and get them in the theater.

As usual the polish poster is awesome and has nothing to do with the movie. Poland is really onto something with these artistic posters. They know it’s not about money, but art. Granted this isn’t the finest Polish poster I’ve seen, but it’s still confusing enough to be good.

Availability: You can get this movie on a double feature bargain-bin DVD here, and then you can be really confused as well.

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