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I actually picked this one up by accident as I was looking for Peter Bogdanovich's debut movie The Sniper, and the two movies have very similar titles when translated into our local language. That the actors didn't match up or that the year was off by 8 years apparently didn't register with me, but that's what late-night binge-shopping on the internet is all about.
As luck had it, Two-Minute Warning turned out to be highly enjoyable and I would surely have seen it sooner or later anyway. I have no memories of its original run back in 1976-77, but it clearly belongs to the genre of 'disaster movies' that were in vogue in the mid-70s, sometimes involving Mother Nature, sometimes terrorists, and sometimes both. Those familiar with John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday will recognize certain elements instantly, the most obvious being an assault taking place during a football game. However, Two-Minute Warning is the earlier of the two and holds its own ground well. I was particularly impressed with the pacing and scene transitions, and the editing received a well-earned Oscar nomination.
Director Larry Peerce is not a major Hollywood name, and at the time of this movie he was a veteran of mainly TV work, and in the later part of his career he did more TV and a number of low-profile romantic dramas for the silver screen. Though unfamiliar with his oeuvre I suspect that Two-Minute Warning may be the best thing he put his name on. It's not a 'New Hollywood' movie per se, but like Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah there is a natural affinity with the grim realism that the new generation favored. Based on a novel the script is tightly written as it unfolds, minute by minute, the desperate hunt for a crazy sniper whose next move no one can predict. Charlton Heston is a less than ideal choice for the main part, and John Cassavetes seems overly intellectual for a SWAT team leader, but the two get a fairly enjoyable tougher-than-thou chemistry going. It's interesting to speculate what a truly progressive casting job, such as in Dog Day Afternoon, might have brought out from this movie. But this is not really an actor showpiece or a character study, but a straightforward action thriller, and should be judged as such. I do sense a bit of Don Siegel as general inspiration, and the surprisingly bleak plot twists towards the end recall the chilly moods of the first two Dirty Harry movies, as an example, as does the sniper theme and the extensive use of real, outdoor locations rather than studio sets.
The cast is wide enough to look almost like a multi-story ensemble piece, but all the cords are tied together towards the end in an effective manner. Beau Bridges appears as a blue collar family man who suspects something's wrong, while Gena Rowlands has an unexpected but funny part as an ageing Southern belle. We're also treated to TV heroes David Janssen (The Fugitive) and Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple). Martin Balsam's presence brought Pelham 1-2-3 to mind, another quality disaster movie from the time. I deserve a moderate pat on the back for spotting Robert Ginty (of early video rental B-movie classic The Exterminator fame) in a 1-line part.
As a final note in praise of the direction, Two-Minute Warning features some of the best 'crowd hysteria' scenes I have seen in a movie this old. This is a very challenging task where just one extra not giving his all as the panic ensues can ruin a whole shot. But the scenes feel very real, near-documentary at their best. 7/10