Cynical paranoia was a big cash cow for best-selling thrillers in the 1970s, and one of the biggest of those bestsellers was Steven Shagan's The Formula. Reacting to the oil crisis of the mid-'70s, when the OPEC nations banded together to manufacture oil shortages, push up gas prices, and create anguish, grief, and gas lines throughout a gas-guzzling United States, Shagan hatched a conspiracy plot involving a non-polluting, synthetic fuel formula. Developed by the Nazis during World War II, the formula fell into the hands of the Allies and was suppressed by the American oil conglomerates to prevent the destruction of the oil industry. (After all, if the economic power of the U.S. is in free fall, it must have something to do with the Nazis). Brought to the screen by Shagan (as writer and producer) and enlisting the services of director John G. Avildsen (then a hot few years after his smash Rocky), the film version of The Formula features the casting coup of the decade with George C. Scott and Marlon Brando in the lead roles (an earlier version of Righteous Kill's teaming of past-their-primes De Niro and Pacino, only more fun).
The film begins disconcertingly in the middle of a hellish battle during the final days of World War II, a chaotic prologue featuring gargantuan explosions, fleeing Nazis, and stampeding elephants. Then in a whiplash inducing segue, the film settles in to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, where Scott plays loner LAPD detective Barney Caine ("There's only two things that matter to me -- my son and my work. The rest of my life is a complete zero."), investigating the killing of his old pal Tom Neeley (Robin Clarke). The crime scene is laid out like the opening scene of a Charlie Chan movie with mysterious clues all about -- a voodoo doll, a map with the name "Oberman" scrawled on it, a folded newspaper with the letter G-E-N-E written in blood -- and Caine falls for the setup to avenge the death of his friend.
Continue reading: The Formula Review