Medium Cool (1969)



Director:     Haskell Wexler.

Starring:     Robert Forster (John Cassellis), Verna Bloom (Eileen), Peter Bonerz (Gus), Marianna Hill (Ruth), Harold Blankenship (Harold), Charles Geary (Harold's Father), Sid McCoy (Frank Baker), Christine Bergstrom (Dede), William Sickingen (News Director), Robert McAndrew (Pennybaker), Marrian Walters (Social Worker), Beverly Younger (Rich Lady), Edward Croke (Plain-clothesman), Doug Kimball (Newscaster), Peter Boyle (Gun Clinic Manager).

Democratic convention of 1968




Spoiler Warning:

Two newsmen, cameraman John Cassellis and soundman Gus, film the results of a car accident.  They show no compassion to help the woman who is laying on the street.  They get their film and then leave.  When the men get back to their car, they say they better call an ambulance.  They ask for an ambulance to come to the accident site.  Later the role of the newsman is discussed with the two fellows taking the car accident film. 

The National Guard puts on a fake riot by young people protesting the Vietnam War, so the Guard can get some simulated experience with a possible riots with casualties. 

The newsguys tape some interviews with a group of Robert Kennedy campaign workers.  The young people talk about their reasons for supporting Kennedy. 

The cameraman picks up his girlfriend Ruth at the hospital where she works as a nurse.  They go see a roller skate derby, which has a lot of violence going on in it and that includes the women's teams too.  The fans shout out:  "Kill her!  Kill her!"

A census worker asks a young boy, Harold, a lot of questions and he rattles the answers off.  His mother Eileen is off at work and his daddy is in Vietnam.  Later a boy seems to be stealing something from the cameraman's car.  John chases after the kid but can't catch him, but at least the boy dropped the lunch basket while running away and the cameraman retrieves it.  

Ruth and John talk in bed, probably after having sex.  John steals the sheet from Ruth and she chases after John. (brief nudity)  He grabs her up and spins her around, and then plops her back on the bed.  (brief nudity)  In their playing around, John opens the lunch basket and the pigeon belonging to Harold flies out. 

John goes to where Harold lives to return the pigeon to him, but Harold won't answer the door.  John starts leaving, but then Eileen starts up the stairs with her groceries.  So he follows her to her apartment and tells her that he believes this pigeon belongs to one Harold Horton.  Eileen is from West Virginia and has a thick accent.  John says he just got through working on a documentary on the hills people of West Virginia.  They talk awhile until Gus gets impatient waiting down in the car and calls the dispatcher to call John and tell him to get back  to the car.  So John has to leave the apartment. 

Later, Harold and mom go up on the roof to see the pigeons in their cages. 

John and Gus did an article on Frank Baker, a black man who returned $10,000 dollars that he found.  The police give him a hard time about it, but John and Gus believe the man's story.  Now John and Gus track Frank Baker down to do a better article about the good samaritan.   There are a lot of blacks in the room, and the guy who answers the door says Frank Baker doesn't live here. Finally, Frank has to come to the door and vouch for the two guys.  John talks to Baker, and Gus just hangs out.  A couple of black guys start giving Gus a  hard time, so he tells John he'll bet waiting outside for him in the car.  Gus leaves. 

John talks with Baker and finds out that Frank has had a hard time being accosted about the good samaritan who turned in $10,000 dollar.  Especially the black people make fun of him for turning the money in.  John won't give up and says he will call Frank later to set up a time for the interview.  John goes to leave but two other blacks says they want to talk to John about what's going on in the black community.  John tries to excuse himself and leave, but the black woman is being particularly pushy.  Long story short, Frank has to come over and get John out of trouble so he can leave.  John starts to leave, but another black man wants to talk to John saying that John can't be black enough to do reports on the black community.  John has to stay and listen to being called an exploiter of blacks, who writes biased and hurtful black human interest stories.  The blacks are blowing off steam and are saying interesting things about being black people, but John just wants to get onto his next assignment. 

White women are at a shooting range practicing pistol shooting.  John and Gus are interviewing the owner of the gun range.  The owner  says there's been about a 46% percent increase in pistol registration since last year's riot. 

Back at the office, a guy tells John that Dede is looking for him.  So John goes looking for the young woman and finds her at a water fountain.  Dede tells him that the boss was looking around for John and was saying that John is probably out shooting stupid interviews.  That gets John's attention all right.  He grabs Dede a little too hard by her left arm, and she has to tell him that he's hurting her arm.  John lets go of her arm, but wants to know from her what's going on?  Dede tells him that for about a year now the station has been letting the cops and the FBI go over the footage brought in by the reporters.  This news really upsets John and he wants to know why didn't somebody tell him when all this first started instead of waiting a year?  He walks away mad. 

John tries to talk to the boss, but his secretary says he's not in right now.  He runs up stairs to talk to someone else, but the fellow is not there either.  So John calls up Accounting to ask+ if they have a severance notice for John Cassellis?  The answer is yes. 

John tells Gus, who says he'll tell the boss if John is going, then he too is going.  Gus leaves.  Eileen sees John and asks him if he remembers her?  Yes.  She says she works diagonally across the street at Motorola.  John and she start talking and John ends up coming over for dinner at Eileen's place.  He asks her what did she do in West Virginia?  She was a school teacher but she taught five grades in one classroom.  Illinois doesn't recognize her West Virginia teaching certificate.  Eileen asks where's John from?  Right here in Chicago. 

John tells Eileen that he lost his job.  She wants to know why?  John says he started to do a story about a cabdriver who found $10,000 dollars and turned it in, but for unknown reasons the owner of the money would not claim it.  He adds that there's only one kind of money that a guy would be afraid to claim.  He thinks that maybe there's a connection to a vigilante group getting ready for a blowup this summer.  John's director told his union local that he had taken company film without authorization.  John says it's politics, just plain bureaucratic politics. 

John turns on the television and he and Eileen listen to a speech by Martin Luther King.  John says God, he loves making films. The time is just after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, which in turn followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Eileen says that it seems that these days nobody's life mean anything anymore.  The television carries a program on the three killings.  John calls this National Drain-off Week, where the government runs programs to drain-off the bitterness of people effected by losing their heroes one after the other. 

John wants to kiss Eileen but he worries about her husband.  Now Eileen tells him that her husband Buddy is dead. 

John, Eileen and Harold go to see a massive pigeon release. John takes Harold over to his house to see it and this gives John an opportunity to talk to the boy.  He tells Harold that they are going to be friends, and Harold agrees to that. 

John and another journalist go to the place where the 1968 Democratic Party Convention will take place.  They want to check out the place before filming. 

John and Eileen go to a dance with a live band playing hippie type music with lyrics about getting high on drugs in San Francisco, California.  Later John kisses Eileen lots of times even though she tells him no because Harold might see them.   

When Eileen comes home, she can't find Harold.  She checks up on the roof for him and now she gets on the Chicago subway. 

The trouble is already underway in Chicago between the Chicago police and the young protestors.  Eileen gets off the subway and starts walking toward the Convention, but next we see her she tries to get the police to help her find Harold.  The police tell her the police can't help her.  "The city's been invaded, and I can't spare a man.  They usually come back, lady."

Harold is out with a friend at an outside bandstand in a park.  Eileen keeps looking for Harold.  John is working at the Convention.  Eileen looks in the park for her boy.  She sees the police massing together.  The police tell people to get out of the park or they are in violation of the law, but the protestors chant:  "Hell, no! We won't go!".   They also shout:  "Peace now!"  Eileen just goes with the flow, following the protestors headed to the Convention. 

The National Guard is also out in the streets along with the police.  When the protestors sit down on the street, so does innocent Eileen.  The protestors chant: "The whole world is watching!"  The National Guard brings out armored personnel carriers complete with a mounted machine gun. Over a loud speaker someone says that they know that in amongst the protestors are people who actually want to injure police officers, and they will take all necessary actions to protect the policemen.  A tear gas canister is released. 

The Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley comes to the podium at the Convention.  The band plays "Happy Days are Here Again."  This is contrasted with young people with their heads bloodied by policemen.  Other young people try to help patch up the clubbed students.  The policemen get tough again and start pushing people around and beating them with clubs.

At the convention, a man asks the question:  "Is there any rule under which Mayor Daley can be compelled to suspend the police state terror perpetrated this minute on kids in front of the Conrad Hilton?"  John leaves the convention. 

At the park, Eileen sees Gus and goes over to talk with him.  Gus tells her something and she takes off running in a different direction.  She keeps walking  until she finds John.  The two of them start slowly running together. 

Meanwhile, Harold is banging on a window shouting for his mother. 

John and Eileen are in the network car looking for Harold.  On the car radio, a person says:  "The policemen are grabbing and beating everybody in sight.  A line of policemen has cut off the very front of the Hilton.  There's mayhem in the streets."

Then the radio broadcasts that the victim of a car accident was identified as former Channel 8 news cameraman John CassellisHe was taken to Michael Reese Hospital and is in critical condition.  A woman companion with the victim was dead on arrival. 

"People are standing around crying."   

John is driving the car and all of a sudden there is a tire blowout and John crashes into a tree.  The violence at the Convention just goes on and on. 



Set at the time of the police riot at the Chicago Democratic National Convention before the election of 1968, this picture deals with the subject of the journalistic ideal of professional objectivity, of which many reporters grew skeptical after being man-handled in a rude way by the police and seeing the effects of the police riot.

The film criticizes the detached professionalism of journalists by having the reporter and cameraman stop to film a car crash even before calling an ambulance. The reporter, however, starts to change his mind when he learns that the police and the FBI are seizing his footage without his knowledge, followed up by his getting fired from his television station for his resistance to the very idea of secret viewing of film footage.  But the highlight of his transformation comes when he takes a freelance assignment to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and he sees the violence inflicted on the protestors by Mayor Daley's policemen, where a "police riot" ended with a lot of people with their skulls broken open.  The real bummer comes at the end of the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.





Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)