“Someone is trying to kill me,” says a teary Carter, pulling out a three-year-old newspaper clipping—“Moments before assassination”—that shows four photos of the scene at the space needle before Carroll was shot. Carter claims six of the eighteen people in the photos have since died—in tragic accidents or, in one case, a heart attack at the age of forty. She produces another clip, this one reporting the death of one of the six in a fishing accident in a town called Salmontail, where Carroll’s former political aide, Austin Tucker, lives.

Frady thinks she’s crazy and sends her away. The next time we see Carter, she is in a morgue—cold. She had been driving on barbiturates!

The journalist in Frady senses something fishy, and he heads to Salmontail. He stops first at the local bar, where he gets in a brawl with the deputy sheriff. The sheriff apologizes to Frady—the deputy was his nephew—and tells him Tucker is long gone, but offers to take Frady to the scene of the fishing accident. They go the next day, and the friendly old sheriff pulls a gun on Frady. But journalist Joe is faster with his knife, and he slashes the sheriff’s face. They wrestle in the rushing water and Frady, far too dexterous for a true hack, gets away in the sheriff’s car. He repairs to the sheriff’s home and discovers a drawer full of sinister-seeming documents marked “personal inventory” and “Parallax Corporation.”

The deputy shows up and Frady speeds off, getting away again after a car chase that involves flying, spinning, dodging a log-bearing semi, and crashing into the canned-goods aisle of a grocery store. He makes his way home and heads to the newsroom, where his editor fumes about Frady’s appetite for perilous investigation. “The thought of covering that city council meeting was just too much for you, wasn’t it?” the editor chides.

Frady shows him the goods from Salmontail and makes a case for further investigation, but this editor tells him to knock it off: “I don’t care if your self-serving ambition gets you a paperback sale and a Pulitzer Prize, I’m not going to have anything more to do with it!”

Undeterred, Frady takes his documents to a psychology lab that performs tests on chimps. “Do you think the test could pick up potentially homicidal characteristics?” Frady asks a psychologist there. He also presses on with his efforts to find Tucker. He succeeds, but gets strip-searched, professionally emasculated—“stop acting like you’re on the New York Times, for Christ’s sake. You’re a third-rate journalist from Oregon or wherever the hell you’re from”—and is offered hush-money by Tucker.

But Frady is as incorruptible as he is unrelenting when it comes to pursuing truth. “Sorry Mr. Tucker, you’ve got information I need. Money doesn’t mean anything to me. This story is going to mean more to me than $10,000.” They go out on Tucker’s boat, and Tucker gives Frady some critical information—including the name of the mysterious second waiter! Then the boat blows up.

In addition to being persistent, Frady is also lucky, and he survives. The papers report him dead, though, and he scares his editor silly when he shows back up at the office. “Whoever is behind this is in the business of recruiting assassins,” Frady tells his editor. The editor believes him this time, and agrees with some reluctance not to call the Feds and to let Frady do his thing.

“What do you expect me to print?” the editor asks Frady.

“My obituary,” Frady says.

Frady goes undercover, to become a Parallax assassin. Having observed Ernie, a serial killer, fill out the Parallax “personal inventory” back at the psych lab, he aces the Parallax Corporation’s entrance exam. He’s invited to the corporation headquarters—which is gleaming, sinister, modern—where in the Division of Human Engineering he is treated to the movie’s famous, five-minute montage scene—a musically-scored series of increasingly jumbled images that reflect words like mother, country, god, enemy. It’s intended to brainwash recruits. (It’s worth noting that there is much in this film that is never fully explained.)

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.