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  Power, The Brain Gain
Year: 1968
Director: Byron Haskin
Stars: George Hamilton, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Carlson, Yvonne De Carlo, Earl Holliman, Gary Merrill, Ken Murray, Barbara Nichols, Arthur O'Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Aldo Ray, Michael Rennie, Miiko Taka, Celia Lovsky, Vaughn Taylor, Beverly Powers
Genre: Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: At an American government research institute, Professor Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) is working on a way to make space travel safer, and the methods he uses are to push his human guinea pigs through their pain barriers to see how much the body can endure and the reason why certain subjects can survive conditions that might well kill someone else. The scientists he works with include one Professor Hallsom (Arthur O'Connell) who is growing more agitated with each passing day, for he has found out something remarkable about the circle of head boffins at the institute...

Before David Cronenberg's Scanners came along and solved the problem of visualising events that are pretty much taking place inside the characters' noggins, producer George Pal brought Frank Robinson's much-respected science fiction novel to the screen in The Power. Those who had read the book at the time were not impressed by the Hollywood version, but over the years what had been a flop thriller with sci-fi trappings grew in cult status, with its adherents fond of the way it turns from Hitchcockian man on the run suspenser into a wacky example of the way out sixties.

There something very self-actualising about all this talk of telekinesis in the film, appropriately for an era where exploring you inner consciousness was becoming ever more fashionable. Yet there is never any question of using psychedelics or mind-altering substances here, for Pal's involvement means for all the crazy goings-on, The Power remains an undeniably square work with Hamilton reluctant to let go of his suit and tie, and any promising paranoia about the state coming after him thrown away in the face of the true villain's attempts to track him down.

Most of those attempts seem small scale, even if they do feature murder as a main plot point, as if they're simply a way of getting Tanner on his way from A to B in the narrative. So when Professor Hallsom is found dead in the G-force test chamber with his eyes popped out, Tanner is regarded as suspect number one because not only was he the first to find him in the middle of the night, someone has been altering his records to make it look as if he is an impostor too. The cops tell him not to make any journeys while they investigate, but when has a thriller hero ever done that? He has a name to clear, after all.

Screenwriter John Gay gets rather too bogged down in the more conventional elements of a chase movie when what we really want to see is more of the mindbending stuff, such as when Professor Hallsom found he couldn't leave his office because the door had turned into a wall, or when Tanner is mentally assaulted on the street, seeing toys in a shop window spring to life and winding up staggering through a funhouse (it had to be a funhouse, didn't it?) before being caught. But director Byron Haskin, with his last film, doesn't seem to have his heart in these sequences despite them being the highlights, and they are too far and few between. If it was a journey into the infinite through the doors of perception you were after, it was 2001: A Space Odyssey you wanted to watch, not The Power, which takes a masochistic view of such self-improvement. At least love interest Suzanne Pleshette brightened up a few scenes, proving once more that she deserved a better movie career than the one she had. Music by Miklos Rozsa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Byron Haskin  (1899 - 1984)

American director, cinematographer and special effects pioneer. Entered Hollywood in 1919 as an assistant cameraman, and was director of photography for several John Barrymore films. Haskin directed a few films in the late 1920s and worked in England as a technical advisor, and in 1937 became head of Warner's special effects department. In the 1945 he joined Paramount to resume his directing career, where he worked for the next 20 years, turning in such sci-fi classics as The War of the Worlds, From the Earth to the Moon and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, plus the adventure yarn The Naked Jungle.

 
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