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Power, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Some things, like mutant telekinesis, never get old."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: You could probably re-adapt "The Power" today without changing a whole heck of a lot - a little more gender and ethnic diversity among the academics who serve as suspects/victims, perhaps, and maybe some sort of having-related subplot to explain why certain information is not available. Fear of a mutant developing strange mental powers doesn't seem to get old, which means this sci-fi thriller from 1968 is far less creaky than many of its contemporaries.

It starts with Dr. Norman Van Zandt (Richard Carlson) being assigned as the government liaison for a University program that measures human endurance, and his first staff meeting is eventful: Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) claims that the results of an anonymous questionnaire circulated among the staff indicates that someone has off-the-charts brainpower, and while committee chair Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) dismisses the idea as pseudoscientific quackery, indications are that there something to it -- especially when Tanner and colleague/lover Prof. Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) discover Hallson's murdered body. Jim is framed for the crime, and goes on the lam to find the mysterious "Adam Harte" named in Hallson's notes, even if the man does seem to be a ghost, having left scant record of his existence behind; there's not even a consistent physical description!

The Power is built as a murder mystery, although the constraints of the time hurt it to a certain extent: Aside from Margery, the whole suspect/victim pool is rather similar middle-aged white men with similar backgrounds (with Jim not that much younger) and a motivation that is more or less a given. To a certain extent, that makes the movie a sort of proto-slasher, except that the anonymous people getting dispatched in progressively more bizarre ways are a little older. There's also a inescapable sense that because every murder that brings the numbers of suspects closer to one by literal process of elimination, it's not a very good plan, although the last few scenes do provide a bit of an explanation.

It may not be much of a fair-play mystery, but there's still plenty of room for the movie to be an enjoyable thriller. I don't know how much director Byron Haskin and screenwriter John Gay took directly from Frank M. Robinson's novel, but they fill the movie with plenty of entertaining set pieces, from murder by centrifuge to a shootout in a lecture hall, with plenty of chases and moments of intrigue in between. That said, one of the most inadvertently memorable may be when Jim, Margery, and one of the targeted scientists wind up unable to find a hotel room because there's a convention in town and they wind up looking hilariously square in a room where a part is going on.

One would think that Jim & Margery would stand more of a chance of fitting in there; after all, both George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette are attractive people and neither plays their character as any sort of isolated ivory-tower type. They do manage to grow into an enjoyable pair of protagonists fairly quickly, although it does seem worth noting that for as nice a screen presence as Pleshette is, Margery always seems less specific in her intelligence and more self-deprecating than her male colleagues. Hamilton certainly gets to play his character as more abrasive early on, although he does a fine job of letting Jim become easier to like as the situation pits him on his heels, even if a certain amount of arrogance is always there.

For all that these movie scientists are products of their times, though, they hold up surprisingly well forty-five years later. "The Power" may not be a particularly essential entry in the canon of classic sci-fi movies, but it can be enjoyed today with less irony than many of its contemporaries, which is something of a plus.

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originally posted: 02/26/14 16:41:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/21/19 henry better than i thought it would be 4 stars
4/01/06 Harold Bolton A Good Made-for-TV Film from 1968 4 stars
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  21-Feb-1968 (NR)


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