The Power (1968)

Fifteen years after their splendidly colourful, feverish collaborations on War of the Worlds and The Naked Jungle, director Byron Haskin and producer George Pal, produced this film, long regarded as a great disappointment. And it is. Adapted, loosely and incompetently, from a well-regarded sci-fi novel by Frank M. Robinson, The Power alternates an intriguing story set-up and exciting ideas with some truly lame scenes. Casting perennially well-scrubbed and unpersuasive George Hamilton in the lead doesn’t help, and the rest of the film manages to waste, with astonishing dexterity, an interesting cast, from Suzanne Pleshette to Richard Carlson. The Power has a potentially riveting story to tell, as the directing committee of a scientific institute find themselves infiltrated by a vastly powerful psychic, who proceeds to attempt to destroy all rivals in a quest for power.

Trouble is, all of the sense seems to have been left out of the film, as the finale leaves more questions to be asked than answered – and not in a good, David Lynch fashion. The elements of the original storyline have been treated with contempt, and it’s easy to guess who isn’t the omnicompetent super-psychic, considering how many characters keep getting snuck up on, or not detecting that they’re being spied on. How and why villainous Michael Rennie (my new rule – always suspect Klaatu) decided to infiltrate an institute that happens to have both an old friend and another, undiscovered super-psychic on the staff, is beyond my puny intellect’s grasp. The film bends over backwards to be an action-adventure in a sub-Hitchcockian mould, and subjects us instead to awful imitation hippie-rock in a particularly naff party scene in order to seem, like, with it, man.

Haskin provides a surplus of spectacularly ordinary suspense sequences, as Hamilton keeps surviving assassination attempts, through such outlandish methods as on an out-of-control carousel and being stranded on a jet missile firing range, which is a particularly ludicrous moment – the firepower of the stock-footage jets seems to equal a few hand grenades. The film is further hurt by sloppy filmmaking, and by poor production values, full of short-cut effects, cardboard sets, and tacky, modish visual tricks. It’s sad to compare the excellence of the filmmaking in Pal and Haskin’s earlier collaborations with the overall air of barren competence here, and this bears out just how much Hollywood studio craft had declined in the intervening decade and a half, shaken by uncertainties of which audience to pitch to and at what level, and starved of passion and ingenuity. Notably, later films like The Fury (1978) and Scanners (1981) stole liberally from this film and proved infinitely more entertaining. The Power is only just interesting enough to watch until the end.

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