Movie of the Week: The Power (1968)

Written by John Gay
Based on the novel by Frank M. Robinson
Directed by Byron Haskin
Starring George Hamilton, Suzanne Pleshette, Richard Carlson, Yvonne De Carlo, Earl Holliman, Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Aldo Ray, Michael Rennie
Released February 21, 1968
RT 108 min.
Home Video Warner Archive (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

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Just look at its poster and you can tell The Power (1968) is going to offer some 60s groovy goodness. Like the artwork, the movie is colorful and crazy. Its primary flaw may be that it’s not crazy enough. What begins with an intriguing sci-fi premise ultimately ends as a standard murder mystery thriller. Nevertheless, there are enough unique elements to keep it entertaining for nearly two hours. I like it a lot.

The Power was the final collaboration between producer George Pal and director Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, 1953; The Naked Jungle, 1954; and Conquest of Space, 1955). It has a lush texture to it, with cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956), art direction by George W. Davis (The Time Machine, 1960) and Merrill Pye (North by Northwest, 1959), and set decoration by Henry Grace (The Time Machine) and Don Greenwood Jr. (How the West Was Won, 1962).

The credentials indicate that these movies have a similar look and feel to them. However, they were all released between the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, while The Power was released nearly a decade later. It’s sort of an end of the era, last hurrah-type movie… tastes great, but less filling, if you will. What makes the flavor sweeter is the terrific score by Miklos Rozsa; its theme is both accompaniment to the story and part of it, as well as entirely memorable.

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In San Marino, California, it’s “tomorrow.” Arthur Nordlund (Michael Rennie), a “liaison from Washington” arrives at a research facility where a “committee” of six professors are testing human endurance. Why does one man survive and another doesn’t? During a meeting, Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O’Connell) shares his theory that one of the team members has “intellectual superiority,” or… the power.

This is a compelling basis for the story. Who has the power? It becomes more relevant as, one-by-one, the team members are found dead. Our hero, Professor Jim Tanner (George Hamilton), finds himself in a race against time to follow his one clue and find a man named “Adam Hart” before he himself becomes the next victim. The Power does a pretty good job of creating red herrings and misdirecting us toward the true identity of the killer.

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The cast is a virtual who’s who of familiar faces from the 1960s and 1970s, not necessarily from genre work, but from popular movies and television. The movie earns a lot of cred for me because it’s so much fun seeing them together. Until now, I don’t think I’ve seen Hamilton when he was this young. He’s handsome and charismatic. His colleague/romantic interest, Professor Margery Lansing is played by Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show.)

We also have Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space), Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) and Earl Holliman (Forbidden Planet, Police Woman). Rennie was, of course, in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Recognizable names, if not faces, include Barbara Nichols, Nehemiah Persoff, and Aldo Ray. For me, it’s O’Connell who supplies the most warm-fuzzies. I remember him from almost everything in the 70s, especially The Poseidon Adventure.

While nostalgia contributes heavily to my enjoyment of The Power, let’s not forget the screenplay by John Gay (No Way to Treat a Lady.) It’s based on the first novel by Frank M. Robinson, who wrote The Glass Inferno, the basis for The Towering Inferno. In a way, The Power is a pre-70s, all-star production like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure, without the big budget disaster. It’s not available on Blu-ray yet, but I’ll be purchasing it if and when it is.

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