|The poster makes it look|
like a horror film.
The most obvious suspects are the committee members: chairman Jim Tanner (George Hamilton); geneticist Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette), who has a romantic relationship with Tanner; physicist Carl Melniker (Nehemiah Persoff); biologist Talbot “Scotty” Scott (Earl Holliman); N. E. Van Zandt (Richard Carlson); and Arthur Nordlund (Michael Rennie), a government V.I.P. who attended the fateful meeting.
After Tanner survives a “telekinetic attack,” he sets out to determine the identity of the superbrain who killed Hallson and threatens the existence of mankind. His investigation uncovers a mysterious man in Hallson's past named Adam Hart. Tanner becomes convinced that Hart is the man with the power—a power so great that he can alter how he physically appears to people. Hallson's father describes Hart as a gypsy with “cold black shifty eyes,” while a waitress in a diner remembers him as a blue-eyed blonde who “gave her goose pimples all over.” But which one of the committee members is Hart?
As a mystery, The Power seems to draw its inspiration from Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel And Then There None. In Christie's book, potential murder suspects are eliminated when they are killed one by one. The murderer hides his identity through a simple, but ingenious, trick. Both plot devices are employed in The Power, though to reveal precisely how would spoil the fun for first-time viewers. Suffice to say that John Gay's script plays fair with the audience and the outcome should come as no surprise to the discerning viewer.
From a science-fiction perspective, the most interesting aspect of the film lies in its treatment of the power. At first, we are led to believe that it can move objects (e.g., the paper) or make them disappear altogether (e.g., Tanner's transcripts). However, as the movie progresses, a different view of the power emerges—it appears that the Adam Hart can alter people's perceptions of reality. In other words, it's unlikely that the transcripts physically disappeared. Instead, the Hart made the police detective think that the papers never existed, just as he makes another character think his heart is stopping. This intriguing constructivist approach to viewing the world lies below the surface of the mystery plot, but nevertheless holds strong appeal to sci-fi fans.
Film critic Pauline Kael found The Power “lacklustre,” while sci fi reference book writer John Baxter hailed it as “one of the finest of all science fiction films.” Can they be talking about the same movie? They are, of course. While most critics tend to agree with Kael’s assessment, there are also those of us who admire The Power for its fascinating premise and unusual plot (which mixes mystery with science fiction).