Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Different Kind of Super Man in "The Power"

The poster makes it look
like a horror film.
Absent-minded Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) sets the The Power into motion when he reveals that one of his colleagues at a research center for human endurance has “an intelligence quotient beyond the known limits of measurability.” The catch is that Hallson does not know the identity of the superbrain, because he made his discovery while administering an anonymous questionnaire. Hallson presents his results to his skeptical peers at a committee meeting. They scoff at him, but one of them suggests that such a superbrain should be able to move a piece of paper telekinetically. When the committee members try individually, the paper doesn't budge. But when they concentrate as a group, it spins around and rises off the table. That evening, Hallson is murdered in a centrifuge.

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.

Hamilton with Suzanne Pleshette.
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).


  1. Yeah! THE POWER! Thank you so much for reviewing this fun, slightly obscure flick. I saw it many years ago and am looking forward to seeing it again (I'm recording it as I write this). Great review, Rick.

  2. I don't think I've ever disagreed with you on a movie, Rick, but this is the one. I thought this movie was bad, the performances by some wonderful actors stilted and one-dimensional, and I was bored to the point of falling asleep on it twice at different parts of the movie. However, I am curious as to who the villain was and what his ingenious trick was, and I did try to get to the end to find out. Send me an email and tell me, would you? Now that you have reviewed it, I would like to know. That's not really a compliment to the movie, but to your review!

  3. Becky, I suppose I'll never convince you and Pauline Kael! I am acutely aware of THE POWER's flaws, but--for me--its strengths outweigh its weaknesses and its premise is ingenious. By the way, in my write-up, I neglected to mention Miklos Rosza's marvelous score, much of it played on a cimbalon. Sark, let me know what you think of THE POWER--good or bad--this time around.

  4. Rick, I remember this film. I watched it with my brother. It is an interesting movie and the ending is unique. I have not seen it in many years. So glad you reviewed. I will check it out on Netflix. Nice review, but all of your reviews are excellent.

  5. Rick, I watched THE POWER again the other night, and I must say I liked it more the second time. My uncle showed it to me years ago, and I think he was disappointed that I didn't enjoy it as much as he thought I would. But watching THE POWER again, I appreciated the look of the film, particularly the visualizations of someone using the power. Also, the plot seems to go everywhere, which is just plain fun, and I love the ending. My only real complaint is that I think the film would've worked better if were closer to 90 minutes in length.