By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.
Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.
While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.
The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.
The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.
I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.
I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?
The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: December 16, 1977
Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes
Director: Don Siegel
Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)