The Chairman (1969)
B- Sound: C+ Extras: B Film: C+
Peck is a man who goes to a more closed, Maoist China for an espionage mission
to obtain a secret formula from a dissident scientist, but may have to deal
with no less than Mao himself in The
Chairman, J. Lee Thompson’s ambitious 1969 Spy thriller that was part of a
cycle to do more serious Spy thrillers.
As that kind of Spy thriller is finally making a comeback, the arrival
of the film on DVD could not be timelier.
has its contrivances at times, but also some fine performances and share of
suspense. One-upping the James Bond film
Thunderball, instead of having the
hero merely swallow a nuclear capsule so he can be tracked (which was deadlier
at the time than anyone could have known), Dr. John Hathaway (Peck) has a radio
device implanted in the back side of his head behind one of his ears. They can hear him, but he cannot hear
them. Also, it has an explosive they can
set off in the event of capture or other dire emergency.
course, China is now a major Capitalist economic power, but there were real and
authentic fears about the closed country that continued into underrated films
like The Omega Man until Nixon went
to China. However, the classiness and
cleverness in which Thompson and screenplay writer Ben Maddow (based on the Jay
Richard Kennedy book) handle the material is top rate. Adding to the professionalism are
co-producers Mort Abrahams and (Executive Producer) Arthur P. Jacobs, who had
just hit gold with Fox the year before with Planet Of The Apes.
there are a few moments for even Mystery
Science Theater, most of the film still works very well despite the passage
of time. Also helping are the supporting
cast, including Arthur Hill as the no-nonsense military head of this operation
Marshal Shelby, Anne Heywood as Hathaway’s love interest, Burt Kwouk and Keye
Luke in strong supporting roles and Conrad Yama as the title character. Film fans will most likely enjoy this one.
anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in real anamorphic Panavision
by Hammer Studios cinematographer favorite John Wilcox, B.S.C., but uncredited
also doing the camerawork was Ted Moore, B.S.C., who had shot the first four
James Bond films before taking a break and returning to the series for three
more films in 1971. This was shot to be
seen big and wide, so it is nice that this transfer looks so good. The DeLuxe color is consistent and production
design solid, even if one set is from Fantastic
Digital 2.0 sound is available in Mono (it was released in optical mono
theatrically) and a new Stereo track. I
like the Stereo a little more and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is a big plus
for the film. Extras include alternate
scenes from the International Edition (though it should be said that this is
the full-length 98 minutes long version), an original promo film for is release
and an excellent feature length audio commentary by Eddie Friedfeld and Lee
Pfeiffer, two fans and film scholars who have also done tracks for Fox DVD Spy
releases The Ultimate Flint Collection
that we reviewed, The Quiller Memorandum
to be posted next and it is outstanding in how it puts the film into context. They know their history, real and cinematic.
the film gets the best possible treatment and though it has not always aged
well, it is solid filmmaking with solid storytelling like we rarely see these
days. It goes to show you what you can
achieve when you take your material and audience seriously with intelligence.
- Nicholas Sheffo