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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Thriller > The Chairman (1969)

The Chairman (1969)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: C+



Gregory 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.


The film 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.


Of 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.


Though 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.


The 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 Voyage.


The Dolby 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.


Overall, 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


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