MGM’s “The Power” (1968) features a killer using telekinesis to slay fellow top scientists

By on April 15, 2019

In Byron Haskin’s The Power (1968), now streaming on Night Flight Plus, members of a top secret government project are being killed by one of their seven members, a mental superman mega-brain using “telekinesis,” and remember, this was long before Stephen King published his 1974 novel Carrie or director David Cronenberg showed us his horrific telepathic world of Scanners (1981).

It’s up to bio-chemist “Dr. Jim Tanner” (played by George Hamilton, not yet thirty years old) to stop this mind-melting madman before he slays all of his fellow top scientists, one by one.

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MGM’s The Power arrived in theaters the same year as Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey (also MGM), and the original Planet of the Apes, set in the far-off future year of 3978.

Like both of those, The Power is a thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be human in our highly-technological and often quite dangerous world.

The Power opens with a screen telling us that this story takes place “Tomorrow.”

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Hamilton’s Tanner soon finds himself seated at a circular table in a spage-age SoCal research facility.

This team of talents, the “Human Endurance Committee” — led by naval liaison officer “Arthur Nordlund” (Michael Rennie, “Klaatu” from The Day the Earth Stood Still!) — has been assembled to study the body’s capacity for pain, in order to better prepare astronauts for space travel.

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Tanner — who it turns out also possesses a superhuman brain — learns from anthropologist “Dr. Henry Hallson” (Arthur O’Connell) that another team member also possesses a powerful psychic ability capable of controlling other minds and causing destruction through sheer will power.

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The rest of the team is filled out by a professor of genetics and cellular theory “Margery Lansing” (sexy Suzanne Pleshette, also Tanner’s love interest), physicist “Dr. Carl Melniker” (Nehemiah Persoff), biologist “Talbot Scott” (Earl Holliman) and head administrator “N. E. Van Zandt” (Richard Carlson).

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Tanner becomes the number one suspect in the murder investigation, led by “Inspector Mark Corlaine” (Gary Merrill), after Hallson is found murdered with the name “Adam Hart” scrawled near his dead body.

The Power eventually shifts from sci-fi saga into a murder mystery whodunit, and it’s up to Tanner to identify the mega-brain killer before he kills them all.

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Since this was the late Sixties, the filmmakers decided that The Power needed to consider the era’s sexual zeitgeist and the exploration of “the new freedoms.”

That’s why there’s an emphasis on casual sex and drug use (although the drugs here were likely made by scientists in white lab coats).

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There’s also a pretty “mod” party scene, where drunk middle-aged convention-goers party and dance the Frug to psychedelic tunes.

The party comes to an abrupt end when a frisky red-dressed dancer doing a striptease — Beverly Powers, “Miss Beverly Hills” — discovers that the dude she’s trying to seduce is actually dead.

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The great cast is rounded out by solid performances by Yvonne De Carlo, Ken Murray, Aldo Ray, Barbara Nichols, Celia Lovsky (a.k.a. Peter Lorre’s wife), and, check it out, that’s Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Forrest J. Ackerman as a hotel clerk!

The Power also features Miklós Rózsa’s great pulsating hammer-dulcimer and cymbalon-rich musical score, his final MGM film score during what had been an illustrious, Oscar-winning career.

Read more about The Power below.

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Director Byron Haskin in 1953, speaking with George Pal and two others

Haskin — born in 1899, not long after the first publication of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds — and the film’s producer, George Pal (b. in Cegled, Hungary, in 1908), were well-known film industry titans by the time they worked on The Power.

This was Haskin’s final feature film, in fact, culminating a long, prestigious career directing films in nearly every genre imaginable: sci-fi, war, political drama, docu-drama, high adventure, fantasy and westerns.

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John Gay’s screenplay was adapted on the 1956 novel by Frank M. Robinson.

Robinson was one of the writers involved on The Towering Inferno (he also wrote Playboy‘s “Playboy Advisor,” and penned speeches for San Francisco politician Harvey Milk).

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Haskin had already previously directed sci-fi classics like The War of the Worlds, Conquest of Space, From the Earth to the Moon, and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, not to mention six episodes of “The Outer Limits.”

Several of his films were set on Mars (or featured martians on Earth) which meant Haskin became Hollywood’s go-to sci-fi guy for all things about the red planet for awhile.

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Pal had already produced The Naked Jungle (1954) and Conquest of Space (1955), and other sci-fi films directed by others, including Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, and The Time Machine.

Pal had been a director himself before focusing on producing (one of his abandoned projects was an adaptation of Philip Wylie’s novel The Disappearance, which eventually was made as the 1976 film Logan’s Run).

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In the 1920s, Haskin worked as a gifted cameraman at the French Pathé film company before transitioning to work as an assistant director for Selznick Productions. By the ’30s, he was involved in the development of sound film technology.

Haskin also worked for another twenty years as the head of Warner Brothers Special Effects department, winning Academy Awards for four films in a row between 1939-1942.

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His directorial debut came with Disney’s live-action Treasure Island (1950).

Haskin directed several more films before Pal had approached him with the idea of directing The War of the Worlds, which would go on to become the template for virtually every alien invasion film that followed.

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Haskin died in 1984. Pal died in 1980.

Watch The Power on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.