Feedback Link

Sep 12, 2007

The Mind Benders (1962)

No, I'm not talking about the band who did "Groovy Kinda Love" well before Phil Collins butchered it. This film is one of the creepiest and most interesting small Brit films of the 1960s. While not perfect and marred a little by the melodrama of the climax, it's incredibly well acted, unflinching in its exploration of sensory deprivation experiments and incredibly watchable.

Professor Sharpey, a scientist working on "isolation" experiments at Oxford throws himself from a train heading for London. A thousand pounds in banknotes are found in his case and the Intelligence Officer who has been tailing him, suspects that he's been giving secrets to the Russians. This officer, Major Hal (John Clements) goes to Oxford and finds that Sharpey's experiments in sensory deprivation may have made him unnaturally susceptible to suggestion. He recruits Doctors Tate (Michael Bryant) and Longman (Dirk Bogarde) to find out whether sensory deprivation can cause someone to be brainwashed out of their most cherished beliefs. Longman is already shaky from his previous sessions in the sensory deprivation tank, hiding at home with his wife Oonagh (Mary Ure) and their four children. In spite of this constant nervousness, Longman agrees to re-enter the tank to help Hall understand Sharpey's sudden change from slightly bolshie scientist to traitor.

During the harrowing eight hours in the tank, Longman goes through a wild range of emotional states, anger, boredom, erotic reverie and screaming hysteria. When fished out he's disoriented and Tate, at Hall's suggestion, attempts to usurp Longman's love of his wife. Longman's most strongly held belief is his love of her, hence if it can be broken, then Sharpey's traitorious actions can be explained.

The acting here is incredibly good. Bogarde in particular has to range between loving husband and father to whimpering wreck to an arrogant and sadistically cruel husband. Mary Ure's Oonagh has a couple of good solid moments, particularly in confronting Tate with his previously unrealised personal agenda and Clements' Hall is the kind of spy who would not be out of place in a John Le Carre novel. Of the two climactic moments in the movie, the first where Longman is given evidence of his brainwashing is the better, but in some ways the cinema of the time required the second, happier climax.

This film also shows Bogarde' transition from light leading man roles to deeper character parts. Two years before this film he'd done Victim for the same director as The Mind Benders, Basil Dearden, and also in 1963, The Servant with Joseph Losey. The Mind Benders sits well with those two more famous roles. It's out on DVD now, so give it a go.

No comments: