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July 23, 2005

The Mind Benders

Basil Dearden - 1963
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

The Mind Benders is one of those films that struck my curiosity in my youth and never let go. I was eleven at the time it was released. Something about the title and the advertising struck a chord. The title, if not the film, seems to have made an impact on an older bunch of British youth as there was the British band that followed in the wake of The Beatles, modifying their name as The Mindbenders.

The film was directed by the British film maker Basil Dearden during his topical phase. After touching such subjects as racism (Sapphire - 1959) and homosexuality (Victim - 1961), Dearden has made a film "inspired" by reported experiments with brain washing and isolation chambers, pointedly in the United States. A distracted appearing Oxford professor is seen traveling by train, followed by a man who later reveals himself to be a government agent. The professor hurls himself out of a moving train. The government agent, Major Hall, knows that the professor had been involved with experiments with isolation tanks. Now dead, with one thousand pounds in his possession, did the professor sell scientific information, or was he brain washed?

In order to discover if being in the isolation tank caused the professor to be brainwashed, Hall convinces the professor's colleague, Longman (Dirk Bogarde) to duplicate the experiment. To determine how easily influenced someone is following isolation, Longman is to be told something counter to his belief system. The physically and mentally weakend Longman is made to believe that his happy marriage is a sham.

Maybe it's general British good manners of the time, but The Mind Benders suffers from not being more dramatic. I'm not familiar with James Kennaway's novel, but brainwashing in a domestic setting lacks the tension of something like The Manchurian Candidate with its war hero turned political assassin. There is one nice visual touch with a scene of Bogarde, immediately after being brainwashed, with his wife Oonagh (Mary Ure). The couple are sitting in an old open top car, parked by a stream. Ure's face is completely lit in full view, while Bogarde's face is half in shadow to indicate that the brainwashing has taken effect. While not an artist, Dearden's films have revealed him to be a consistent craftsman.

Posted by peter at July 23, 2005 05:03 PM