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Film / The Power (1968)

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The Power is a 1968 science-fiction thriller adapted from Frank M. Robinson’s novel of the same name, produced by George Pal, directed by Byron Haskin and starring George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette.

Following an unbelievable discovery, Professor Jim Tanner (Hamilton) finds himself stalked by a super genius with the power to kill by thought, and is dragged into a race for his life to discover the identity of "Adam Hart".

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the original book’s ending, Tanner’s discovering his own psychic powers and killing Hart leads to him going mad with power, and looking forward to abusing people the way Adam did. In the movie, however, Tanner manages to retain his humanity and walks off with Margery, though he does pause to worry about whether his new found power will corrupt him.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • Tanner is a biochemist and Harvard graduate, who manages to survive being abandoned in the desert, outsmart the police and stay alive while facing a superman like Adam Hart.
    • Professor Cal Melnicker is a physicist and he manages to hold his own pretty well when in a brawl with the younger, fitter Tanner.
  • Badass Driver: As shown by their car chase, both Tanner and Hart qualify. Tanner almost manages to escape Hart, while going at breakneck speeds down several normal roads. Hart manages to keep up with Tanner until he drives him into the river.
  • Biomanipulation: Hart’s favourite method of murder seems to be inducing heart attacks. At the very end Tanner turns it right back on him.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Hallson’s father describes Hart as having “black gypsy eyes”, and a strong feeling that something was just wrong about him. Sure enough, Hart proves to be just as evil as he believed he was.
  • Brainwashed: One of Hart’s powers, he does this to several people. His most notable victim is Sally Hoftmon, who he completely reprograms from being an ordinary calm woman and loving wife, into a wild party animal who saw Henry and his work as a bore. He also erases several of her memories to the point that she can barely remember what her husband looks like only a few days after he died. However doing so apparently seriously damages her, to the point that she can’t remember Jim despite meeting him less than a week ago, and she now suffers from short term memory loss.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Bruce, ten years before the present Hart made it so that he would kill anyone who turned up in Joshua Falls asking about him. When interrogated by Tanner, he confesses he honestly has no idea why he has to kill people or what Hart’s secrets are, but he cannot disobey him.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Around half way through the film, while trying to hide from Adam in a hotel, Hart’s theme music suddenly starts playing Jim clearly hears this and panicking, looks around, clearly expecting Hart to attack them, only to be relieved when it turns out to just be the Hotel band.
  • Cain and Abel: It’s heavily implied that Hart was behind the fire that killed his entire family, including all nine of his siblings.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Upon arriving in Joshua Falls, Flora mentions that it’s near an air force base. Later on, Bruce tries to kill Tanner by stranding him on one of their testing ranges.
  • Cool Old Guy: Professor Carl Melnicker, cheerful and quite easy going. Even his attempt to kill Tanner (believing Tanner was Hart and after him) is quickly resolved and they’re soon all on the same side.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Adam Hart murders Professor Hallson by imprisoning him in the centrifuge and using his powers to cause it to go out of control till the G-force kills him. We get a lovely shot of Hallson’s eyes and tongue bulging out afterwards.
  • Dwindling Party: As the film goes on, more and more of the original eight members present at the reveal of the supergenius are steadily picked off. By the end, only two of them are left alive.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Jim Tanner manages to stay alive throughout all of Adam’s attacks, survives being abandoned in the desert, being driven into a river and several other attempts on his life, and that’s all before he finds out about his own Psychic Powers.
  • Enfant Terrible: Hart apparently has been using his powers to manipulate and abuse people since he was a child. Merely mentioning his name is enough to cause Hallson’s elderly mother to start violently attacking someone with a fly swatter, then break down into tears.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: The overall point of the story. Any of the members of the think tank could have been Adam, none of which are ruled out until the real Adam murders them. The only exceptions are Margery (as Adam is confirmed to be a man), and Jim himself.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Evolution itself is never directly brought up, however when talking about him Tanner describes Hart as if he had “skipped a thousand generations”.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Even at the end, while attempting to torture Tanner to death, Hart keeps up his jovial mood, especially while narrating Tanner’s suffering.
  • Frame-Up: Hart frames Jim for academic fraud and also manipulates events (such as erasing Sally Hoffmon’s memory of calling him) so that it looks like Tanner is Professor Hallson’s murderer.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Throughout the movie a variety of women are clearly attracted to Jim Tanner. While he is young and attractive the amount of attention he gets soon begins to feel unrealistic. Adam is described as having a tremendous influence over women, to the point that one who knew him still broke out in goose pimples after not seeing him for over ten years. This similarity is one of the first hints that he also shares Hart’s powers.
    • At one point, Jim claims that he can literally sense Hart’s presence, at the exact time Hart’s signature theme starts playing.
    • Jim is one of only three members present at the meeting who don’t individually attempt to move the paper with their minds.
    • During the meeting at the very beginning, it’s Nordland who keeps pushing to hear more of Professor Hallson’s discoveries and asks for the test of Psychic Powers.
    • At one point, Margery reminds Tanner that as Nordland isn’t a member of the think tank, he wouldn’t have been subject to Hoffman’s intelligence tests. The fact that Nordland turns out to be Hart, foreshadows that Hart isn’t the supergenius Hoffman’s tests discovered.
  • Hidden Villain: Adam Hart throughout. All Jim knows is that he's a Supergenius with the power to kill by thought, that he knew Professor Hallson when they were children, he has to be one of the eight present during the meeting, and he's a dangerous sociopath. It’s not until the very end that his identity is revealed to be Arnold Nordland.
  • House Fire: Near the movie’s climax, Hart sets Professor Van Zandt’s house on fire, killing both him and his wife. He later gives Tanner a vision of it while he’s torturing him.
  • Karmic Death: At the end of their confrontation, Tanner kills Hart the same way he murdered Professor Melnicker and tried to kill Jim throughout the film, by inducing a heart attack.
  • Killed Offscreen: Subverted. The deaths of Professor Van Zandt and his wife aren’t shown. However, while trying to kill Tanner at the end, Hart shows him a vision of part of it. It is not pretty.
  • Love Interest: Professor Margery Lansing. While assisting Tanner in his efforts, she doesn’t play much of a role in the movie outside of being his lover.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Hart manages to erase every memory of Tanner gaining his degrees, costing him his job and framing him for academic fraud.
  • Master of Illusion: Another one of Hart’s powers. He uses it to taunt his victims throughout, such as causing Hoffmon to see the waist high gate to his office turn into a massive gate, then a solid wall, and causing Tanner to see inanimate objects wink at him, toy soldiers to march and shoot, and a stop sign to say “don’t run”.
  • Meaningful Name: Whether intentional or not, Adam seems quite a fitting name for the first of the new advanced form of human. Likewise causing people heart attacks seems to be his favourite method of murder.
  • Mind Rape: Hart tries to use this to kill Tanner several times, most prominently at the end in their confrontation where he forces him to experience sub-zero temperatures, heat till his skin burns off and the empty vacuum of space.
  • Mind over Matter: Hart possess very powerful telekinesis, able to take control of a centrifuge and cause it to go out of control, make a carousal go as fast as the centrifuge, and control an elevator while trying to crush Tanner.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: While not well developed, presumably because he has no idea of his powers, Tanner appears to have some version of this. He is able to sense Hart’s presence at times especially at the party.
  • Neutral Female: Justified. At the final confrontation, Margery makes almost no effort to help Jim when he faces Hart. Her one attempt is stopped by Hart simply raising his hand. However as Margery is an unarmed, completely normal woman and Hart is a psychic superman, there wasn’t anything she could have done to help.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: If Hart hadn’t become obsessed with killing Jim to remove his only potential rival, Jim would probably have never discovered his own psychic powers and never been a threat to Hart in the first place.
  • Obliviously Superpowered: The climax reveals the supergenius that Doctor Hoffman's tests uncovered was actually Tanner himself, and Hart was an outsider attempting to eliminate potential competition. Jim has been subconsciously using his own powers throughout the film without ever knowing he had them, only realising his true capabilities in the final confrontation when he starts fighting back.
  • Psychic Powers: Adam Hart possesses incredible powers, including Mind Control and Telekinesis. Jim Tanner also possesses these powers, hence why Hart wants him dead, but he doesn’t realise he has them until the very end of the movie.
  • Properly Paranoid: Professor Henry Hallson is clearly terrified out of his wits by his discovery of a Supergenius, which all the others initially dismiss as him breaking down under stress. However, his fears turn out to be completely Justified - considering he knew Adam as a child and understood how dangerous a Supergenius could be.
  • Power Perversion Potential: It’s heavily implied that Hart uses his mind control powers to collect women, to the point that one woman is still smitten with him ten years after she last saw him. If Jim’s interactions are anything to go by, it’s implied its subconscious.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: It was Jim who was the Supergenius that Hallson’s tests discovered, not Hart. Hart’s entire rampage and murder spree were to try and remove his one rival.
  • Sadist: Hart uses his powers to induce hallucinations to taunt his victims, sets up especially painfully deaths for them and even leaves Tanner a medical file about just how painful it is to suffer a heart attack.
  • Sanity Slippage: Professor Talbot Scott. Starting off as a slightly arrogant but friendly man, he ends the story paranoid, unstable and clearly broken, begging Tanner not to kill him and telling him that he’ll serve him if he spares him.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Hart apparently caused his family’s shack to burn to the ground, killing his siblings and his parents.
  • Smug Super: Hart sees his powers as putting him above ordinary humans, and thus feels no guilt over murdering them for overall trivial reasons.
  • The Sociopath: Adam Hart, charming as he can be, considers normal people little more than playthings for him to exploit and kill whenever it suits or amuses him.
  • Stripped to the Bone: In his final attempt to kill him, Hart makes Tanner experience the sensation that this has happened to him.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Mark Colane. He spends the majority of the movie chasing Tanner and trying to arrest him. However, he honestly believes that Tanner is a fraud and dangerous criminal, responsible for numerous cases of murder.
  • Twist Ending: It was Tanner, not Hart, who was the Supergenius Hoffman’s tests uncovered.
  • Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: A plot point of the story, as Jim is forced to accept that one of the seemingly harmless members of the Think Tank is in fact a dangerous psychopath with the power to kill by thought. He spends the movie trying to figure out which one it is.
  • The Worf Effect: In the end, after being utterly unstoppable throughout the whole film, Adam is overpowered and killed by Jim awakening his own great psychic power.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Hart at one point fakes an attack upon himself, to fool Tanner into believing that Nordland is innocent.

Alternative Title(s): The Power