The Mind Benders (1962)

Dirk Bogard takes on a highly dangerous experiment in this interesting horror themed British science film. Optimum UK R2 DVD.

The Film

Professor Sharpey boards a train from London, back to his University in Oxford, but along the route he hurls himself from the train to his death - in his bag is found to be a thousand pounds in cash. Major Hall of the intellegence services had been following the professor and believes that he sold secrets to the Soviets shortly before his death, but the professor's colleagues are sure he would not have done this. It emerges that Sharpey had been working on a strange project, into sensory isolation, and his former partner Dr. Henry Longman believes that this could have enabled Sharpey to be brainwashed, so he sets out to clear his friend's name by subjecting himself to the same proceedure, knowing that he could come out the other end as a completely different person...

The Mind Benders is a very interesting example of a science film, not science fiction. It was inspired by a series of experiments by American physician John C. Lilly into sensory deprivation, the removal of all external stimuli and its effect on the human brain - the writer here is very careful to follow the real proceedures of these experiements to add some good realism. Instead of science fiction the crux here is more horror tinged with the idea of a man becoming completely within the control of another and being little more than a 'zombie'. The espionage that frames the story is only very briefly covered, avoiding the film becoming a Bond style thriller.

Most noticably, although filmed in the 1960s the film feels more like an early 1950s production and often is more remniscent of a radio play than a film - it is almost entirely dialogue based, quite slowly paced and despite the premise we do not get any psychadelic surrealism that the same film made in the 1970s would have contained, particularly if a director like Joseph Losey had been at the helm. Fortunately the story and characters are compelling enough to keep you interested, and there are some good twists that boost the rather understated climax.

Director Basil Dearden does a solid job here, keeping the film flowing despite the slow pacing and dialogue heavy plot. Although most of the film is shot in an almost documentary style (very remniscent of Val Guest's work on the Hammer sci-fi films) there are some very alien shots of the subjects floating in the sensory deprivation tank that tease of the story's surreal potential. Composer Georges Auric, most at home on the Ealing comedies, provides the occasional soundtrack, that does add to many of the film's more dramatic scenes.
The biggest boost in the film's favour is the very high calibre of acting on display. Dirk Bogard takes the lead role and plays it to perfection, from the earnest and eager scientist at the start, to the callous and uncaring man who emerges. John Clements gives an incredibly restrained performance as the Major, while Michael Bryant looks very haunted as Dr. Tate. There are a few familiar faces in the rest of the cast, including Geoffrey Keen (James Bond's Minister of Defence) as head of the University department and a very young Edward Fox (Battle of Britain (1966)) making his film debut as a student.

Slow paced and talky throughout, The Mind Benders will probably disappoint anyone expecting surrealism or an action packed thriller, but with a compelling storyline and some top class acting, it should appeal to any fans of intellegence science fiction or horror. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Dirk Bogard - the British star, best known for his lead role in the war film A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Directed by anyone interesting? Basil Dearden - a little known British director who shot several well known films, including the pioneering British horror film Dead of Night (1945), and the truely epic Khartoum (1966).
Any gore or violence ? None
Any sex? Some light hints, but nothing seen.
Who is it for?
This film is recommended to fans of slow, plot based films.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Black and White.
The film is very strong visually, with almost no print damage and only light grain.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD in the US from Anchor Bay with a similarly good print, also includes the theatrical trailer.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.
For American release the film was trimmed to 100 minutes (from a 109 minute run-time). Both this, and the ABUS print are the full, original British prints.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 30th September 2007. Part of Horror September 2.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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