It's man-girdles in the Mediterranean as George Kennedy battled terrorists in this revenge-happy hokum. Judge Bill Gibron couldn't be happier.
Our review of The Human Factor (1979), published July 3rd, 2013, is also available.
Big, beefy action from a big, beefy actor.
John Kinsdale (George Kennedy, The Naked Gun) works for NATO in Naples. He's involved in a top-secret government project which allows military officers to simulate, via computer, sensitive strategic war games. One day, after a long, hard haul at the office, he comes home to discover that a gang of terrorists has assassinated his wife and kids. Completely torn up inside, Kinsdale decides to track down the killers himself. Using the technology available to him at his job, he discovers that the people responsible may be a group of ex-college students who studied under a radical professor at Berkeley. Their goal? To systematically kill an American family in Italy every three days until certain disconnected demands have been met (political prisoners released, umpteen millions of dollars delivered). After a second slaughter affects the associates of a high-ranking intelligence officer (Barry Sullivan, Night Gallery), Kinsdale gets the information he needs to find and flush out the baddies. With the help of co-worker Mike McAllister (John Mills, Tunes of Glory) and a forged police pass, our hero picks off the villains one by one. While the science certainly helped in identifying the evil, it was The Human Factor that eventually destroyed it once and for all.
It's a case of dueling mutual exclusives. When one thinks of badass action hero, the name "George Kennedy" barely breeches the top 300. Similarly, when one considers the career of said Oscar-winning Weeble, "butt-kicking super stud" is nary a label applied. So imagine how odd it is to see the artist formerly known as the rube who waxed Cool Hand Luke's hinder playing a vengeance-seeking computer scientist (suspension of disbelief—or SOD—factor #1) who uses his close ties to the American military to locate (SOD #2), chase (SOD #3), and take out (SOD #4) the terrorists who wantonly wasted his good-looking wife and kids (SOD #5). In the hands of director Edward Dymtryk, one of the famous Hollywood 10 who failed to cooperate with the Red Scare tactics of the House Un-American Activities Committee (though after a few months in prison, he decided to oblige), this effort overloaded with turn-of-the-'70s technology has a problematic pace made even more sluggish by Kennedy's omnipresent pudginess. Like Joe Don Baker in Final Justice and/or Mitchell, our man of the Airport movie packs a lot of star power suet in his 6' 5" frame, and given his age at the time—55—does a decent job of convincing us he's mobile. Unfortunately, the second half of the film is all car chases, foot races, and acrobatic gunplay. This means that Kennedy is in constant motion, resulting in what can best be described as a feeling of involuntary suspense. We're not concerned that the bad guys will finally catch up with George—we worry that one or more of his heart valves will explode.
As an idea, The Human Factor is not that different from Charles Bronson's Manhattan murder spree saga Death Wish. We get the normal nuclear family, an execution-style slaughter, and a weird set of villains who, as Americans, are targeting other Americans over American government policy. Sounds like a rather self-defeating criminal ideology, doesn't it? One would think, with Kennedy's connection to a war-game simulating software system called 911 (in a '70s movie about terrorists? That noise you hear are the gears going ga-ga inside the conspiracy theorists' heads), the game would be the rationale behind all the attacks. But no, the radical Berkeley alumni who've decided to kill their own kind are given little or no motive for their meanness. Kennedy and co-star John Mills have several conversations in which, at least in their minds, the logic behind the attacks is Scotch-and-water solid. But the audience never understands the connection between left-leaning philosophies, the country of Italy, and the random dispatching of off-season suburbanites. Even when an old and wrinkled Barry Sullivan shows up to play "drunken source of exposition," divulging all the secrets of his agency at the drop of a Double Stinger, the justification is practically pointless. Basically, all we need to know is that well-organized and well-educated scoundrels are roaming around the Mediterranean, plugging their fellow countrymen for reasons best kept to themselves.
So all we are left with is Kennedy and his quest. Thankfully, George pours on the major Method machinations here, so engrossed in his character's inner rage that he practically sweats anger. During a telling scene post-familial funeral, Kennedy contemplates suicide before resolving his pain in a manner best suited for all red-blooded Yankee Doodles—he shoots out his talky TV set. Then there's a moment when he discovers his daughter's ridiculous rag doll (codename: Shakidu) in the villains' lair and has a moment of guilt-ridden resolve. He even slams his recently sliced-open hand down in furious resentment, resulting in the kind of primal scream we expect from dope addicts going through withdrawal. Still, there are elements here that throw us off our exploitation action guard, sequences like when Kennedy battles one of the bad guys with a large link of chain, gladiator style. While the standoff is sensationally silly in its setup, it's rather rigid in its execution. Similarly, the last-act massacre at the NATO PX is a series of shoot-'em-up set pieces looking for a narrative hook to bring them all together. We do feel a sense of comeuppance at the end, but with the inherent vigilantism in the storyline, the finale should be much more powerful, not merely present. Indeed, that's a good way of summing up the entire Human Factor experience. When you hear the plot outline, you think you're in for a slam-bang payback firefight. What you end up with is a lot of Commodore 64 surrealism locked in George Kennedy's tension-testing girdle.
From a DVD standpoint, Dark Sky Films does a decent job with what is, in reality, a completely lost film. According to some of the supplementary material on the disc, The Human Factor never saw a major theatrical release. The financing was tied up with the Mafia and, when the movie was finally finished, it played briefly in Europe before disappearing totally. Now resurrected, so to speak, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is soft, but acceptable. It is obvious that an inferior set of stock elements had to be used in order to create this transfer, and the lack of crisp colors and definitive detail is rather obvious. Otherwise, this is a perfectly professional presentation. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is flat and kind of formless, only coming to life when Ennio Morricone's string-laden soundtrack amplifies the action. As for extras, there is a 25-minute interview with Kennedy that starts as a career overview, then focuses solely on The Human Factor. The 80-plus year old actor has some superb insights into the production, and his anecdotes are wonderfully descriptive. Add in a TV spot and a gallery, and you have a nice selection of added content for a thoroughly obscure main feature.
Those looking for a roller coaster ride of thrills, spills, chills, and John Mills should perhaps pass on The Human Factor. This is more an exercise in unconscious ennui than a pulse-pounding action epic. Still, for the sheer pleasure of seeing George Kennedy get his ham-fisted gallant groove on, you can't beat this crackpot crime crazy quilt.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• "The Kennedy Factor" Interview with George Kennedy Featurette
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