DVD REVIEW: The Human Factor (1979)

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This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This disc, however, played fine in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

THE SET-UP
British Secret Service officer Maurice Castle (Nicol Wiliamson) discovers the dark side of the spy business when his government suspects a mole in his department. The resulting investigation could cost the lives all involved, and threaten to expose a secret Maurice holds. Also stars Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Robert Morley, and Iman.
Directed by Otto Preminger

THE DELIVERY
Acclaimed director Otto Preminger was nominated for three Best Director Oscar during his career, but here, in what turned out to be his final film, we get a pedestrian drama that fails to hold the viewer’s interest. That is not an easy feat, considering the outstanding cast and the source material was a Graham Greene novel.

The movie is dreadfully dull, despite the built-in political intrigue. I sat puzzled as entire scenes of character development threw out details that had no relevance to the plot. Some of Britain’s greatest actors, including Sir John Gielgud, Richard Attenborough (who really needed one of his Jurassic Park dinosaurs to spice things up), and Robert Morley, are about as compelling as three old ladies having a spot of tea.

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Most of the film revolves around discovering who exactly among Castle’s co-workers is a traitor, or is it Castle himself? I won’t give it away, but everyone, it seems, has secrets, but this doesn’t really provide the suspense you would expect. There is a subplot involving Castle’s wife, played by model-turned-actress Iman, that delves into race issues, but it just feels uncomfortable instead of interesting.

The Human Factor had all the potential in the world to be a solid political thriller: acclaimed director, fine actors, and a story from a best-selling novel. However, it seems director Preminger is far too laid-back in his approach; in the film’s first ten minutes, we are subjected to an extended scene of Williamson’s character riding his bike home from work. Who is editing this thing? The performances are lackluster (except for Williamson, who does his best despite the boring story), and the script needed a rewrite. When the traitor is revealed and tries to flee, the escape mostly happens off-screen. It was a golden opportunity to capitalize on the story’s potential, but like the rest of the film, it is a disappointing miss.

The opening credits, which were designed by Saul Bass, are a highlight (albeit brief), but it’s all downhill from there.

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VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer is lackluster, exhibiting some film grain and specks and other print debris throughout. The colors seems a bit muted, and the image overall lacks “pop.” The audio is decent – a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but it seems most of the dialogue was captured on set, so it isn’t ideal. There are no subtitles, which the film needed. It is very talky, and during a second watch, I caught a few things I missed initially. That’s why I like to watch with subtitles, especially with British actors.

SPECIAL FEATURES
None.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 4

Video: 6

Audio: 7

Extras: 1

Overall score: 4.5

The Human Factor could have been a decent suspense thriller, but instead talks you to death. Just skip it unless you can catch it for free sometime, just to see Preminger’s final directing effort.

DVD SPECS
Release Date: June 11, 2013

Rating: R (language, nudity)

Running time: 115 minutes

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: None

Special Features: None

Label: Warner Archive

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