Canada’s own, Leslie Nielsen, stars in this low budget yet thought provoking thriller with sci-fi overtones as a newshound on the trail of a missing Senator, Bradford Dillman.
Dillman takes the title role and as the film opens we’ll see him caught up in a head on car crash leaving him bloodied and near death. Emergency vehicles arrive as does Nielsen reporting live from the scene. He immediately recognizes Senator Dillman and follows the ambulance to the hospital for further news on the breaking story and the Presidential hopeful.
Stepping in to the story is Robert J. Wilke as a military type man of power. He orders that Dillman MUST be kept alive and has him flown to a military site in New Mexico where a top secret research and hospital center is under his control and a key scientist played by James Daly.
Nielsen smells a story but as part of the military cover-up he’s been publicly discredited and subsequently fired from the news station. The story is that Dillman was never in a crash and is on a relaxing fishing trip. There’s a conspiracy here and Nielsen is up to the challenge so long as he can stay one step ahead of the two men trailing him with guns tucked under their suit jackets.
DNA enters the vocabulary in the script as does the word Soma … A word of Ancient Greek origin meaning “body”. Somatic cell: a basic term in biology, describing the body cells as opposed to the reproductive cells.
Dillman is in need of a massive transplant of body organs and Dr. Daly will inject his patients DNA into some half formed Somas that he has grown at his research facility. What then happens is the bodies turn into Dillman zombie lookalikes that he can take from to keep the real Dillman alive. Think of it as cloning body parts to keep the host healthy when he’s in need of a new liver, kidney, heart or whichever.
The best way I can describe these Soma bodies is to compare them to the bodies that are forming in the classic story The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. More specifically the 1978 version with the top notch F/X showing us a newly formed Jeff Goldblum nearing “birth.”
The film branches into two story lines once Dillman comes out of surgery. We have Nielsen in Frank Drebin mode tracking the whereabouts of the Senator to New Mexico and then we have Dillman coming to terms with science stepping in and changing his fate and the real reason for it.
Before we go any further let’s introduce Dillman’s personal nurse to the storyline. None other than the one and only Angie Dickinson. Now I ask you, what the hell is Dillman bitching about when he has Angie looking after him?
Not only does this Bob Wynn directed effort border on the sci-fi element but it veers into a political thriller category as well. Wilke commands “The Committee.” A boys club of old timers who will make the decisions of just which men of power world wide will live and die. If they can be of use and held accountable to The Committee’s own agenda, then the powerful who are near death can be sent to Daly’s retreat to gain immortality.
All they have to do is agree to political maneuvers that the Committee puts forth. The problem that Wilke is about to face is the fact the they’ve taken a chance on Dillman anticipating his run to the White House only to learn that he’s not playing along and intends to expose Wilke and his minions.
There’s little doubt there’s a bigger canvas here than the budget allows but the location footage helps immensely. Especially with Nielsen on the run in New Mexico. The actor was on a steady diet of TV Movies at this point in his career so Zachary Wheeler was a break of sorts being his first theatrical film since 1969. He’d only find himself on the big screen once more in the next five years, playing the ill fated Captain of The S.S. Poseidon. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy. He appeared on hit shows including Columbo, Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Kung Fu and some highly entertaining TV movies including Night Slaves and The Aquarians.
Angie’s career was on a similar path to that of Leslie’s. By the time the 70’s came around the Rio Bravo starlet found plenty of work in TV movies and series television. Most famously as Pepper Anderson in Police Woman running for five seasons. She’d even shed her clothing in Corman’s cult favorite Big Bad Mama in ’74 opposite James T. Kirk and memorably star in De Palma’s Dressed To Kill in 1980. To the best of my knowledge, Angie, retired from acting in 2009.
Bradford Dillman (“You’re a legend in your own mind.” love that line from Sudden Impact) is another actor who found a home on TV despite appearing in a number of memorable films including Compulsion, a pair of Dirty Harry films and even Escape From the Planet of the Apes. Like his costars, his acting credits read like a history of TV shows of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Columbo, Mod Squad, Mission : Impossible, The Man From UNCLE, Murder She Wrote and on and on. This talented actor passed away in 2018.
I’d also like to shine the light on long time screen heavy, Robert J. Wilke. Mostly associated with the western, Wilke appeared in everything from The Magnificent Seven to High Noon. You could find him in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and even Stripes. If not the movies then appearing on weekly TV shows. Especially as a heavy during the era of the western on the small screen. The Texan, Cheyenne, Bat Masterson, Wanted : Dead or Alive, Rawhide etc… His work in westerns earned him a Golden Boot Award in 1985. Wilke passed in 1989.
Looking to find a copy of this little known gem? I picked up a copy years ago on blu ray via Code Red as a double bill with one of the many Bond ripoffs of the 60’s, Lightning Bolt. Blu ray or not, the film needs a restoration as the copy is below average.