Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Often simply dismissed as being cynical Dirty Harry rip-offs, Christopher Barry has suggested that the Italian poliziotteschi (crime/cop) films from the 1970s were in fact cultural productions that reflected the Italian public's increasing anxieties about judicial corruption, inconsistent policing practices and political extremism. An English production shot on location in Italy, The "Human" Factor seemingly seeks to ally itself to the more politically themed poliziotteschi entries. Shoehorning a Death Wish-like revenge narrative into a political Euro crime-cum-thriller framework results in a film that bears the trappings of exploitation cinema at times (indeed, this was a pretty popular video rental title during the early days of the UK home video boom, sharing shelf space with the so called 'video nasty' titles of the day) and it's quite interesting to see respected mainstream talent like George Kennedy, John Mills and Raf Vallone getting to grips with material of this nature.
John Kinsdale (George Kennedy) is a NATO computer expert attached to the organization's southern European base in Naples. A terrorist cell have threatened to randomly target American citizens living in the locality if their demands for ten million dollars and the release of certain political prisoners are not met and Kinsdale's family soon become their first victims. With the Italian police, led by Dr Lupo (Raf Vallone), and the US security services all failing to get a proper lead on the terrorists' identities or whereabouts, Kinsdale and his workmate Mike McAllister (John Mills) use NATO's computers to tap into a worldwide computer network that allows them to effect their own investigation. However, once he's got a fix on the perpetrators, Kinsdale decides to go after them himself.
This film's novel narrative hook involving the protagonist's unauthorized use of computers to gather secret intelligence information and more humdrum fare from a range of diverse but networked electronic sources and databases has perhaps been rendered completely passé by the advances in computer and communications technology that have been witnessed during the past ten years. The show undoubtedly takes liberties and employs artistic license during its computer-oriented scenes but, in 1975, few people would have known about the existence of real proto-Internet computer communication networks like ARPANET and the film's revelation that those in the know could patch into computers worldwide via telephone line modems must have played like science fiction to most of the show's original audience. That said, the potential for hi-tech paranoia and worry that the film attaches to the 'Big Brother'-style invasions of privacy represented by the compilation and storage of personal information in computer profiles, hacking activities, tracking devices and the use of computer programs to predict human behavior or influence human decision-making remain relevant concerns for many today.
It's actually a response from a computer that sets up the atmosphere of suspense that makes the audience want to stick around and see just what's going to become of Kinsdale and his quest for revenge. Although he's physically strong by virtue of his huge frame, Kinsdale is an overweight, unfit, past-middle age, desk jockey who is not properly qualified, equipped or trained to go head to head with merciless professional killers. When McAllister and a female colleague, Janice (Rita Tushingham), feed Kinsdale's personal statistics and circumstances into the "event probability program" at the Delaware Bay Institute's human behavior department, the computer program predicts that he will turn vigilante whilst warning that he only has an eight percent chance of surviving a confrontation with the terrorists. With his quest for revenge predicted to fail, a tension is set up within the narrative that effectively pits the over-rational powers of analysis associated with computers against those unpredictable courses of action that human agency grants to desperate individuals in search of a quick solution to their immediate problems.
It becomes apparent that in applying pure logic to the circumstances, the computer has failed to take account of the "human" factor of the film's title and it's this human factor that keeps Kinsdale moving and dictates his desperate, sometimes seemingly illogical actions. Kinsdale is no cool, calm and collected killing machine like Charles Bronson's Death Wish protagonist. Unlike Bronson's Paul Kersey character, who has come to terms with his grief and taken time to formulate a covert revenge strategy, Kinsdale is an emotional wreck who is teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown. His need to succeed in exacting his revenge before either the Italian police or the US security services apprehend him forces Kinsdale to pursue an increasingly reckless and often ill-thought out course of action. The use of NATO's computer resources and a lot of luck (the theft of a security services investigator's ID card, meeting with a loose-tongued US official (Barry Sullivan), etc) is all Kinsdale needs to track his quarry down, but when he finally comes face to face with them, it looks like the computer's prediction might have been accurate.
Although The "Human" Factor is essentially an exploitation movie of sorts, the crowd-pleasing spectacles generated by Kinsdale's vigilante revenge trip are offset by periods of reflection that do question Kinsdale's actions. McAllister only assists his work colleague because he believes that Kinsdale will ultimately make their findings known to the authorities and let them deal with the terrorists. Both McAllister and Janice deliver stern lectures to Kinsdale, offering the opinion that what he is doing is wrong and imploring him to work with the Italian police or the US security services instead. When Kinsdale does eventually make a move on the terrorists, his actions are shown to only make matters worse: when the terror cell realize that somebody is on to them, they break cover, abandon their slow burning, long-term agenda and recklessly go for broke. But in spite of the many calls for Kinsdale to allow the proper authorities to tackle the perpetrators, the film offers little in the way of faith in those self same authorities: there's an overriding impression given that much of the mayhem and tragedy that unfolded here could have been avoided if the lack of trust and information sharing present between the US security forces and the Italian police had been addressed sooner.
Shot on location in Italy in a seemingly indifferent yet adequate and serviceable way by director Edward Dmytryk and marred by an occasionally slightly confusing storyline, The "Human" Factor is no classic, but it should appeal to fans of European crime dramas and political thrillers from the 1970s. Indeed, the film's general look, bleak tone and urban settings serve to link the show to a number of the entries found within the poliziotteschi genre. Further links to that genre can be found in the procedural activities of Dr Lupo, the menacing stomp of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack score, the show's reasonably well-executed big car chase sequence and its violently action-packed but slightly too brief finale. George Kennedy looks just a little uncomfortable in a couple of scenes but, for the most part, he turns in some very good work here. An unlikely action hero in many respects, Kennedy's performance prompts plenty of audience sympathy for the Kinsdale character. The rest of the cast are on reasonably good form too though the appearances by Rita Tushingham, Barry Sullivan and Arthur Franz can only really be described as being extended cameos.
Digital Classics' presentation of The "Human" Factor is in good shape but suffers from quite soft picture quality in spite of the disc's anamorphic 16:9 enhancement. The sound quality here is largely very good though. The DVD-R check disc that I received was marred by some pixellation problems during one chapter: hopefully this problem does not extend to the factory pressed versions of this release. The extra features here include a really entertaining interview with a very genial George Kennedy.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The "Human" Factor rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Good ++
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: interview with George Kennedy, an image gallery and the film's original poster.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 14, 2007
Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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