A minor, disjointed thriller, The "Human" Factor (1975) presents myriad loose ends that never quite come together. Part Death Wish-type vigilante film, part political thriller, part techno sci-fi, and filmed in Naples with American and British above the line talent and an Italian crew, the picture's main asset is its excellent cast, especially loveable lug George Kennedy in the starring role. Dark Sky's DVD offers a disappointingly soft transfer, but includes a delightful, nearly 30-minute interview with its star that's worth the price of the disc all by itself.
Kennedy plays John Kinsdale, a computer specialist who with partner Mike McAllister (John Mills) devises nuclear war game scenarios for NATO, using their (in retrospect ironically-named) supercomputer "9/11." Based in Naples, John lives in a suburban, middle-class house and drives an American station wagon complete with fake wood paneling, and life is good until his wife and three children are murdered execution style for no clear reason. Detective Dr. Lupo (Raf Vallone) is on the case, as are two CIA agents (one of whom is Canadian expatriate and prolific character actor Shane Rimmer). Gradually it becomes clear that political terrorists are involved, murdering American families at random every three days.
His life in ruins, Kinsdale contemplates suicide but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands. At this point the film begins to get a little muddled. The direction it seems to be moving in is how Kinsdale, with McAllister's help, secretly uses NATO's high-tech resources to tap into various intelligence data bases so that he can track down the terrorists. However, once he's established their identity this angle is pretty much tossed into the dustbin.
Worse, with all these resources at his disposal, Kinsdale barely keeps pace with the Italian police and CIA agents anyway, and mostly only succeeds in getting in their way. In other words, the technology doesn't give him the edge audiences might have expected. Rather, it plays like an archly contrived way to explain away Kinsdale's ability to operate independently. Not helping matters is that the film has a very '70s computers-can-do-anything attitude; at times Kinsdale and McAllister seem to be able to punch in almost any kind of data into 9/11 and instantly get exactly the answers they're looking for. That by today's standards the computers in The "Human" Factor now seem positively prehistoric doesn't help, either. (By contrast, 1971's The Andromeda Strain uses its technology in such an authentic, dramatically compelling way the dated computers, etc. hasn't aged that film much at all.)
Peculiarly, the fact that Kinsdale's job is creating end-of-the-world situations for NATO doesn't factor even by implication into his troubled state of mind, at least not as far as the script is concerned. Bowling for Columbine this isn't.
Kinsdale is a man whose life, for all practical purposes is over in his eyes, and that's why he decides to take matters into his own hands, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (as the film's postscript portentously lays bare). The script by Thomas Hunter and Peter Powell (The Final Countdown) so underemphasizes this early on that Kinsdale's actions merely appear counterproductive, which is sort of the point. Although Kennedy probably wasn't everyone's first choice to play Kinsdale, once he was cast the filmmakers were wise in emphasizing the actor's hulking presence, all 6'5", 250 pounds of him. He's like an intelligent Moose Malloy, the single-minded brute of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, and Kennedy's acting makes the role compelling.
One of the all-time great character stars, Kennedy has been busy ever since the 1950s when he started acting in small parts while serving as military adviser on TV's Sergeant Bilko. After winning a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Cool Hand Luke (1967), Kennedy spent the next decade supporting A-list films - especially disaster films like Earthquake and the entire Airport series - while occasionally starring in TV movies and off-the-beaten-path theatrical features, often foreign in origin such as this, an Italian-British co-production apparently co-financed with mob money (according to Kennedy), and Proof of the Man (Ningen no shomei, 1977), a Japanese film costarring Yusaku Matsuda (Black Rain) that was a huge hit there but never released in America.
In later years Kennedy proved himself a superb comic character player as well. He gamely spoofed his own image in Albert Brooks' hilarious Modern Romance (1981) and later gained immortality as Captain Ed Hocken to Leslie Nielsen's Lt. Frank Drebin in the Police Squad! movies with Kennedy, not Nielsen, delivering what in this reviewer's opinion is the trilogy's single funniest line.**
In The "Human" Factor (that's how the title appears onscreen), Kennedy is quite sympathetic throughout with his psychological meltdown particularly believable. One effective scene has him returning home to find police cars, reporters, and paramedics swarming his house, and director Edward Dmytryk wisely stays on Kennedy in a long traveling shot following him as he makes his way through the crowd, his panic steadily rising. His growing obsession to destroy those who destroyed his family pays off in the film's violent, exciting climax, which would be absurdly unbelievable - Kinsdale busting through police barriers to single-handedly take on a dozen machine gun-toting terrorists holding a supermarket full of women hostage - had Kennedy not so carefully made his character's determination so believable.
Dmytryk's direction is generally perfunctory and notably lacking the flair shown by Italian giallo directors working at the same time with a lot less money. He tends to favor wide and static medium shots - there are almost no close-ups in the film, even of Kennedy's character, which tends to disengage the audience. There are a couple of good chases and the final shoot-out is well-done, possibly at least partly the work of a second unit director. One long foot chase borders on the comic: Kennedy, then 50 years old, was also such a big man that he runs with a notable lack of grace while his pursuer in the scene, huffing-and-puffing Raf Vallone, was pushing 60 and looking 70.
Other top-tier talent have little opportunity to make much of an impression. Besides Mills, Rita Tushingham lends support as another of Kinsdale's concerned co-workers while Barry Sullivan (Planet of the Vampires, also Earthquake) appears in one cleverly-written scene as a diplomat under suspicion by Vallone's detective for actions actually committed by Kinsdale. The late Arthur Franz (he died in June) appears as the general overseeing the war games configured by Kennedy and Mills, while Haydee Politoff, of Count Dracula's Great Love, appears as the female terrorist.
The mostly Italian staff includes Ennio Morricone, whose score is fairly good but not exceptional.
Video & Audio
The "Human" Factor is given a 16:9 enhanced transfer at 1.77:1, approximating its 1.85:1 OAR. Unfortunately, the image is extremely soft to the point of being distracting; Dark Sky Films may have been forced to use an inferior inter-negative as the detail just isn't there and the color (original lab: Technicolor Rome) rather tepid, though it does appear sourced from 35mm. Overall it's watchable but only just so on big screen TVs. The all-region DVD has 2.0 Dolby Digital mono sound and includes optional English subtitles.
The headliner here is The Kennedy Factor: An Interview with George Kennedy. Presented in 16:9 format, this hugely enjoyable featurette is both a career overview with a nicely-balanced discussion about The "Human" Factor. Kennedy talks about his Vaudevillian parents, being a young soldier at the end of World War II, and the craft of acting, among other things. He's frank and perceptive about The "Human" Factor's failings and attributes, and has interesting observations about his own performance and Dmytryk's direction. Most charming is Kennedy's obvious knowledge and boundless affection for the great character actors of the 1930s and '40s (Thomas Mitchell, Eric Blore, etc.). That Kennedy himself successfully emulated these unlikely heroes to become one of the most likeable and recognizable character stars of his generation is a kind of Hollywood success story. After seeing this, one wishes he were interviewed for every movie he has ever appeared in.
Also included is a TV Spot and fairly good Still Gallery.
The "Human" Factor isn't very good though Kennedy's intense performance of a man coming unglued and its few suspenseful set pieces keep it interesting, and for those of you who, like this reviewer, were weaned on a steady diet of George Kennedy movies, the supplemental interview make this worth seeking out.
**From The Naked Gun 2 1/2
Lt. Frank Drebin: Congratulations, Ed! I hear Edna's pregnant again.
Ed Hocken (agitated): Yeah, and when I find the guy that did it....
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.