Professor Sharpey, a researchers at Oxford University, has been conducting experiments on the effects of isolation and sensory deprivation. The research is expected to provide information that will be useful in space exploration. When the professor commits suicide in mysterious circumstances, and is found to have been in possession of a suitcase full of money, there is a suspicion that he may have been selling secrets to foreign powers.
The dead scientist’s colleague, Longman, has suffered a minor breakdown after spending too many hours in the isolation tank, but in order to convince the MI5 agent investigating the case that Professor Sharpey was no traitor he volunteers to face his fears and go into the tank again. He believes Sharpey’s behaviour was a result of the after-effects of isolation, and of brainwashing following mental collapse brought on by the isolation, rather than any desire to betray his country.
The stage is set for what could have an interesting and entertaining spy thriller, but The Mind Benders goes off in a slightly different direction, and ends up losing its way. Basil Dearden was an experienced and very distinguished director, but in this film he seem to be trying to cover too many bases. It’s a political spy thriller, a science fiction film, a horror movie, a psychological drama and a romantic melodrama, but it’s likely to leave fan of all these genres feeling slightly dissatisfied. It certainly lacks the thrills and the tension to make it as a spy thriller.
Dearden focuses mainly on the effects of the isolation experiments on Longman’s personality, and on his marriage, and with Dirk Bogarde giving a powerful performance as Longman the movie works extremely well on this level. Despite its flaws, it’s an intriguing movie. 1962 was definitely the year for movies about brainwashing, with The Manchurian Candidate also coming out that year. In its own way this British film is just as interesting, and perhaps slightly more subtle.
If only Dearden could have ratcheted up the tension by a notch or so it might have been a real winner. It’s still worth a look, and as usual Bogarde’s performance is worth the price of admission on its own.