The Mind Benders

Director: Basil Dearden, 1962. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Mary Ure, John Clements. Mystery/Thriller.
The Mind Benders

“This story was suggested by experiments on 'The Reduction Of Sensation' recently carried out at certain universities in the United States.” This baleful warning, with Cold War overtones written all over it, begins the queasy British thriller The Mind Benders. Although influenced by real occurrences in the US, this particular story takes place in Oxford, UK. Written the same year as the Ipcress File (the novel, not the film), it’s very hard to ignore the similarities between the two stories. Both focus primarily on espionage, brainwashing, sensory deprivation, etc...The Mind Benders feels more like an extended 2-part episode of The Avengers, sans Emma Peel (dang). In that I mean it feels more like two separate films with two major themes:  Free Will and True Love.

This is another DVD that I picked up from the looks of the cover. Expecting a pulp trash sci-fi schlocker, which is usually my cup of tea, I was inadvertently presented with a sophisticated and multi-layered low budget psychological thriller.

John Clements plays Military Investigator Major Hall snooping around the mysterious suicide of one Professor Sharpey. Suspected of treason, his colleague Henry Longman (Dirk Bogarde) sets aside his own demons to prove Sharpey’s innocence, AT WHATEVER COST...his wife and children included. It seems they’ve been conducting isolation experiments. The subject of these tests is submerged in a tank of water in a rubber suit with which he can breathe. The idea is for him not to hear, see, smell, taste, or feel anything. (Altered States anyone?) Sharpey and Longman are the only two to have gone through the test, and now that Sharpey’s dead, Longman’s the only one who can prove that the “tank changes a man.” The primary struggle in this first act is Longman’s re-immersion in the tank to prove his point. During the test, Major Hall realizes that these experiments are an optimum vehicle for brainwashing and sets out to prove his theory by convincing Longman he doesn’t love his wife anymore. (Weird, right?) After Longman emerges from the tank, the film essentially starts its second act: the aftermath of Hall’s experiment and everyone’s attempt to bring back the real Longman. Flash forward 6 months and the results are inconclusive. Does he still love his wife? Did he ever? It raises many good questions about trust, love, and dependency. It does venture into some soap opera territory at moments, but Bogarde’s acting carries the sinking plot quite nicely.

Apart from Bogarde, there is some ho-hum acting throughout, but British actors in the early '60s were so inherently stiff that it’s hardly noticeable anyway. The plot literally plunges the depths of man’s psyche, free will, and disposition to challenge himself. It also conjures up the LSD experimnets the CIA pulled on military troops in America. I’d give this an 8/10. It’s even more strange of a movie in that it isn’t kitschy, considering the subject matter. It could’ve easily had the expected hallucinogenic/acid-trip/lava-lamp/freak-out break but, I guess that wasn’t quite in vogue yet in ’62.

Posted by:
Adam Payne
May 7, 2009 5:02pm
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