January 27, 2020  (Web Review)

The Mind Benders

Kino Lorber, 109 min., not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

This 1963 mix of psychodrama and espionage thriller stars Dirk Bogarde as Dr. Henry Longman, a scientist whose experiments in sensory isolation inadvertently makes him susceptible to brainwashing. And that is precisely what happened to Longman’s colleague, who continued the program after Longman left (to safeguard his sanity) and then wound up working with enemy spies and killing himself. Longman reluctantly agrees to go back into the isolation tank to prove it. What begins as a post-Manchurian Candidate Cold War thriller turns into a hard-edged marital drama when the experiment twists Longman’s love for his wife (Mary Ure) into resentment and disgust. Director Basil Dearden takes a methodical approach to the set-up of the experiment, giving a scientific grounding to the concept, while also eliciting powerful performances from stars Bogarde and Ure, who bring depth and intensity to the portrait of their troubled marriage and the slow recovery of their relationship. But even these committed turns can’t cover up logical lapses in the screenplay that allow the poisoned relationship to go on for so long before intervention by those who initiated the test. Ultimately, The Mind Benders plays less like sci-fi and more like a stage play about a volatile love that is reworked into a (then) novel concept. Yet for all of its weaknesses, this is still an intelligently-made drama with compelling performances that help make the premise (if not quite the whole story) work. Presented with a handsome new 4K remaster, extras include audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)