THE MIND BENDERS
The film is made with the black-and-white kitchen sink realism that marked most British films, and in particular thrillers, of the period. At least for the first half-hour, The Mind Benders is dull. There is a captivating opening where Harold Goldblatts scientist gets aboard a train from Paddington to Oxford, sitting in a carriage as the others make witty and erudite jokes about Einsteinian Relativity, and then abruptly opens the door and jumps out. Thereafter though, as we get into the investigation, the film has a tendency to talk its subject out endlessly. Even star Dirk Bogarde gives his dialogue a theatrically overwrought delivery as though to impart some drama that the script does not provide.
The Mind Benders starts to come to life when we get to the scenes in the isolation tank. There is the fascinating image of Dirk Bogarde floating in the water, sinisterly underlit from below and the calm voice describing the changes of mood he is undergoing irritability, heightened sensation, erotic hallucinations before he descends into madness. It becomes even more fascinating when John Clements military-type decides that in order to prove what they are investigating, Dirk Bogarde must be imprinted while under and made to change a fundamental belief convinced that his wife is unstable and untrustworthy. During these scenes, director Basil Dearden happily employs many of the visual tricks used by John Frankenheimer in The Manchurian Candidate of hyping tension via stark contrasts of shadow and light. There is something sinister to the changes that we see in Dirk Bogarde subsequently how the scientists return several months later and see him treating his pregnant wife Mary Ure with coldness, contemptuously calling her otter and her later confession about how they went to Amsterdam and he rented one of the windows that the prostitutes sit in for her.
On the other hand, The Mind Benders takes one aback when one looks at its moral position. The scenes where John Clements investigator and Michael Bryants lab assistant casually conspire to brainwash Dirk Bogarde and alienate him from his wife have a cold chill. What is extraordinary is how the film seems to have no particular objection to their doing so. Moreover, Michael Bryants assistant has a clear attraction to and interest in Dirk Bogardes wife. His interest in brainwashing Bogarde is marred by a conflict of interests to say the very least yet the film never chooses to comment on this at all. There is an almost total lack of moral outrage about what they do to Dirk Bogarde throughout at most a muted scene at the end where Michael Bryant admits that what they did was a mistake. In almost any modern film, the sympathies would have been radically different rather than a calm Establishment figure, John Clements hero type would almost certainly be regarded as a Machiavellian villain. The film climaxes with an extended scene where Mary Ure gives birth and Dirk Bogarde comes to her aid, where it is seen that he is able to overcome the conditioning by a realization of the joys of fatherhood. Whether this means that he also begins to treat her better is something that is never dwelt on.
Director Basil Dearden had come from a background in British quota quickies with his most famous work being the historical film Khartoum (1966). Deardens other genre films include: The Halfway House (1944), a tapestry of tales set around a haunted inn; the first segment of the classic horror anthology Dead of Night (1945); the space mission comedy Man in the Moon (1960); and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) where Roger Moore is haunted by a doppelganger of himself.