The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Article #1658 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2005
Posting Date: 2-25-2006
Directed by Robert Wise
Featuring Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson

When a downed satellite results in the death of all but two of the residents of a small town, a team of scientists is gathered to participate in a top secret project to discover the cause of death.

To give you an idea of how big a gap there is between the writing of these MOTDs and the posting of them, the writing of this one occurred only two weeks after the death of this movie’s director, Robert Wise. I think one of my favorite things about him was that he didn’t turn his back on genre efforts, even after having big hits with his forays into musical territory that resulted in WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC; of his last seven movies, two were Science Fiction and one was Horror. His first directorial work was as one of the directors on THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, and over the years he gave us such genre efforts as THE BODY SNATCHER, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE HAUNTING. I dedicate this review to him.

This thriller doesn’t quite rank with his best work, but it is still a very worthy entry into his oeuvre. In particular, I like the fact that he cast his leads with stage actors largely unknown to the movie-going public (the only actor likely to engender immediate recognition is David Wayne); they all give fine performances, especially Kate Reid. In fact, her casting was particularly surprising; how many other movies would feature a rather dumpy middle-aged woman as the female lead, especially considering that some of the scenes feature near nudity? The special effects are top notch, and the movie does an excellent job at making the science in the story understandable. It also builds up to a truly memorable climax. I do have a couple of problems with the movie. One is the length; at 131 minutes, it does strain my attention span a little, but at the same time, I’m not sure what I’d cut. The most obvious choice is the long decontamination sequence, but I find these scenes so amusing and witty that I would really miss them. My other problem is that it overplays the paranoia angle just a bit too much; quite frankly, the story is scary enough that adding extra dollops of paranoia seems unnecessary. Amazingly enough, the movie had a G rating.


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