Blu-ray Review: The Chairman

STUDIO: Twilight Time | DIRECTOR: J. Lee Thompson | CAST: Gregory Peck, Arthur Hill, Burt Kwouk, Keye Luke, Anne Heywood, Ric Young
RELEASE DATE: July 16, 2019 | PRICE: Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: isolated music track (with some effects), audio commentary with film historians Eddy Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer, The Chairman mini-film, alternate scenes from international version, trailer
SPECS: NR | 98 min. | Thriller | 2.35:1 widescreen | 2.0 DTS-HD MA | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

The 1969 spy thriller The Chairman stars Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) as a Nobel Prize-winning university professor, Dr. John Hathaway, who’s sent on a mission to Red China by the government to retrieve an important agricultural enzyme that reportedly would permit crops to grow in any kind of climate. What the prof doesn’t know is that there’s a bomb implanted in his head that his government handlers will detonate if he fails to carry out his mission.

Ably directed by J. Lee Thompson of The Guns of Navarone and Cape Fear fame, The Chairman doesn’t really get going until the halfway point, when Hathaway meets Red China’s Party Chairman over a game of ping-pong and later, near the end,  gets chased across the Chinese countryside as he attempts to escape the bad guys by burrowing beneath an electrified fence at the Russian border. It sorta reminded me of Peck and Sophia Loren dodging a helicopter at the end of 1966’s Arabesque.

More interesting than the film is the behind-the-scenes story of its development. The Chairmman is adapted from the 1969 book by Jay Richard Kennedy, who in the early Sixties had became an informant for the CIA, as he believed Soviet and Chinese Communist agents were attempting to infiltrate and exploit the U.S.’s Civil Rights Movement. Kennedy later became a vice-president of Frank Sinatra Enterprises, as well as a story editor who tried to develop the screenplay for The Chairman as a project for Sinatra, Spencer Tracy and Yul Brynner. Originally, it was slated to be filmed in Hong Kong, but when the project finally got off the ground with Peck, permission to film in Hong Kong and China was refused, leaving the Red China scenes to be mounted in Taiwan.

Buy  The Chairman

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.