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The Groundstar Conspracy (1972)
Director: Lamont Johnson

review by Steven Hampton

Based on borderline-SF novel The Alien by Leslie P. Davies, this mystery thriller pre-empts the subgenre explored to far less ambiguous effect in Nicolas Roeg's seminal The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). However, the source novel by Walter Tevis for Roeg's classic drama was published in 1963, while Davies' book first appeared five years after. To further muddy the waters of both espionage and SF genres, the psychic trauma and identity crises suffered by Michael Sarrazin's possibly extraterrestrial character (not to mention various plot tricks played on the audience) in The Groundstar Conspiracy also resonate with Algis Budrys' novel, Who? (1958), filmed by Jack Gold in 1974. With such a convoluted history for its basic idea, who (is anyone) can lay claim to originality?
   Sarrazin plays the only survivor of a devastating explosion that levels a secret government research base. George Peppard is perfectly cast as a cold and manipulative security agent, assigned to discover who is responsible for the destruction or theft of computer files. Then, we have the glamorous widow (Christine Belford) whose doorstep the physically wrecked Sarrazin crashes on. Is Sarrazin's total amnesia just a pretence? Does Belford know more than she lets on? What's Peppard's game - why does he allow Sarrazin to escape from custody? This brain-teasing spy chiller throws several twists into the largely cerebral formula of strategy, interrogation, surveillance, double-bluff and deception but, regrettably, The Groundstar Conspiracy is only a mediocre effort despite its complexity.
   Director Lamont Johnson started out as an actor in the 1950s, before helming such diverse films as The McKenzie Break, The Last American Hero, ill-fated Lipstick, Cattle Annie And Little Britches, Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone, Unnatural Causes, and The Broken Chain - yet few of these, if any, deserve serious consideration today. Johnson is competent, but no auteur. His work here is appealing but he takes no risks with the material - opting for simple exposition instead of an exploration of potentially intriguing themes. Would a more daring director have made this a great psychological mystery thriller?
previously published online, VideoVista #20
The Groundstar Conspracy
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