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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Projected Man

The lesser half of a double bill, The Projected Man (TPM) is a small studio British production. It ran with Island of Terror. The screenplay is mostly a variant retelling of the basic The Fly story with a few other older movies' tropes woven in too. (More on that in the Notes section)

Quick Plot Synopsis
Paul Steiner is trying to perfect his matter transporter device, but his live experiments (guinea pigs) only survive a few minutes afterward. Stumped, he calls in a former associate (and perhaps prior love interest) Pat Hill. She figures he has the polarity wrong, putting the test subject out of sync with normal time. Meanwhile, the department head, Dr. Blanchard is being blackmailed into forcing Steiner to demonstrate his progress or he'll have his funding cut. Steiner and his team tweak the machine and it works! To ensure failure, Blanchard had the power cables sabotaged. The demonstration fails dramatically. Irate at the failure, and at Pat for making goo-goo eyes at his assistant Chris. Steiner pleads with Blanchard for one more demonstration, but he refuses. Steiner goes back to his lab, intending to have himself beamed into Blanchard's living room as proof. Steiner has his secretary, Sheila, help him with the switches. However, when he was half dematerialized, Pat and Chris enter, startling Sheila, who flips the wrong switch. This damages Steiner (badly burned side of head, and right hand), who materializes off target in a London alley. There, he is met by three would-be robbers. One touch of his hand, kills each by electrocution. A crime mystery grows while Steiner roams the streets. Blanchard and his blackmailer are at the lab, trying to steal Steiners experiment recordings. Steiner catches the blackmailer and electrocutes him. He then takes the swooned secretary back to his apartment where he learns more of the sabotage. Angry, he hunts down Blanchard in his home and kills him. Pat and Chris try to persuade Steiner to seek treatment. He runs for a power plant to restore his fading energy. The plant is surrounded by cops, but Pat persuades him to come back to the lab. He does. In the lab, with a supposed reversal program in place, Steiner sets the laser to destroy the equipment, and then turns it on himself. He fades into oblivion. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Even though the plot is predictable, since it's made of several prior tropes, it is fun to see and identify them as they come up.

Cold War Angle
There is more of the traditional science-is-dangerous theme than anything Cold War.

Familiar Medley -- The screenplay of TPM is a medley of several prior stories. The most obvious is The Fly, with the whole matter-transporter-going-awry trope. Instead of a fly-head deformity, Steiner gets the 'burned' trope as in Curse of the Fly and The Telegian. Mixed in, is the deadly touch from The Invisible Ray ('36) and Hand of Death ('62). Stylistically, there is a bit of Phantom of the Opera with Steiner's half-mask, and him hulking around the dark spaces, carrying off a woman, and extracting revenge on his enemies. The Telegian shared this revenge trope too.

Brief Baring -- Perhaps it is only in the UK version (since it's hard to imagine it making past American editors), there is a brief bit of bare-brestedness in TPM. When the Inspector is at the morgue, identifying the three dead criminals, the doctor lifts the sheet over Gloria's body. She's naked, with an obvious bare breast exposed. The British were getting more comfortable with more skin on screen, apparently. This seems evident too in the extended showing of Sheila (the secretary) flitting around in her polka-dotted bra and panties. There was no real plot need for this. The director just wanted to show more skin.

Weak Ending -- Some criticize the ending of TPM as weak -- like the story just stops. Granted, it moves pretty quickly, but it has the same sort of resolution in other made-self-into-monster stories. Steiner decides that he cannot go on living like he is. Nor, does he wish anyone else to turn out like him. So, he pretends to want help in order to get back into the lab. Once at the controls, he sets the machine to blow itself up and nuke him too in the process. Pretty typical.

Strong Woman -- Uncharacteristic for low-budget sci-fi, is a leading woman who is emotionally strong. More typically, the woman on the cast was there to be menaced by the monster, scream a lot, trip while running in high heels, occasionally make food or coffee for the hero(s) and swoon at the hero's embrace. In TPM, Pat shows leadership, determination, and bravery. She's a scientist too, but unlike the usual female scientist who is trumped by the superior male scientists (e.g. Rocketship X-M), she turns out to have the answer that the men missed. Even her fling with Chris (bland as it was) has her more of an equal than a swooner.

Bottom line? TPM is a rehash of many prior tropes and plots. Viewers looking for new and fresh will likely be annoyed. Fans of The Fly and matter-transporter flicks might be amused at yet another installment "Matter Transporters: you're doing it wrong."

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