BR: Chairman, The / Most Dangerous Man in the World, The (1969)

August 23, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  July 16, 2019

Genre:  Espionage / Political Thriller / Cold War Thriller

Synopsis: A geneticist working for Allied Powers enters communist China to steal a formula that can solve world hunger.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo and Mono Music and Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Mike Finnegan / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




The premise of this pulpy, more-than-slightly tongue-in-cheek thriller is ludicrous: a retired geneticist agrees to a potential one-way trip to Maoist China and retrieve the secret formula that enables growing any kind of food in any temperate zone, be it pineapples in the arctic, or robust veggies on arid mountain slopes. Add a one-way microphone embedded in John Hathaway’s melon with a kill switch in case he’s caught, and you have a film with a very confused tone – part Bond, part Cold War thriller, and a bit of Hitchcockian fluff.

The Chairman is very much a time capsule for reasons its makers probably never intended, and while pulpy, scenarist and former blacklisted writer Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle, The Naked Jungle, No Down Payment) seemed to have played up the conflicts within Jay Richard Kennedy’s novel. Hathaway (Gregory Peck) travels to China and aide in developing the magic bullet to global starvation, but he knows he’s just a tool for the U.S. military complex, and will no doubt be played by the People’s Republic, including its deity Mao (Conrad Yama), whom he meets and inks a worthless bargain over a game of ping-pong.

Director J.Lee Thompson was always a master at montages, and although he plays with time periods in the film’s first third – Hathaway’s presence on a flight to Hong Kong is interpolated with narration and flashbacks tracing what could end up being a suicidal mission – once he lands, the film unfolds in a standard linear fashion, albeit with cheeky nods to the super-spy genre.

Hathaway meets his Communist contact Yin (a very young Ric Young) on the upper floor of an upscale bordello; almost beds spy Ting Ling (Space: 1999’s Xienia Merton) before receiving / deserving a solid conk to the head; and after regaining consciousness and a visa, flies to mainland China to meet the Chairman himself, where he agrees to help finalize the secret formula so China and both feed itself and gift this marvel of genetics to the world.

How the formula is explained, where it’s locked away, and whether Hathaway manages to snatch it and escape is irrelevant, because Maddow’s script allowed for some diversions: Hathaway’s old colleague Soong Li (Keye Luke) is paraded through the streets by red book waving, Maoist zealots, and a slight tease that the older American will fall for his colleague’s young, cause- committed daughter Soong Chu (Francesca Tu). There is a slight emotional connection between Chu and Hathaway, but the bonding agent is really her father, and once he’s stricken from the narrative, it’s clear Hathaway must act or be trapped in China.

Hathaway’s attempt to snatch the formula and escape are where Thompson has the most fun, crafting incredibly dynamic montages, thanks in large part to the superb editing by Richard Best (The Magic Box, The Dam Busters, The Blood on Satan’s Claw) and cinematographer John Wilcox (Summer Holiday, The Last Valley) who kept the camera gliding through wide locations and cramped sets.

None of the film’s montages, especially Hathaway’s preposterous escape from a tightly guarded compound, are digestible without Jerry Goldsmith’s outstanding score. While his Main Titles bear a slight resemblance to the composer’s dour, gut-wrenching theme for The Sand Pebbles (1966), Chairman’s material is designed to keep the drama moving, avoiding even a hint of possible romance, hence a nearly total lack of warm cues. The militaristic main theme evolves into a medium-epic statement which Goldsmith soon breaks apart into rhythmic variations, many featuring loose, abstract moments which match Hathaway’s own dilemma in trying to acquire the formula under surveillance.

Hathaway’s crawling through floorboards and entering the bunker that houses the formula is patently absurd – he succeeds solely because the house happens to have big gaps between the floors, and none of the sentries hear what probably sounds like a big rat scurrying above the rafters – but the sequence works because of the seamless choreography between actor, editor, and composer.

Thompson’s toughest chore as director was finding the right balance between seeing Hathaway in action in China, and the reactions and pre-emptive actions of his handlers in Europe: tin U.S. soldier Shelby (Arthur Hill, pitching the one-eyed officer as cold-hearted but never tipping into parody), his British counterpart, and Soviet rep Shertov (fine Israeli actor Ori Levy). Everything Hathaway hears and says is radioed back to them, but Hathaway is very much on his own, relying on a mole to aide in his escape (The Pink Panther’sBert Kwouk).

Where a hack filmmaker might render complex montages as formulaic (or bungle them outright), Thompson and Best’s edits often acts as counterpoint to Goldsmith’s increasingly raw, rambunctious cues that ultimately explode with full orchestra backing during an outrageous (and improbable breakout sequence, and his race to reach the China-Soviet union border before literally losing his head.

The final exchanges between Hathaway and Shelby could’ve been short quips, snickers, and a Bondian punchline to finish the denouement, but Maddow’s prose maintains the sharp divide between the deeply cynical military industrial complex and earnest everyman Hathaway. The disdain stiff Shelby has for Hathaway’s progressive ilk is synthesized in a double-shouting of “Nothing!” (The moment’s power may also be due to a trick edit in which Thompson cut to a second closer shot take that bleeds with sharper disdain.)

The film’s connection to the James Bond franchise is more than borrowed tropes: uncredited cinematographer Ted Moore shot six Bond productions including Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965); credited cinematographer Wilcox would later shoot Hammer Films’ highly unsuccessful kung fu-Bondian hybrid Shatter (1974); and in a peculiar case of typecasting, Mai Ling, who played the nosey stewardess in Goldfinger, plays a communist agent masquerading as a stewardess in Chairman’s opening scenes. (Her other Bondian credit is an unbilled role in You Only Live Twice.)

The Chairman isn’t a great Cold War espionage thriller, but it just works perhaps because its makers kept it pulpy. There’s also the fascination of locations and objects preserved on film: Hong Kong’s harbour and the gritty, disintegrating city streets of 1968; Peck’s plane screaming over houses before landing at Kai Tak Airport (see this video link for a great montage of landings & take-offs); the superb Main Title montage that’s a glossy collage of news stills of the foaming Red Guard; and chunky technology, namely the giant reel of computer tape that within 32.5 seconds precisely make mush of Hathaway’s noggin’, and the bulky monitors displaying oscillating frequencies and huge VU meters tracking Hathaway’s pulse, blood pressure, psychological state!


THE CHAIRMAN (1969) U.S. poster: torn from the headlines!

Scandinavian poster for THE CHAIRMAN (1969).

British VHS sleeve for THE CHAIRMAN, released as THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE WORLD, and inferring Gregory Peck’s head is packed with flammable timber.


Twilight Time’s disc sports a sharp HD transfer which flatters the gritty location cinematography, as well as the standing ‘China’ sets left over from Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) and later repurposed in Satan Never Sleeps (1962). Thompson’s perfectly timed close-ups are especially impactful in HD, with every sharp detail of visages filling the screen.

Like Fox’s 2006 DVD, the film was remixed in bullshit stereo, but the mono mix is the better choice, as it doesn’t suffer from the faux depth effects that give an already flat, dry mix a drainpipe quality. Goldsmith’s score did enjoy LP and later CD releases, but TT’s disc marks the first time the stereo stems are available with surviving isolated mono music & effects cues; some of the best chase music only survives in this lesser form, so this is the most complete presentation of this underrated musical gem fans will likely get.

Also retained from the Fox DVD are two alternate scenes from a slightly longer European version, best described as the booby-friendly edit. An early scene in Shelby’s office has a smidge of extra dialogue, but it’s the extra material with Zienia Merton that clarifies an incoherent reference to buying butterflies in the hotel seduction scene: a fully disrobed Ting Ling opens a basket of butterflies after a very provocative stance on the rug.

Now, fans of the film (and Merton) will wonder if the international version contains other scene extensions, and whether there’s a HD transfer that might only be available to European licensees, but it is a pity Fox didn’t supply the complete version, or allow for seamless branching to choose which version to play, but TT’s disc also includes a digest version that’s reportedly compiled using outtakes and alternates.

The inference is the mini-movie was a cut down version for consumers, but it may well have been an exhibitor’s promo edit, as was done for Peck’s 1978 Nazi sleaze thriller The Boys from Brazil, which similarly contained extra material not in the final cut. The mini-movie uses a number of cues from the Goldsmith-scored Fox epic The Sand Pebbles, and the extra bits of dialogue likely trimmed for pacing, redundancy, or tone. Presented in widescreen, the montage of events also includes a bit more of very naked Merton fiddling with Peck’s belt, making it more logical to assume the mini-movie was a teaser to entice theatres into booking the studio’s latest hot button, cosmetically over-sexed thriller.

TT also includes the original theatrical trailer, but like the mini-film, there are some serious technical issues. The trailer’s first half has no dialogue – just a 1 kHz tone followed by a silent gap before the way out of sync audio comes in at 1:33, and continues to the trailer’s end. Also affected is the mini-movie which suffers less severe but still serious sync issues. These sync issues aren’t present o the Fox DVD.

(In an email from Twilight Time, the label confirmed the fault lies in the compression and mastering facility which failed to catch the sync issues, and as the feature proper, its multiple audio tracks + the extra scenes aren’t affected, no recall is planned.)

Also carried over from the prior disc is an strong commentary by film historians Eddy Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer who pack a ;pt of information informative and contextualize the production as an effort by both its director and aging star to find a viable project with box office appeal.

Much of the commentary peaks with lively discourse and disagreements, but their extended closing comments on filmmusic are preposterous; like their simultaneously recorded track for Fox’s Our Man Flint (1966), their narrow (and ludicrous) view dismisses post 1960s composers and scores as unimportant and unimpressive. Equally subjective is the claim that 70s films are hard to enjoy because of gaudy fashion which distracts from story, plot, and performances; with a few exceptions like H.B. Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), most productions aren’t wholly saddled with poodle hairdos, self-propelling shirt collars, and bulky quasi-colonial wood trim. Sometimes the most egregious fashion faux pas add to a film’s attraction, and enjoyment.

Mike Finnegan’s liner notes celebrate the film’s fun factor, and its peculiar origin as a proposed script before Kennedy, also a screenwriter – To the Ends of the Earth (1948), I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), TV’s The Man Called X (1956) – reworked it into a novel, after which it became a script proper, a quirky route similar to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1993), and Logan’s Run (1976), scripted & novelized by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan.

Gregory Peck and director J. Lee Thompson collaborated on the blockbuster The Guns of Navarone (1961), the chilling & nasty thriller Cape Fear (1962), the bloated western Mackenna’s Gold (1969), and The Chairman (1969).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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