The Chairman (1969) Poster


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Tedious thriller that wastes a rather promising premise.
barnabyrudge13 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Chairman (GB title: The Most Dangerous Man In The World) is a typically twisty 60s spy thriller. It feels like a low-key James Bond adventure with a hint of The Man From UNCLE stirred in. Gregory Peck is the hero in this one, but in spite of his star charisma and the fact that the film has a fairly intriguing plot, it still emerges an overall disappointment. Something in the handling just doesn't quite add up – maybe it's the way the film twists itself into semi-confusion, maybe it's the clumsy post-production editing which sticks out like a sore thumb, or maybe it's the fact that the sillier aspects of the storyline never quite convince as fully as they're meant to. Whatever the reason, The Chairman falls short of its potential.

Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck) is recruited by the CIA for a tricky undercover assignment in Red China. It seems the Chinese have almost perfected an agricultural enzyme that could allow crops to grow in hostile environments like mountains and deserts. Such an enzyme would allow China to gain absolute control of the world's mass food production market. Hathaway is a close friend of the man who invented the enzyme, revered Chinese professor Soong Li (Keye Luke). He is also considered by the Chinese as the one man who can help them to add the finishing touches to the formula. This is great news for the CIA, who need someone they can send into China to get close to those involved in the production of the enzyme without arousing suspicion. Hathaway agrees to do the job for them, and a microchip transmitter is implanted into his head which is capable of visually and aurally relaying everything he witnesses during his time in China. What Marshal Shelby (Arthur Hill) of the CIA doesn't tell Hathaway is that the transmitter in his brain is also wired up to a small explosive device, so that if the mission looks destined to fail – or if it looks like he might fall into enemy hands – his head can be blown off at any time simply by pushing a button!

The best thing about the film is Jerry Goldsmith's rousing music score, which adds excitement to scenes that actually, on most occasions, aren't very exciting. In spite of the fact that Peck is in continuous danger virtually every moment that he's in China, the film somehow slackens the suspense when it should be tightening it. Long periods of the film are tedious and uninvolving. Peck gives a passable performance as the unsuspecting "walking bomb", even though he's not really the right actor for the role, while Arthur Hill's eye-patched official overseeing the operation might have stepped right out of a book of spy movie clichés. In the finale, Hathaway flees for the border with the Chinese army in hot pursuit, while Shelby's finger hovers perilously over the all-important bomb button. It's a reasonably taut climax, but comes too late in the day to save the film as a whole. In summary, The Chairman has a few highlights but generally speaking it's one of those films that could have, and should have, been better!
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Cold war oddity
Penfold-1314 May 2000
Gregory Peck is a scientist. He is sent on a mysterious mission to China, where it turns out a scientist has developed an amazingly beneficial enzyme, and thinks Peck is the only man who can work out how to duplicate it for mass production, cure all known diseases, etc. Peck and said scientist are idealists who want to share it with the world, while the US and Chinese governments just want it for themselves. And, to make the whole thing more credible, Peck is equipped with a micro-transmitter in his brain which monitors his physical status and bugs his every conversation, including the one he has after playing table tennis with Chairman Mao.

It sounds silly, and, frankly, it is, but the espionage and the attempts to detect it are fairly tense, and Gregory Peck indulges in a fair number of good old humanitarian rants which suggest that Chinese totalitarianism and US militarism aren't necessarily wonderful things either.

I rather enjoyed it.
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Somewhat interesting spy thriller
haristas28 March 2002
This movie is a relic of its day, reflecting the cold war paranoia that was already rather quaint by 1969. This sort of undercuts the film as anything to be taken seriously, but fortunately it's reasonably well-acted and directed so it still holds up as mildly entertaining -- if there's nothing better on TV to watch. Of historic note is that this film was produced by the same guys who made the much more memorable "Planet of the Apes" a year earlier (both films were scored by the great Jerry Goldsmith), and one of the sets is left over from "Fantastic Voyage."
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Political/ spy / thriller movie about Mao's contemporary China with a splendid Gregory Peck
ma-cortes26 November 2008
An American scientific named Hathaway (Gregory Peck, after his acting in Stalking moon), Nobel prize winner , is enlisted by British Intelligence Service and assigned Mao's Red China to retrieve a formula about a revolutionary agricultural enzyme that eliminates starvation , diseases and multiply mass production . His chiefs (Arthur Hill , Alan Dobie) have implanted a microchip in his head for placing him in the solitary mission whose unique contact results to be Chang (Burt Kwouk , usual in Peter Sellers' Pink Panther). But he doesn't know that it can be exploded if the mission fails . Hathaway leaves his girlfriend Kay (Anne Heywood) and aboard airplane to Hong Kong . Later on , he's transported to north of China , nearly Russia , where he finds professor Soon Li (Keye Luke, the clever master in Kung-Fu series). There Hathaway interviews President Mao (Conrad Yama) .

This is a political/fiction/thriller , plenty of intrigue , suspense and action-packed in its final part . The film is an espionage story originally written by Ben Maddow with historic communist remarks during Mao Tse Tung period , as the'Great leap' and 'Red book of Mao'. In fact , there had propaganda campaigns mounted by Hong Kong communists claiming the film was anti Mao and anti Chinese consequently filming was transferred to Taiwán . Stars Gregory Peck who gives nice acting , though originally intended to be as a starring vehicle for Frank Sinatra . It packs colorful and evocative cinematography , shot in Pinewood studios of London , by John Wilcox and uncredited Ted Moore . Atmospheric production design , it was used the lab set left over from Fox's Fantastic voyage (1966). Moving and suspenseful musical score by the great master Jerry Goldsmith .The film is lavishly produced by Mort Abrahams and Arthur P. Jacobs who previously produced 'Planet of apes' . The motion picture was middlingly directed by J.L. Thomson (1914-2002) , during his splendor and successful time in the 60s , when he directed hits as 'Mackenna's gold' , 'Cape fear' , 'Taras Bulba' and 'Guns of Navarone' ; though in his last period he only directed Charles Bronson vehicles , such as : 'Death wish 4' , 'Kinjite' , 'St Ives' , 'Messenger of Death' , among others . The movie will appeal to Gregory Peck devotees.
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Excellent Political Action Thriller (spoilers follow)
blairwitch-119 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Keep in mind "The Chairman" was released (1969) while America was in the middle of the Vietnam War. Every government type in the movie hates Communism (so much that the assassination of Chairman Mao is considered) but Peck's character reserves judgment. Peck also has his doubts about, and questions, the Chinese system. In this manner he plays an "anti-establishment" role against both systems, the East and the West. The excitement of this movie is bolstered in no small way by the superlative musical score of Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith listened to oriental music samples before composing this score, and it is one of Goldsmith's finest (even better than his score for the original Star Trek movie). This film introduced me to the concept of the "Little Red Book", Mao's collection of sayings distributed to every school child. The movie was made when the Chinese were being recognized as the best ping pong players in the world, so Peck even gets a chance to play table tennis with Mao himself. Every great film has its unforgettable moments, and this has a good share of them too. I haven't seen this movie in maybe a decade but I still remember several scenes vividly: In China, the public beating of Peck's scientist colleague. Peck's attempt to get into the armored projection chamber which holds the secret to unlimited food production for the world's starving masses. His border crossing while being chased by the Chinese Army. And Peck's reaction when he observes the detonation of the bomb he didn't know he was carrying (once surgically implanted in his skull). If you like Gregory Peck, you will love this action treat.
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entertaining tense film
grubstaker5814 May 2006
I confess to not having seen this in 30 years,but politics and aging aside,I still remember it as a film that took on a different/ not usual subject(Red China) and had Gregory Peck giving an all out performance as a "layman" spy . It had a somewhat novel gadget factor with the monitoring listening device and the introduction of Mao's country as another "Player" in the big game of world control.The chase for the border was tense and very memorable (the U.S. actually working with the Soviets...who woulda thunk it?)It also boast top-notch production qualities(Score, direction and a fine supporting cast.)There's a funny part that I still remember ... Military guy Arthur Hill is taking the trigger-detonator of Peck's "brain-bomb" from a safe and noticing there's a "skull and crossbones" on it. Hill-"Whose the joker who did this?".........
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gzh5012 December 2006
I am interested in Hollywood movies about China all the time. 55 Days in Beijing, Seven Years in Tibet, Red Corner... I happened to see the Chairman and bought it without any hesitation. But, it turned out to be a complete disappointment not because performance and scenery but true China. In fact, I hate Mao's dictatorship in Red China, however, apparently, American people didn't and could't know much about Red China in 1969. In this movie, the starting music made me believe it was about Japan, what's worse, the Japanese-style-music was all through the movie. And, in 1969, Americans could not find anyone who can speak Mandarine well. What they could find was some Hong Kong-accent guys whose Mandarine made me confused and giggle. When I saw the Chairman, I realized the worst part began. Mao Zedong became much shorter and less-arrogant. He spoke English! Others Mandarine. From the very beginning, I could not find any clues about China Mainland. Everything was falsed too bad. I wondered if you shot the movie without getting a Chinese as a history adviser.
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Excedrin Headache # 9
sol-kay17 July 2005
***SPOILERS*** Cold War espionage drama with the US and USSR working as a team to prevent the Communist Chinese from developing this enzyme that would make crops in both cold and high altitude, like barren snow capped mountain ranges, weather resistant.

This amazing discovery would give the Chinese Communists a monopoly in food-stuffs industry all over the world. They would also be able to use it to blackmail, or buy off, all of the free and third world nations by undercutting the food prices of the United States and Western Europe as well as the Soviet Union. The Chinese who developed this enzyme with the help of their top scientist Soing Li,Keye Luke,need just one more piece of this growth enzyme puzzle to really get their act on the road to world domination by controlling the worlds food supply: Mass Production. Both the US and USSR are very determined to get their hands on this enzyme and use the one person who can get into Communist China American Prof. John Hathway, Gregory Peck. Prof. Hathway is not only an expert in the field of growth enzymes but also a former associate of the imminent Prof. Soing Li. Only Prof. Hathaway can come up with the formula to mass produce this enzyme which is why the Chairman, Conrad Yama, of the Chinese Peoples Republic eagerly wants him to come to his country and help out Prof. Li with his experiment.

Using the code name "Minitor" the US intelligence service, the CIA, implant a transmitter into Hathaway's head to pick up all the things that he sees and hears in China as well as all his conversations that he has with that country's high echelon governments officials like the Chairman. What Prof. Hathaway doesn't know is that besides a transmitter he also has an explosive device in his skull that can blow his head off as soon as the Chinese suspect that he's a spy for the US.

Prof. Hathaway's main goal in his China visit is to get his hands on the secret enzyme formula but it's encased in the wall of Prof. Li's house and almost impossible for him to get at. Later Hathaway, by crawling under the floorboards and melting the encased steel-box with acid, did get into the hidden compartment where he thought that the film of the enzyme was. Prof. Hatawy is shocked to find that it's no longer there. Prof. Li had since been accused of being a traitor to the people and forced from his post, by the Red Guard, as a top Communist Chinese in the education and scientific departments.

Hurt and humiliated Prof. Li, who was forced to be exhibited around town wearing a dunce cap, with signs calling him a traitor,later commits suicide leaving his daughter Ting Ling, Zienia Merton, his most precious possession: the little Red Book of quotes of Moa Tse-Tung. Unknown to Prof Hathaway is that in that book Prof. Li skillfully and in a code, that only he and Prof. Hathaway can decipher, is the secret enzyme formula.

Unusual film made during the hight of the Cold as well as Vietnam War back in 1969 with Prof. Hathaway driving an armored car and then running for his life towards the Russian-Mongolian/Communist Chinese border with a bomb planted in his head that can go off at any given moment. With the bomb about to be detonated by those who sent him there into Communist China: His government the US as well as the USSR & UK.

The Soviet Red Army who's job it was to get Prof. Hathaway across the border safely were also saddled with the order of not firing on the perusing Chinese Red Army troops. This in order to prevent a war from breaking out between the two Communist super-powers! Which made things in the movie even more complicated then they already were!
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A bit limp...and silly.
MartinHafer12 September 2009
Gregory Peck is a Nobel Prize-winning American scientist who has been recruited by the US government to go into China to steal the secret for a new enzyme that would do much to feed the starving of the world. And, oddly, the extremely closed Chinese let him in and wine and dine him. He even gets a nice cozy little audience with the ever-adorable Mao (just because he was responsible for more deaths than Hitler doesn't mean he's not a swell guy in this film). Little does Peck know, however, that the evil US government implanted an explosive device into his skull along with a transmitter (which he does know about). Will they detonate him to kill the Chairman or is there mission the one they stated at the beginning of the film?

Considering that the film is about an American espionage agent in Communist China circa 1969, you'd sure think it would be an exciting film. Add to that the talent of Gregory Peck and it seems like a guaranteed winner. Instead, the film just limps along to a less than thrilling and ridiculous conclusion.

One of the major problem is that Peck plays a scientist who hates working for US intelligence but has done so in the past. Yet oddly, despite his strong bias against the spy game, he agrees to risk his life by going into China--and you keep wondering why. His motivations seem mixed at best and this is perhaps the worst part of the film. Additionally, as the film progresses, you see that the film makers employ moral relativism--showing the US and China are basically the same. In this film, the US would love to starve the world in order to maintain its power. But comparing Mao's regime (best estimates 25-100 million killed during his rule--I guess you gotta break a few eggs to make this omelet) to the US seemed a bit...well....insane. Throw into the mix that the US and USSR are now good buddies in the film and you are left wondering who, if anyone, to root for in the movie. This really is THE main problem with the film.

Another problem, though not as severe, is the relative ease with which Peck enters China and eventually leaves China. You didn't just do this in the 1960s--heck, you don't just do this today! His ease in escaping seemed rather dumb and you know that in reality the Chinese during this time were pretty ruthless and far from dumb. Purges and counter-revolution fever were rampant--as was xenophobia (which, fortunately, has changed a lot over the years). In such a crazed environment, a 6' 3" American would probably be spotted and captured very, very quickly!

Overall, this is one of Peck's misfires. The film never seems credible though it is an interesting time-passer provided you don't think through the details too much.
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Peck's Not a Bad Boy
rmax30482321 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Gregory Peck does a reasonably good job as a Nobelist who is sent to China to steal an enzyme that will increase the world's food supply. The Chinese, you see, want to keep it a secret and use it themselves. (They've since given up hoping for miracles and have turned to a much more sensible one-child per family policy.) I guess -- legally speaking, the enzyme IS in fact a Chinese invention and belongs to them, doesn't it? What I mean is, is it entirely ethical for Peck to sneak into China under false pretenses, swipe something of theirs, and smuggle it out of the country? After all, when the Americans and Brits get the enzyme at the end, they too stash it away to use as a "weapon" instead of handing it over to all humankind, as Peck wants to do. It's like Clint Eastwood sneaking into the USSR and stealing the most advanced fighter airplane in the world from them ("Firefox").

Problems like this don't bother the film makers. Absconding with the MacGuffin is a good idea -- period. To show how good it is, even the Russians are on our side and only the Chinese are "enemies." And how does our side show its appreciation for Peck's life-endangering efforts? They have planted a complex transmitter in his mastoid sinus. He has willingly allowed them to do it. What they haven't told him is that there is a coil of explosive wrapped around the chip that will blow his head off if detonated by the authorities. At the last minute, the general in charge (Arthur Hill) relents and doesn't explode Peck's head. That's gratitude for you.

The director has tried to turn this into a light-hearted thriller, along the lines of "North by Northwest." Accordingly, we are introduced to Chairman Mao while he's playing ping pong. And Peck is given plenty of wisecracks under stress, on top of which his performance is sort of sing-song, more animated than usual. Somehow it doesn't jell.

It would have been no trouble at all in 1943 to change a few things around and have this turn out to be an anti-Nazi war film, all cloak and dagger, shadows and fog, and racing black sedans.

Not one of Peck's better career choices.
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Back Then It Was Red China
bkoganbing27 October 2010
The Chairman is a film of its time, it was made when the Sino-Soviet split was just coming to the fore, when even the Russians were getting worried about their ally south of their Asian border. It's not hard to figure out, China is big, but very full, Siberia is big and very empty. Geography even trumps politics and ideology.

Back in those days we still were not giving diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. In fact you search the stories about China back in those days and it will inevitably be called Red China. You haven't heard that expression in a couple of decades now. So getting an American scientist for whatever reason in the country, was difficult if not impossible. Remember this was also the days when the godhead figure of their revolution Mao Tse-Tung was doing a little ideological house cleaning with those fired up young people, his Red Guards who were scaring the world back then and with good reason.

A Chinese scientist colleague of Gregory Peck's back in the day played by Keye Luke sends a letter to Peck most cryptic as it would have to have passed through censors. That triggers a little sky espionage where it is discovered that the Chinese are growing agricultural produce in places it shouldn't happen. Luke has discovered an enzyme to make it possible and with it the Chinese can get starving third world nations to its side by the droves. It's got the US and the USSR worried.

Peck's mission should he accept it is to get the formula for that enzyme out of China, not so easy for an Occidental, but he's the only guy with scientific qualifications for the job. The plot is somewhat similar in this respect to Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.

Oh, and they've got a real joker in the deck. Cold War Air Force general Arthur Hill who is running the show has implanted a listening device in Peck's skull so he can just talk and a spy satellite above China will pick it up and transmit. But they also have it rigged with an explosive device so Peck won't fall in enemy hands. And they don't tell him about that, cute.

The Chairman is a good spy thriller with the action going along at a good clip. His race for the Soviet border will keep your adrenalin pumping the way Peck's character had to have been in the film. Best scene in the film is Peck's audience with Chairman Mao played by Conrad Yama. That was considerable license because Mao spoke no English.

What I always found fascinating is that when Mao died in 1977 the revolution as he conceived it stopped with him. Today China, no longer called Red China, is your very typical oligarchic country that has restricted freedoms to be sure as the kids who were at Tiannamen Square will testify, but a country playing very typical power politics in the old fashioned way. My God they even have a stock exchange for capitalists. What would those idealistic young Red Guards think along with the man who inspired them?
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The Dumbest Man in the World
zardoz-1315 March 2013
"Guns of Navarone" director J. Lee Thompson and leading man Gregory Peck teamed up for the fourth time in the Cold War era thriller "The Chairman," but this preposterous spy thriller has little to distinguish it aside from its gimmick. When an agricultural enzyme enables the Red Chinese to grow crops despite adversarial climate conditions, the Americans dispatch an American scientist, Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck of "MacKenna's Gold"), to go to China and confabulate with his old colleague from his Princeton days. Now, the gimmick is that the Americans have planted a small plastic receiver in the back of his head that allows him to talk to them about his progress without relying on any external device. Basically, aside from showing our well-dressed protagonist what he has in his head, this film doesn't have to worry about concealing some costly electronic device. Meantime, the suspicious Red Chinese cannot figure out how our hero is communicating with the Americans. After a long, tedious build up that includes a meeting with Chairman Mao during a ping-pong game, Hathaway has to make a desperate bid for the border. Thompson cuts back and forth between Hathaway and the American military who keep tabs on his progress. Gregory Peck wears his trench coat well, but he is no more convincing as a scientist than he is a spy. What a dreary mess with a last-minute revelation that develops little tension.
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I am of Two minds about this one.
ozthegreatat4233016 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw this movie in 1969 I was very intrigued by it. sending an American Scientist into Communist China to attempt the theft of a valuable enzyme that could help produce enough food to feed the whole world. Of course with the star power of the handsome Gergory Peck that also did not hurt the film. Arthur Hill was his usual efficient low keyed supporting performance, but the love interest was just not there and could have easily been left out of the plot altogether (an unthinkable idea by Hollywood standards.)

Seeing the film now it seems as though there is simply not enough plot and it is all too ho-hum. He is always under the scrutiny of a transmitter implanted under the skin in his head, not knowing that there is also an explosive device included. Conrad Yama is a very believable Chairman Mao, but his appearance in the film is limited to one short scene, which does not serve the title. The best part of the movie is another memorable sound score from Jerry Goldsmith, who next to John Williams is one of the most prolific film composers there is.
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Acceptable spy thriller
Leofwine_draca12 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
THE CHAIRMAN is an acceptable spy thriller of the late '60s, chiefly of interest for featuring a Western look at Mao-dominated communist China of the era. The story is slim and sees Gregory Peck jetting off to China to capture the usual MacGuffin, which is the formula for an enzyme which can dramatically increase farming yields. It's rather long-winded, with too many cutbacks to the guys at base who commentate and slow down the action, but the depiction of China is engaging and the presence of Mao himself in the character list makes this fun. Peck is reliably good, as ever, and there are plenty of familiar faces in the forms of Keye Luke, Ric Young, Burt Kwouk, Zienia Merton, and a cameoing Anne Heywood.
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spencerc221714 April 2016
An earlier review dismisses the "Cold War paranoia " reflected in this 1969 film. How ignorant. The Cold War was a product of the unremitting hostility of Soviet Russia and China against the U.S. Historical fact and anyone who thinks otherwise, like this commenter, merely reflects the moral equivalence and political correctness of our time, which doesn't believe in good and evil. Ironically it is these people who have the distorted view, not the earlier generation they patronize. Evidently this commenter never heard of the Korean War, in which we fought North Korea's and China's invasion of South Korea from 1950-53. Nor does he appear to have heard of the Quemoy- Martsu crises of the fifties, when the communists were threatening the nationalist regime on Taiwan, our ally. Nor the torrent of hostile propaganda against us. Again, look in the mirror before patronizing an earlier period of history.
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The Chairman is More Like the Chump *
edwagreen18 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
You have to ask yourself, what was Gregory Peck thinking when he signed on in this absolutely miserable film.

Something is planted in Peck's head as he goes to China to retrieve some enzyme that the Chinese have that can alter food production. If Peck fails, the object will explode. The Americans have never bothered to tell him this. What was in Peck's head to make this mess of a 1hr. and 37 minutes of miserable boredom?

Even Peck's escape from China is awfully staged. At the end, he will have to justify the story as the army seems to refuse to reveal what has really gone on. After viewing this film, you can't blame them.
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Flawed but fun
lthanlon-14 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Location footage in late-1960s Hong Kong highlights this espionage yarn with sci-fi overtones in which scientist Gregory Peck is persuaded to go to China in search of a revolutionary crop additive that can prevent famine. The technological gimmick has Peck outfitted with a tiny radio that allows him to be a mobile human bug and transmit everything he hears to an intelligence arm of the CIA and MI6 based in London. The movie feels like a big-budget version of a "Time Tunnel" episode -- minus the time travel.

I've always thought that this film inspired the short-lived NBC series "Search."
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