The Final Programme (1973) – Film Review
Director: Robert Fuest
Cast: Jon Finch, Jenny Runacre, Sterling Hayden
By Sarah Morgan
How does one write about a film that’s mindbogglingly bizarre and outlandish without making it sounds as if it’s best left well alone?
I’ve been pondering that question over the past few days since re-watching Robert Fuest’s extraordinary adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme, one of the esteemed fantasy/sci-fi writer’s novels from a series featuring hipster adventurer and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Jerry Cornelius, a groovy product of the late-1960s if ever there was one.
My introduction to the film came some time ago on a decent DVD release, but it looks startlingly impressive on this new Blu-ray transfer. While it might not be particularly important for some productions from the same era to appear crisp and sharp (sometimes a bit of dirt and grime adds something to them), for this one, it’s vital.
Fuest had begun his career as a production designer, most notably delivering stunning backdrops for episodes of The Avengers before turning to directing. To him, the image was all-important, and was at the centre of his 1920s-inspired Dr Phibes movies, starring Vincent Price. Although The Final Programme has an altogether different style, it’s clearly been made by a master at work.
Jon Finch, a now largely forgotten yet hugely charismatic and skilful actor, plays Cornelius, looking all the world as if he’s preparing to take over from Jon Pertwee in Doctor Who. Following the death of his father, Cornelius is approached by a trio of his colleagues to help them complete his most recent project, to create a self-replicating, immortal hermaphrodite.
Initially Cornelius is more interested in rescuing his sister (with whom he seems to have a somewhat unhealthy obsession) from the clutches of their hideous brother Frank. But eventually, after some encouragement from the formidable Miss Brunner, he agrees – although that means chasing his errant sibling across a war-torn Europe; Frank is in possession of the micro-film which holds the key to unlocking the entire project.
Sounds bonkers? Well, that’s because it is. But it’s also hugely entertaining, fast-paced, dazzling and enthralling. It helps that Finch makes an intriguing hero; his performance is matched all the way by that of Jenny Runacre as Miss Brunner who may or may not have Cornelius’s best interests at heart.
The supporting cast is full of familiar faces too, including Graham Crowden, Sterling Hayden, Harry Andrews, Hugh Griffith, Patrick Magee (who’s a little underused, sadly), Ronald Lacey and original EastEnders cast member Sandy Ratcliffe.
If you’re a fan of psychedelia or simply love anything out of the ordinary, this is for you. It’s such a shame the planned sequels based on more of Moorcock’s novels were never made.
Don’t miss the special features either, which include a modern interview with Runacre and a brief but informative look at Fuest’s under-appreciated career from film historian Kim Newman.