Monday 21 February 2022

Movie Review: The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972)

A surveillance thriller with a romantic sub-plot, The Groundstar Conspiracy enjoys decent-enough start and end points, but meanders for a long stretch in-between.

A series of explosions at the government's top secret Groundstar research facility leaves six people dead. Employee David Welles is suspected of causing the carnage to cover his attempted theft of computer files. Welles is badly disfigured by the explosions, but makes his way to the nearby weekend cottage of Nicole Devon (Christine Belford) before collapsing and being arrested.

Groundstar security director Tuxan (George Peppard) recovers the stolen files, takes charge of the investigation, and orders the reconstruction of Welles' mangled face. Once Welles (Michael Sarrazin) wakes up from surgery, he claims to remember nothing about his past or the plot, despite Tuxan's persistent interrogation. Tuxan sets Welles free to track his movements, and the accused criminal immediately makes his way to Nicole's house. A romance ignites, with Tuxan's surveillance team keeping close watch.

An adaptation of the book The Alien by L.P. Davies, The Groundstar Conspiracy combines smart elements with slipshod treatment. The Douglas Heyes script contains large skips, jumps and leaps over logic, and Lamont Johnson's rough directing hints at squeezing every last dollar out of a limited budget. Location filming does make the most of the brutalist Simon Fraser University campus and Vancouver's waterfront.

The opening sequence of explosions and bloody escape is messy yet still stylishly pulled together. But then little is revealed about the importance of Groundstar and the stolen files, and the film settles down as a relatively static struggle to overcome amnesia. Tuxan is sure Welles and maybe also Nicole are hiding something, and the middle act is all about the romance between Welles and Nicole as she helps him grapple with disjointed memory snippets.

Shadowy military, civilian, and political operatives hover in the background anxiously awaiting the truth, but these angles are poorly defined. Johnson gains better traction sprinkling only marginally paranoid observations about national security and the long reach of surveillance, Tuxan a vocal advocate for a form of government with unchecked ability to invade every bedroom and bug every phone.

The acting is of the stiff variety, perfectly suited to George Peppard in full hyper-confident mode. The climax does perk up with a good double twist, far-fetched for sure, but so is almost everything else here. The Groundstar Conspiracy does not lack ambition, but common sense and polish go missing in those opening blasts.

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