The People (1972) (film DVD review).

I’ve been after a copy of the 1972 film ‘The People’ for a long, long time, mostly because it was supposed to be based on the short stories of the same name by Science Fiction author Zenna Henderson, who also wrote the screenplay.

New teacher Meolodye Amerson (actress Kim Darby) arrives at Bendo, a remote village, ignoring the rumours about the place. The People are distinctly odd, few of them talk but, then, they don’t need to talk.

They dislike the outside world and Meolodye is told they don’t like anything modern. More so, as Karen Diemus (actress Laurie Walters) watches over the sullen kids while they take lessons. The more human Dr. Curtis (actor William Shatner) is the medic for the district and passes through the village from time to time and has an interest in folk medicine. After two accidents and the way the villagers looks after them as well as Curtis, Melodyne finds them odd.

That night she over hears the elders discussing whether they should keep her on or not despite their children needing an education. She starts to get wind of their real talents when one of the teens suspends her in mid-air and Sol Diemus (actor Dan O’Herlihy) restores her to the ground. Valency Carmody (actress Diane Varsi) convinces Meolodye to stay on although they agree that the adult overseer Karen should no longer stay in the school room.

Melodye watches unseen from the edge if the meadow as two of the kids finally laugh and play and then float in the air. At the next lesson, she wants them each to write and draw about their home despite they say it is forbidden. Later, she needs Valency’s help to interpret the pictures and that they are extra-terrestrials who fled from their dying planet. Their spaceship entered Earth’s atmosphere too fast and their lifepods scattered across the planet. In the 18th century, they were too open about their powers and many were killed as witches. I still ponder on that because even if the powers are that powerful your would have thought they might have stopped or defended themselves.

She gets them to demonstrate their various abilities in the class room until they are interrupted and Clement Fancher (actor Chris Valentine) lands on his head and his sister, Bethie (actress Johanna Baer) has sympathetic pains. They get Curtis but he can’t do much and Valency takes up her leadership over the older ones saying they have to use their powers to help.

Valency has to revive Bethie and use her as a conduit to her brother but they need all of the villagers to cure Fancher’s broken neck. Later, while Fancher is recovering, Curtis sees one of the kids levitating. He talks to Melodnye later that he wants to study and get them more integrated with the world.

That’s it really. The film is really that laid back. Probably with a bigger budget and stronger performance, there might be more to play with here. In many respects, ‘The People’ is more about a suppressed community finding themselves than any particular adversary. If you forgot the psionics aspect, you could work much of this plot with any secret community like the Amish. It was an ABC Movie Of The Week than a film presentation so, even for 1972, you’re not going to see great effects. Considering how many of these stories were used as testing grounds and pilots for TV series, I do wonder if this was seen more as a potential introductory story with latitude for development later. Considering that ‘Escape To Witch Mountain’ (1975) had many of the same essential elements and a better budget shows how the potential was lost.

The colour of this DVD looks really flushed and a little washed out, especially at the beginning. I’m not sure if it was because it was of how it was sourced or not, but with the processes we have, it could do with a clear up for modern release. Then again, Henderson played down their powers in the books she wrote. Although Shatner gets one of the star billings, his role is actually quite a minor one compared to the rest of the cast.

The blurb on the DVD case is wrong. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t direct it, but it was his production company.

The film is really more cerebral than action-packed and so sedate that you’re waiting for something to happen. In some respects, this does help because unless you were told to expect back in the day, seeing some limited telekinesis would have surprised you. It’s just a shame their other abilities weren’t so well displayed up to Melodnye’s suspicions or reactions. An odd curio but I’m glad I’ve finally seen it.

You can find a copy on YouTube.

GF Willmetts

April 2020

(pub: Payless Entertainment/Silver Screen Classics, 1 DVD 74 minute film. Price: I pulled my copy for £14.99 (UK) but it is hard to come across copies. ISBN: 931720600346-1)

cast: Kim Darby, William Shatner, Diane Varsi, Dan O’Herlihy, Laurie Walters and Johanna Baerr

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