The Monitors (1969)

The Monitors (1969)‘The Monitors are a stone groove, man. I hope they never lose their cool.’

Life on earth is supervised by the Monitors; benign aliens who have a mission to ensure that man cleans up his act. Violence, aggression, war and fatty foods are all off the agenda. But, although the world is at peace, a rebel underground plot to send the extraterrestrials back to where they came from.

The sort of unfocused, freewheeling satire that could only come out of the 1960s. Our hero is pilot Guy Stockwell (brother of Dean) who is stunt flying for a movie and has fallen for lead actress Susan Oliver. Perfectly understandable if he’d seen her painted green and dancing on ‘Star Trek’! But what he doesn’t know is that she is working for the Monitors and his brother has just been drafted by the underground. When the Monitors break up a peaceful protest, he defends his brother and is forced to go on the run, where he meets Sherry Jackson, another gorgeous girl who once tangled with James T. Kirk.

This is a potentially interesting idea delivered by the Second City comedy troupe and based on a novel by Keith Laumer (‘A Plague of Demons’). Is peace and tranquility an acceptable state of affairs when it is imposed without freedom of choice? The movie raises the question but prefers to provide a lot of wacky and laboured antics, rather than basing the comedy on any meaningful insights.

The Monitors themselves are quite effective: deadpan business men in black suits and bowler hats (think ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ (2011)) and the TV spots and sing-song jingles are quite funny: ‘The Monitors are your friends. Depend on the Monitors.’ But the story never gets a chance to settle down or land any telling, satirical blows. Instead the film is so desperate to be ‘alternative’ and embrace the counter culture that it just disintegrates into a lot of running around, stupid slapstick and idiotic dialogue (‘I was a butterfly, now I’m a paisley shawl’). We get split screen, multiple overlays and a busy soundtrack that simply won’t shut up. In fact, it seems that the filmmakers just throw in another song when they think the tiresome hi-jinks might be flagging a bit.

The Monitors (1969)

‘Stop right there! You know it’s for your own good…’

Having said all that, it’s not a completely lost cause. Keenan Wynn gives good value as usual in the role of the rebel general and Ed Begley Sr delivers a subtle and quietly chilling portrait of a bored U.S. President, bitter because he has no wars to fight. It’s probably the most effective sequence in the film. Unfortunately, neither of them get any significant screen time and when the satire finally kicks in at the denouncement, it’s about as subtle as a brick in the face.

The TV spots praising the Monitors were delivered by some famous faces of the era and, although most are forgotten now, we do get Alan Arkin (& his immediate family), U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen(!) and bandleader Xavier Cugat.

Just remember, folks: ‘The Monitors work for your welfare! The Monitors are kind!’

The Monitors are a stone groove. Man.

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