The Immortal (1969)

‘By human standards, you’re almost immortal!’The_Immortal_(1969)

An ageing millionaire industrialist is not expected to live after a plane crash, but makes a miraculous recovery. The attending physician believes the cause to be a blood transfusion from one of his employees; and further tests establish the donor to be virtually immortal, turning him from a test driver into the most valuable man in the world…

This science-fiction drama was one of the earliest to be filmed for American network television as a pilot for a possible series. The screenplay was an adaptation of James Gunn’s novel ‘The Immortals’, although the project differed in many aspects. Our leading man is Christopher George, who got his big break opposite John Wayne in ‘Eldorado’ (1966) and on TV show ‘The Rat Patrol’.

As the movie begins, our hero has got the life he wants; his dream job as a test driver for Braddock Industries, and a pretty fiancé (60s blonde bombshell Carol Lynley). On the debit side he has no idea about the identity of his parents and only a vague notion that he has a brother somewhere. But his perfect world comes crashing down when doc Ralph Bellamy uses his blood to treat old man Braddock (Barry Sullivan) and brings the evil industrialist back from the brink of death. The old man is delighted, of course, but wants to keep a fresh blood supply on hand, just in case. This idea doesn’t go down well with his scheming wife Jessica Walter, just before her breakout performance as Clint Eastwood’s no.1 fan in psychodrama ‘Play Misty For Me’ (1971).

It’s a decent setup story wise and, from the quality of the cast, it was obviously a high end project for the ABC network. Sure, the budget imposes restrictions; we never see the initial plane crash, and there’s no attempt to introduce any of the hi-tech trappings that might have given proceedings a little more punch. Things are in safe hands behind the scenes, though; director Joseph Sargent was a veteran who had helmed episodes of the original ‘Star Trek’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Invaders’ among several others. He also delivered ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ (1970), a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence that appears strangely prescient almost 50 years later. His subsequent career included ‘The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3’ (1974) but descended into lots of fact-based TV drama. It also included ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ (1987)!

Initially, it seems surprising that this pilot was picked up for a series; after all, when the leading character’s sole distinguished characteristic is ‘not dying’, you do wonder about the scope of dramatic possibilities. But it soon becomes clear; it’s a blatant attempt to recreate the network’s big hit show ‘The Fugitive’, the mysterious brother standing in for Richard Kimble’s one-armed man. George bums around the country righting wrongs, and being chased by Don Knight, henchmen of new villain David Brian, who replaced Sullivan.

The Immortal (1969)

Government Health Warnings aren’t for everyone.

There is potential in the story; with the character’s origins a mystery, but all questions were left unanswered when the plug was pulled after 15 episodes. Ratings were only fair, although the show, like many others, has gained a small cult following over the years. And yes, the main character is also a bit like Architect David Vincent from ‘The Invaders’, and a lot like David Banner from late 1970’s CBS show ‘The Incredible Hulk’ which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.

George became a familiar face as a rugged leading man on US TV in the 1970s, often appearing with wife Lynda Day George, although his film career got bogged down with projects like silly, ursine ‘Jaws’ (1975) rip-off ‘Grizzly’ (1976), and dull ‘Halloween’ (1978) photostat ‘Graduation Day’ (1981). He’s probably best remembered now for Lucio Fulci’s hysterical splatterfest ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980), which incurred the wrath of the UK media and film censors (along with almost every other horror film of the era). Given his appearance here, it’s somewhat ironic that George died at the relatively young age of 52, after suffering a massive heart attack.

A middling project at best, but one with potential that could have been developed over the course of a series. Remakes aren’t usually a good idea but perhaps it’s time for someone to take another look…

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