In a major miscalculation, Gregory Peck starred in 1969 in a film that seems inspired by the James Bond franchise, a political spy thriller called “The Chairman.” Directed by J. Lee Thompson, the man behind “Cape Fear” and “The Guns of Navarone,” it had the right man behind the camera, but the result was definitely not a winner.
Instead of a super-spy, Peck plays a brilliant scientist named Dr. John Hathaway, who still has all the suave good looks and dashing charm of Sean Connery’s 007. Hathaway has ties to a prominent Chinese national, a former mentor named Soong Li (Keye Luke), so the U.S. government enlists him to travel to the communist nation and uncover the secret of his latest invention: an enzyme that can help grow crops in any climate. Though they’ve implanted a microchip in his brain to monitor his mission, what they haven’t told him is that it’s also a tiny explosive that they can detonate remotely.
A bad action thriller that’s not terribly clever and full of overwrought cliches, it also peddled the worst kind of unnecessary fear-mongering at the height of the Cold War. New York magazine called the movie “idiotic,” while others criticized its lack of excitement, confusing story, and poor performances. Easily Peck’s worst movie, it a film that’s bad in so many ways that it feels well below the quality of the rest of his distinguished career.