WITH his glazed stare and mysterious background (part-Swiss, part-Russian), Yul Brynner was a Hollywood enigma — their first egg-bald romantic hero and an unlikely action star in a string of superior westerns. He scored a hit on Broadway with The King and I and won an Oscar for his role in the 1956 film version with Deborah Kerr. But for me his most charismatic appearance came at the end of his career, when he played the robot gunslinger in Michael Crichton’s Westworld (Tuesday, 8.30pm, TCM), one of the great sci-fi thrillers of all time, and still as scary and engrossing as ever.
It’s set in a theme park where visitors act out fantasies in a world’’ of their choice — western frontier town, medieval palace — interacting with computer-driven replicas of humans. And as Richard Benjamin and James Brolin discover, Westworld can be a pretty frightening place when the computers malfunction and Brynner turns into an implacable killing machine. True, the computers look a bit dated after 40 years, but the film is still brilliantly frightening and plausible. Crichton directed the medical thriller Coma (1978) and his novels were the basis of other classic Hollywood films including Airframe, The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. I’d love to see a full retrospective of his work.
The year that gave us Yul Brynner in The King and I saw another landmark movie, MGM’s Forbidden Planet (Saturday, 10.00pm, Fox Classics), shot in the still-novel CinemaScope format and a trailblazer of the space adventure genre that was to give us Star Wars and more than one summer blockbuster from Steven Spielberg. With an intelligent script by Cyril Hume, Forbidden Planet is a futurist retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Walter Pidgeon’s character Dr Morbius doubles for the wizard Prospero and Anne Francis his daughter Miranda. In the year 2200 a spaceship lands on the planet Altair-4 to be told it is threatened by an invisible monster. The film’s most engaging character, Robby the Robot, went on to become a TV star. The director, Fred M. Wilcox, is best remembered for directing Lassie Come Home, an MGM classic of a very different kind.
Altogether a good week for sci-fi fans, with Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome (Wednesday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics), a nightmarish story of a nuclear meltdown with uncomfortable reminders of Fukushima, and Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (Sunday, 8.30pm, TCM), set in the year 2022 (not long to go) when the world is desperately overpopulated and short of food. The source is a celebrated scifi yarn, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, and Charlton Heston is the New York cop who stumbles on a hideous secret revealed in the final shot, though many viewers will have guessed it already. It was the last film of Hollywood veteran Edward G. Robinson.
(M) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 10pm, Fox Classics
(M) ★★★★✩ Tuesday, 8.30pm, TCM
(M) ★★★ Sunday, 8.30pm, TCM
Anne Francis in