Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. John Hathaway (Gregory Peck – The Keys of the Kingdom, Yellow Sky) gets an odd letter, which leads to him traveling to Communist China. This is definitely not a vacation as he is going there as a spy for the American government. They send Hathaway so that he can try to steal and decode a formula that possibly could save millions of lives. The tricky part is that Hathaway has to accomplish this without any help and really does not know whom he can trust. Once in China, Hathaway meets many people including Chairman Mao (Conrad Yama – Midway) himself. As if things were not challenging enough for him, the Americans who are handling Hathaway have conveniently forgotten to tell him that his transmitting device, which they have implanted into his head, is also a bomb. If things get too precarious, meaning that they think that he will be caught, they are prepared to detonate it.
Though after reading that plot description it will seem like "The Chairman" is quite silly, I am here to tell you that it isn't always. Most of the credit for this has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Gregory Peck. Only the credibility he brings to the film ends up saving it from mediocrity. Any chance it had at being an interesting spy film with an even more interesting humanist subplot is quickly dashed as soon as they implant the bomb in Hathaway's skull. Now in the hands of J.J. Abrams (Alias) this would somehow work and not be looked at as completely cheesy, but in the hands of director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear – 1962, The Greek Tycoon) I am not quite as willing to forgive this silliness. There is also much Cold War (it was originally released in 1969) paranoia running through the film, which seems quite outdated today. There are even long speeches about how Communism is not the way and does not offer its people the freedoms it pretends to. What saves it somewhat is that there are also speeches about how turning to militarism like the United States tends to do is not the answer either. The high point of the film is definitely the great score by Jerry Goldsmith (Patton, Chinatown).
-The Chairman Mini-film
-Alternate scenes – international version