The "Human" Factor (1975), not to be confused with the 1979 Otto Preminger film of the same name, was directed by Edward Dmytryk (The Devil Commands, Back to Bataan) and stars Academy Award winner George Kennedy (The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!) as a character whose family is murdered and becomes obsessed with hunting down their killers ala Charles Bronson in the film Death Wish (1974). Also appearing is Academy Award winner Sir John Mills (Ryan's Daughter), Raf Vallone (The Godfather Part III), Barry Sullivan (The Great Gatsby), Rita Tushingham (Smashing Time), Arthur Franz (The Atomic Submarine), and Thomas Hunter (Anzio).
As the movie begins we meet John Kinsdale (Kennedy), his wife, and their three, young children, (don't get too attached to the wife and kids) as they're sitting down to breakfast. Seems John and his brood, all of whom are Americans currently residing in Naples, Italy, where John works as a computer specialist with NATO. As John leaves home and arrives at work, we learn his work includes programming computerized war games into a system known as `9-11' (which is kinda creepy if you think about it), in an effort to predict probable outcomes so that if a conflict ever does occur, Allied leaders will best know how to deploy their forces in such a way as to minimize losses. Anyway, as John returns home later that night he probably wishes he hadn't, as his entire family has been brutally murdered, execution style, by a group of unknown assailants (the authorities, at the present, are stumped). After dealing with various formalities (funeral arrangements, police inquires, etc.), John returns to work, much to the surprise of his co-workers, bent on discovering who's responsible for the massacre. To this end he begins using the resources available (the sophisticated computer systems utilized in the war games simulations), along with gathering information from various sources acting under the guise of a special investigator (his co-workers, including a character played by John Mills, go along with John, but are concerned about his mental well being). Eventually John picks up the murderers' trail and learns they're part of some underground, guerilla network with very specific goals, none of which I'll reveal here (you'll just have to see the film). Anyway, the closer John gets to the killers, the more his obsession for vengeance grows, eventually leading up to a series of violent confrontations as John turns into a one man, ash kicking, wrecking crew, determined to extract his pound (or two) of flesh from those responsible for his loss...
While there's definitely a `Death Wish' theme present here, the story does change things up enough to make this more than just a derivative, run of the mill copycat of that wildly popular feature (after the huge success of Charles Bronson's film there was a glut of Death Wish clones unleashed upon movie going audiences). The first two thirds of the film does move along slowly as there's a large amount of time spent detailing Frank's efforts in tracking down the killers. Given the film was shot in the mid 1970s, the computers, technology wise, are purely of the stone age variety, but what's interesting, if you can get past that element, is the fact the theory is still pretty much the same. I did find this lengthy portion of the film to be engaging even though it really didn't involve a whole lot of action. Another aspect I liked was the fact the authorities, specifically a character played by Raf Vallone, weren't portrayed as a bunch of incompetent doofuses (or is it doofi?). Their investigation closely mirrored Frank's, even though both parties were coming at it in different directions. Give Frank's technological advantage he tended to find things out prior to the police, but they really weren't that far behind. So why wouldn't Frank share the information with the authorities? Because he wants to be the one to put the hurting on those responsible, and his brand of justice doesn't include the perpetrators going through a lengthy judicial process, one that might allow them to escape punishment. There's a definite build up, and once George Kennedy's character is certain who was involved, he brings on the pain. One action sequence, near the end, has Kennedy, who's like 6'4", pushing 250 pounds, driving around, crammed into a borrowed VW Bug, following one of the killers. After awhile he chases the man down, and the pair engage in a battle royale involving a shovel, a switchblade, and a lengthy piece of chain (at one point Frank slaps the man silly with his ginormous mitts)...a word of advice, if you ever get into a fight with George Kennedy, you better bring a gun as sticking him with a knife and beating him with a shovel only seems to make him mad. Initially I had some reservations about Kennedy in the role of a ordinary man turned vigilante as he seemed a little old for the part and most of what I've seen him in he's played supporting roles, but I thought he did a great job here, especially when he'd get that wild eyed look when talking about or actually confronting the killers. Probably my favorite sequence comes at the end as Frank, who's about as subtle as a drunken gorilla, crashes (literally) a hostage situation in an effort to take out the rest of the gang in a most excellent finale. I thought Dmytryk's direction solid, the story interesting and involving, and the performances strong, especially in terms of Kennedy and Vallone. Another strong aspect is Ennio Morricone's musical scoring which helped keep things lively. All in all an entertaining, thoughtful vigilante feature that rises above a lot of the dreck that populates the genre.
The DVD case on this Dark Sky Films release states the picture is presented in widescreen anamorphic with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but the aspect ratio looked closer to 1.77:1 to me. Does it matter? Probably not, but I was slightly disappointed in terms of the picture quality, which seemed soft and a little mushy. I've purchased a number of Dark Sky Films DVD releases in the past and I've always found the quality to be high, so perhaps they procured the best possible source element they could (I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt). The movie is definitely watchable, but some of the long shots lack the clarity and detail I've come to expect with the format. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio comes through well, with no complaints. As far as extras there's a great thirty minute piece with George Kennedy titled `The Kennedy Factor: An Interview with George Kennedy', English subtitles, a television spot, and a gallery featuring promotional materials and still shots.
By the way, for those who've seen the film, Frank Avianca, the performer who played Kamal, one of the leaders of the terrorist group, was also one of the producers of the film.