Watching the meat-and-potatoes terrorism thriller The Human Factor, one can’t help but wonder which actor the producers originally envisioned in the lead role, because George Kennedy just doesn’t have the stuff this movie needs. Playing a civilian computer specialist working on a top-secret military project in Italy, he’s fine as a lumbering bear of an American out of step with continental types—but the minute the story kicks into gear, Kennedy is asked to summon degrees of anguish and intensity he just can’t muster, undercutting key scenes so badly they inch toward self-parody.
This is a shame, because the story is solid: A group of terrorists begins killing randomly selected American families who are living in Europe, and Kennedy’s wife and child are the first victims. Using the technology at his disposal, an espionage database designed to predict enemy activity, Kennedy goes the vigilante route, determined to get revenge and upset the killers’ plans. Predictably, his intrusion makes the situation worse. There are several exciting run-ins with terrorists, plus a useful subplot about a European cop trying to stop Kennedy from waging his one-man war. So, with a stronger actor in the lead, this material could have connected quite nicely. Though tough guy Charles Bronson comes to mind as an obvious casting alternative, a version of The Human Factor starring, say, everyman Jack Lemmon could have been quite powerful, since a skilled actor would have grounded the concept in believable emotion.
Unfortunately, with Kennedy in place, the rest of The Human Factor unfolds in as workmanlike a manner as the lead performance. Studio-era director Edward Dmytryk, helming the last feature of his epic career, puts the story together capably, showing mild flair during action scenes, but he’s not able to muster sufficient on-camera energy. Englishman John Mills, cast somewhat randomly as Kennedy’s co-worker/friend, exacerbates problems with an amateurish performance, though Italian star Raf Vallone is impassioned as the cop pursuing Kennedy, and stalwart American Barry Sullivan provides effective work as an overwrought diplomat driven to drink by the terrorism crisis.
The Human Factor: FUNKY