The Monitors


In the world of the movies, most aliens are ugly nasty guys.  They’re always wanting to blow up the world or take over someone’s mind.  It’s no wonder some plucky earthlings are always trying to kill them.  But the aliens in today’s movie, 1969’s “The Monitors” are nice guys, yet the citizens of Earth are still out to get them.

The film takes place in a somewhat futuristic Chicago, where a strange group of aliens called The Monitors have taken over.  These guys look like the John Steed fan club in their suits and bowler hats.  All the TV stations seem to play pro-Monitors propaganda 24/7.  People from all walks of life appear on camera to tell about how wonderful the Monitors are. The strange thing is, though the Monitors did force their way in, they do, in fact, seem to have improved the condition of the world.  The leader of the aliens is a crusty old guy called Tersh (Shepherd Studwick), and he does regret that the people of Earth were unwilling to partner with them.

Meanwhile, an actress named Barbara Cole (Susan Oliver), who is sympathetic to the Monitors, has taken an interest in a pilot, Harry Jordan (Guy Stockwell), who has been working on a movie she is making.  She is trying to bring Harry over to the Monitor’s side…but also taking an interest in Harry is Colonel Stutz (Larry Storch), a leader of SCRAG, an organization fighting against the Monitors.  He often poses as a robed street preacher.  When Harry, Barbara, and Harry’s brother Max (Avery Schreiber) show up at one of Stutz’s street sermons, a riot breaks out.  The Monitors do show up to take care of business, but they remain peaceful…simply using a knockout spray to take care of the troublemakers.

Now Harry, Stutz, and company are on the run.  But Harry doesn’t trust Stutz either, so he manages to escape, only to be captured by the Monitors.  While in detention, Harry meets Mona (Sherry Jackson) a fellow prisoner with a fondness for mini skirts.  Meanwhile, Barbara and Max join the resistance.  When Harry and Mona manage their escape, a plan is hatched to use a bomb to force the Monitors to leave the planet.

Now, the thing I failed to mention about all this…it’s played for laughs.  This film was made with the involvement of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe.  Several Second City cast members, circa 1969, appear…including Avery Schreiber, Peter Boyle, and Alan Arkin.  Though the story does have an overall dark feel, the comedic dialogue peppered throughout the film is very funny.  But on the flip side, the story does suffer somewhat.  There are more than a few moments where the story gets a bit lost.  The Second City is known for the improvisational skills of its members, but here there are moments where it feels like they may have run out of ideas.

“The Monitors” was obviously a low-budget effort, yet there is a lot of creativity on display.  I really enjoyed the unique photography.  The extreme angles used in some shots helps give the film a sort of futuristic feel without having to spend money on a lot of bizarre sets.  Since I originally hail from the Chicago area, it was also a lot of fun to see many recognizable Windy City locations as they looked right around the time I was born.  The soundtrack is also an interesting feature of “The Monitors.”  It’s part jazz score mixed with odd flower power type songs sung by a Grace Slick wannabe.  A mixed bag musically but an interesting time capsule none the less.

I enjoyed “The Monitors” but it did mess with my mind.  At first glance it just appears to be an alien invasion movie.  The comedy aspect caught me completely off guard.  It’s also an interesting film to look at when considering it was made in Chicago just after the Democratic National Convention protests of 1968 which turned violent and gave the city a bad reputation.  After all, the Monitors are non-violent  and have brought peace…yet people still protest.  Could the film be suggesting that what’s more important to some people is simply having something to complain about?
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