Phase IV (1974)

USA, UK, 1973
80m (Germany), 93m (USA)
35mm film, Technicolor
mono, English

An American/British science fiction film directed by former titles designer Saul Bass. Bass's original cut was rejected by the studio and the ending of the film as released was significantly altered. In June 2012 a copy of Bass's original cut was discovered and screened at the Cinefamily cinematheque in Los Angeles. 1Hollywood Reporter – Saul Bass' Long Lost Ending for Phase IV Unearthed in Los Angeles Production began on 30 October 1972.

Plot Summary

A pair of scientists in the Arizona desert monitor a colony of ants that seem to super-evolving. Possessed of enhanced intelligence, the power to hypnotize humans and start banding together to fight back against the destruction of their natural habitat. They have some strange, unexplained plans for one of the scientists and for a young girl who has stumbled onto the research facility.

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Saul Bass
© MCMLXXIV by Paramount Pictures Corporation and PBR Productions Inc.
An Alced production
Produced by: Paul B. Radin
Production Manager: Eva Monley
Written by: Mayo Simon
Assistant Director: Bill Cartlidge
Continuity: Pamela Carlton
Director of Photography: Dick Bush
Insect Sequences: Ken Middleham
Camera Operator: Denis Lewiston
Second Unit Camera Operator: Jack Mills
Electrical Supervisor: John Swan
Stills Cameraman: Keith Hamshere
Film Editor: Willy Kemplen
Music Composed & Conducted by: Brian Gascoigne
Electronic Music Realised With: David Vorhaus
Montage Music by: Yamash'ta
Sound Recordist: Norman Bolland
Dubbing Mixer: Bob Jones
Dubbing Editor: John Poyner
Costume Designer: Verena Coleman
Wardrobe Supervisor: Rosemary Burrows
Make-up: Freddie Williamson
Hairdresser: Betty Glasow
Special Effects: John Richardson
Opticals by: Rex Neville
Art Director: John Barry
Assistant Art Director: Norman Reynolds
Construction Manager: Bill Welch
Production Accountant: Ron Phipps
Production Secretary: Iris Rose
Publicist: Alan Arnold
Filmed on location [Kenya] and at Pinewood Studios, London, England
Location Manager: Ivo Nightingale

Cast
Nigel Davenport (Dr Ernest D. Hobbs)
Michael Murphy (James R. Lesko)
Lynne Frederick (Kendra Eldridge)
Alan Gifford (Mr Eldridge)
Robert Henderson (Clete)
Helen Horton (Mildred Eldridge)

Press


Variety vol.276 no.9 (9 October 1974) p.18
This one didn't get the bugs worked out before release. […] Although scripter Mayo Simon apparently thought he knew ahead of time, director Saul Bass fails to make the antics clear. One problem with a pic of this type is that it's hard to understand the ants just by watching them swarm over each other in the thousands. By comparison, one super big ant is no problem; obviously, the Air Force has to stop it from stepping all over the Empire State Building and gobbling up the townfolk. In Phase IV, moreover, you can't tell what the humans are doing either. […] Pic opens with an interminable segment inside an anthill. But photography is poor quality, looking like outtakes rejected by National Geographic. Boring exposition tells how menacing the ants will be if they ever get really organized for evil, but that's the high point for expectations. – from a review by Har

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.41 no.489 (October 1974) p.228
From its opening shot – the earth in orbit around the sun, accompanied by electronically devised ‘celestial' voices – Saul Bass' first feature signals an almost abject reliance on various science fiction works that have preceded it: 2001 first and last, Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast in the narration (begun by Hubbs, and after his death taken up by Lesko), the delimited use of enclosed space from The Thing in the experimental dome, and a trio of archaic stock figures (mad scientist, healthy romantic-lead sidekick, orphaned teenage girl) derived from some of the pulpier manifestations of the genre. Yet despite these embarrassing playbacks and the stilted performances which make them even less tenable, Phase IV cannot be written off as a film lacking either originality or talent. In keeping with his celebrated background as a designer of film credits, Bass imposes himself graphically even when he falters dramatically, and some isolated shots and sequences are impressive indeed, although they usually work against the grain of any intended suspense or narrative momentum. Many of the visual conceits seems surrealist (ants crawling out of a hole in a dead man's hand, for example), but the overall clarity of Dick Bush's photography – and Ken Middleham's no less luminous footage of the ants – often suggests hyper-realism as well. […] One suspects that if Bass were able to eliminate actors and dialogue entirely, he might be able to pursue his graphic interests with much more continuity and distinction; saddled with an impossibly outworn string of cliches and platitudes, and an uncomfortable cast to deliver them, he has to content himself with an elegant book jacket to house a disintegrating text. – from a review by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Cinefantastique vol.3 no.4 (Winter 1974) p.31
Visually, Phase IV is dynamic, due in large measure to the direction of Saul Bass, a graphic artist whose title designs have graced the opening moments of many features […] Phase IV includes graphic sequences, extreme close-up photography, and arid, foreboding landscapes. Bass, however, never falls into the trap other visual artists often fall into when they turn to directing feature films: he never dwells on a visual effect for its own sake (as cinematographer Nicholas Roeg did when he directed Walkabout and Don't Look Now). As is the case with many new directors, Saul Bass has directed a genre film his first time out. Whether or not he remains in the genre, his future work will be worth watching. – from an illustrated review by Frank Jackson

References

Periodicals

  • Castle of Frankenstein no.24 p.48
  • Cinefantastique vol.3 no.4 (Winter 1974) p.31 – illustrated credits, review (by Frank Jackson)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10004 (28 October 1972) p.17 – note (‘Phase IV' at Pinewood)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10005 (4 November 1972) p.8 – credits
  • CinemaTV Today no.10019 (17 February 1973) p.8 – credits (Post production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10026 (7 April 1973) p.14 – credits (Post production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10028 (21 April 1973) p.9 – credits (Recording in April)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10106 (26 October 1974) p.28 – credits, review
  • Film (BFFS) vol.2 no.19 (October 1974) p.18 – credits, review
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.233 no.18 (2 October 1974) p.8 – credits, review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.41 no.489 (October 1974) p.228 – credits, synopsis, review (by Jonathan Rosenbaum)
  • Photon no.26 (1975) pp.11-12 – credits, review (by David McDowall)
  • Science Fiction Film and Television vol.3 no.2 (Autumn 2010) pp. 328-331 – DVD review (DVD reviews: Phase IV by Graham Murphy)
  • Variety vol.276 no.9 (9 October 1974) p.18 – credits, review (by Har)

Books

  • Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction by Phil Hardy (ed) p.313-314
  • Film Review 1975-76 by F. Maurice Speed (ed) p.177
  • Escape Velocity by Bradley Schauer p.163
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.304
  • Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer's Guide by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay pp.10-11
  • Horror Films of the 1970s by John Kenneth Muir pp.286-287 – credits, synopsis, review
  • by Walt Lee p.368 – credits
  • Science Fiction Films of the Seventies by Craig W. Anderson pp.70-75