Cast & Crew
After a space satellite launched by the United States as part of a top-secret biological research project code-named SCOOP crashes near the small town of Piedmont, New Mexico, two military recovery technicians arrive. When the men report their discovery of two dead bodies to Vandenburg Air Force Base mission control, they are ordered to return immediately, but the controllers then lose contact with the men. A reconnaissance photography flight over Piedmont reveals dead bodies scattered throughout the small town, prompting duty officer Maj. Arthur Manchek to declare a state of emergency and summon a special scientific investigative team that includes pathologist Dr. Charles Dutton, microbiologist Dr. Ruth Leavitt and surgeon and blood chemistry expert Dr. Mark Hall, led by Nobel Prize-winning biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone. Stone is privately briefed on SCOOP, created by the army's Biological Research Division to collect organisms existing in outer space that could be used as potential biological weapons. The morning after the satellite crash, Stone and Hall, wearing protective gear, are flown by helicopter to Piedmont. Examining several bodies, they conclude that some victims died quickly while others appeared to have had mental breakdowns before dying. As the pair proceeds through the town, Hall notices a car accident victim whose injuries did not bleed. The men track the satellite to the town doctor's office, where Stone is indignant to find the capsule has been opened. Hall then inspects the dead physician and when he cuts the man's arm, powdered blood pours out, revealing clotting throughout the entire system. Recognizing that whatever infected the citizens of Piedmont is not from Earth, the men prepare to depart with the satellite when they are startled by a sound. At a nearby house they find a live baby crying lustily. Urged on by their protective suits' dwindling oxygen supply, Stone summons the helicopter, which air-lifts the baby aboard. Hall is then nearly attacked by an old man brandishing a cleaver but when the man collapses on the ground writhing in pain, he is also taken aboard the helicopter. Stone contacts Manchek to request that Piedmont be "neutralized" by a thermonuclear blast to prevent the spread of the mysterious infection. While Stone, Hall and, separately, the baby, old man and satellite are transferred to a secret location, Manchek requests authorization to destroy Piedmont. Science advisor Dr. Robertson immediately agrees, but political advisor Grimes insists on a more cautious approach. A little later, Manchek receives a call from the President telling him to delay the destruction of Piedmont for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Stone and Hall then meet Dutton and Leavitt in a remote desert area near Flatrock, Nevada where a nondescript government agricultural station masks the entrance to Wildfire, a five-level, underground biological crisis laboratory designed in part by Stone two years earlier. Stone is puzzled to learn from the communications center that there has been no message from the White House regarding Piedmont, but with the others, begins a sixteen-hour decontamination procedure that takes them through each level of Wildfire until they meet on the lowest, safest level to study the two survivors and the satellite. Using a special key, Stone arms the laboratory's nuclear device, which would destroy the facility should contamination threaten to break out of Wildfire. Stone then presents Hall with a similar key, explaining that as a single male, Hall is the "odd man" selected to carry the only key that can stop the nuclear detonation, which is on a five-minute delay after being triggered. After the long decontamination procedure is completed, Stone and the team go over their objective: to confirm there is an entity, uncover its structure, then contain and control it. While Hall visits the two survivors, Stone and Dutton examine the satellite using robotic hands, which allows them to work from the safe confines of their sealed lab. When live test rats and a monkey exposed to the satellite die shortly thereafter, Stone and Dutton conclude that the organism is transmitted by air. Joined by medical technician Karen Anson, Hall uses a protective body sleeve that shields him from direct contact with his patients and examines the baby and old man. Meanwhile, Leavitt joins Stone to conduct high-magnification scans on the outside and inside of the capsule. Blood tests from the old man, who has revived momentarily to identify himself as Jackson, indicate that he is anemic and has a high level of acidosis. Jackson admits he drinks the alcoholic fuel sterno to quell the pain from a bleeding ulcer, which further confounds Hall. Dutton's autopsy and test results on the lab animals demonstrate that the organism is inhaled, clotting blood in the lungs before spreading outward into the rest of the body. Later, Stone and Leavitt's scans reveal a tiny indention made by a grain of sand that is covered with green patches. Under high magnification, Stone and Leavitt are startled to see the green patches move and grow. Back at Vandenburg mission control, Manchek learns that an Air Force training mission jet crashed near the Utah and New Mexico state lines and the pilot's last frantic transmission declared that all the rubber in the craft was dissolving. Frustrated at not having heard from Stone about the delay to destroy Piedmont, Manchek and several experts visit the crash site and conclude that an organism that consumes synthetic rubber destroyed several parts of the plane. Back at Wildfire, after running more tests, Stone, Dutton and Leavitt are astonished to find that the green substance resembles plastic, and although it contains no amino acids, proteins or enzymes, it still grows. Working well into the third day, Leavitt begins monitoring cultures of the organism to search for growth patterns. Unknown to the others, Leavitt suffers from epilepsy, and when a computer message flashes in red indicating growth, the blinking sends the scientist into an epileptic trance. When Leavitt revives nearly half an hour later, the testing cycle has ended and she realizes that she has missed several results. Meeting at the start of the fourth day, Hall reveals Jackson has identified the baby as Manuel Rios and said the infant cried continually. Stone then messages central control to inform them an organism has been isolated and an automatic response sends back the assigned name for the life form as "Andromeda Strain." Standing by the teletype machine, Hall glances at older messages and excitedly shows Stone the original message from Manchek regarding the postponement of the destruction directive. Unaware that a sliver of paper had prevented the message alarm bell from ringing for Manchek's priority messages, Stone angrily contacts the White House to demand action be taken at Piedmont. Grimes defends the President's caution and Robertson asks what the team thinks of the jet crash. Energized by the information from the crash, Stone sends the others back to work and within hours they determine that the organism's structure is crystalline. Leavitt reports that Andromeda grows well in oxygen, but grows best in pure carbon dioxide and hydrogen. With a shock, the scientists suddenly realize that these results mean that a thermonuclear explosion would allow Andromeda to multiply at a fantastic rate, destroying the entire planet. Stone frantically contacts the White House to insist the destruction of Piedmont be called off. Relieved, the scientists return to their study and are mystified when Andromeda's dividing and mutations continue to occur, overloading the computer. As Hall and Karen continue to wonder what protected Manuel and Jackson against Andromeda, a yellow alert sounds, indicating that contamination has broken out in a localized area. Hall meets Leavitt in the hallway and as they rush to the main lab, the flashing lights set off a major epileptic seizure in Leavitt. Hall immediately recognizes the symptoms, but technicians and nurses, fearful that Leavitt has been infected by Andromeda, flee in fright. Eventually, Karen provides Hall with an injection for Leavitt. Hall then meets Stone in the main lab to discover that Dutton's pathology lab is contaminated. Terrified, Dutton sits panting heavily, monitored by Stone and Hall. Hall recognizes abruptly that labored breathing changes blood chemistry, which would occur in a crying baby and the agitated, drug-addled Jackson. Baffled when Jackson and Manuel's blood tests do not show exact opposite readings as they should, Hall orders Stone to cut the oxygen to Dutton's lab and tells the pathologist to keep breathing hard. Certain that Andromeda must experience a period of no growth, Hall begins running the growth results, reminding Stone that Leavitt may have had an epileptic blackout while monitoring the readings. The scientists then notice a test rat in Dutton's lab has gotten loose but shows no effect of Andromeda and conclude that the organism has mutated to a non-lethal form. At that moment, alarms sound and the computer warns that Andromeda has infected the ventilator shaft, where it is destroying the plastic. Moments later, Wildfire's protective nuclear device is triggered. Horrified, Stone and Hall race to the hallway, but automatic emergency procedures seal access to the safety station and the elevator to the next level. Stone urges Hall to take the ladder in the central core up to the next level before it is contaminated. Knowing that gas and lasers protect the core, Stone rushes to the computer room monitor to help guide Hall up the ladder. In the core, Hall evades several laser shots but is stunned by a grazing shot to his cheek and hand. Dulled by the pain, Hall reaches level four too late, as it has already been contaminated and its safety station sealed. With Stone's encouragement, Hall finally reaches the safety station on level three with nine seconds before detonation. Hall revives the following day and Stone, Dutton and the recovered Leavitt explain that the now-benign Andromeda has continued to grow into a super colony, but is being infused with silver iodine which will force it into the ocean where the heavy alkaline will destroy it. Two months later in Washington, D.C. at a closed hearing of the Senate Committee on Space Sciences, Stone details the events surrounding the discovery of the Andromeda Strain but asks what will happen when the next biological crisis occurs.
James W. Gavin
Dr. Harald O. Dyrenforth
Colin G. Male
David E. Frank
Carl B. Morrison
Donald T. Ellis
W. M. Blackmore
Dr. Richard Green
John W. Holmes
Richard H. Kline
Attila De Lado
Waldon O. Watson
Ernest B. Wehmeyer
Best Art Direction
The Andromeda Strain
At the head of the team is biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) who often finds himself battling as much as cooperating with the brilliant microbiologist who shares his lab, Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid), a feisty, unorthodox scientist who resists the institutional hierarchy. Rounding out the team is the young upstart of the group, bachelor and surgeon Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), and a grandfatherly pathologist Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne). The sleek design of the film's Wildfire lab - reminiscent of the interiors of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - almost places The Andromeda Strain (1971) in a science fiction futureworld of no particular era. But the timeless feeling is shattered when Dutton is whisked away from his home in the middle of the night, and his elderly wife muses that he must be "going to a Love-in!" Such period details, as well as the film's vivid paranoia about the potential dangers of nuclear weapons and the burgeoning threat of biological weapons mark it as seventies sci-fi, just as the hordes of alien invaders in fifties films expressed that era's fears of Communist invasion.
Though The Andromeda Strain feels distinctly low-tech by contemporary sci-fi standards, the Wildfire scientific lab set alone cost more than $300,000 to build, a phenomenal cost for the time. Even more shocking than its - by current standards - puny budget for a sci-fi thriller was the film's wholesome "G" rating upon release, remarkable considering some brief flashes of nudity and some gruesome details of the organism's effect on human corpses.
The author of The Andromeda Strain is Michael Crichton, who is known as the creator of Jurassic Park (1993) and TV's E.R. But these accomplishments are merely the second chapter of this talented and multifaceted novelist's career. During the 1970s he was at the forefront of sci-fi novelists, his work being the foundation of such high-tech thrillers as Coma (1978), which he directed and scripted from Robin Cook's novel, and Westworld (1973), directed by Crichton from his own original story.
Steeped in tension as the four scientists operating in carefully controlled hot zones analyze the characteristics of the organism, moments of comic relief are provided to ease the suspense, like the antics of perpetually on-the-make single guy Dr. Hall, who even flirts with the robotic feminine voice of the Wildfire lab computer. In another amusing bit of social commentary the assembled scientists get a taste of their own medicine when they are poked and prodded and experimented upon like lab rats by the Wildfire computers trying to remove all traces of contaminants.
Though Andromeda Strain director Robert Wise is probably best known for his highly successful, crowd-pleasing musicals West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), he also made a significant mark on the sci-fi genre. In addition to this archetypal seventies sci-fi film, Wise also made one of the classics of fifties science fiction. His film about a friendly alien also carrying a warning about nuclear destruction, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), is considered a landmark work of science fiction and an early expression of Wise's pacifist film sensibility. In 1979 he was at the helm of another influential sci-fi film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which revived interest in the faded TV series and began a still-continuing stream of films and TV spin-offs.
Producer/Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Nelson Gidding, based on the novel by Michael Crichton
Cinematography: Richard H. Kline
Film Editing: Stuart Gilmore, John W. Holmes
Production Design: Boris Leven
Art Direction: William H. Tuntke
Music: Gil Melle
Special Effects: James Shourt, Douglas Trumbull
Principal Cast: Arthur Hill (Dr. Jeremy Stone), David Wayne (Dr. Charles Dutton), James Olson (Dr. Mark Hall), Kate Reid (Dr. Ruth Leavitt), Paula Kelly (Nurse), George Mitchell (Peter "Gramps" Jackson), Ramon Bieri (Major Arthur Manchek).
C-131m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster
The Andromeda Strain
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.
Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).
Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.
At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.
The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
There's a fire, sir.- Capt. Morton
The germ from space cost $250,000 to create in special effects.
The Wildfire scientific lab sets cost more than $300,000 to build, and were described at the time as "one of the most elaborately detailed interiors ever built."
The Central Core set required the digging of a 70 ft deep by 30 ft wide hole in a soundstage.
In the novel, the character of Leavitt is a man, but is a woman (played by 'Reid, Kate' ) in the film.
Although copyright records list the film's running time as 121 minutes, reviews variously list it as 127, 130 or 131 minutes. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "Acknowledgements: This film concerns the four-day history of a major American scientific crisis. We received the generous help of many people attached to Project Scoop at Vandenburg Air Force Base and the Wildfire Laboratory in Flatrock, Nevada. They encouraged us to tell the story accurately and in detail. The documents presented here are soon to be made public. They do not in any way jeopardize the national security." Other than Vandenburg Air Force Base, the prologue references are entirely fictitious and part of the story. Although Peter Hobbs is listed under Roman Bieri in the open credits, he is listed above Richard O'Brien in the closing credits. The graphics presented under the opening credits mimic computer screens and "top secret" technological and scientific documents detailing "Project SCOOP." At the end of the film, before the closing credits, onscreen graphics simulate "Wildfire's" computer overload.
As indicated in the prologue, the story unfolds over four days, with each day noted by an onscreen title. Locations and times are frequently displayed in the form of a "teletype" banner running along the bottom of the screen. Scenes of the Senate hearings into the Wildfire incident are shown as if simultaneous to the four-day emergency, although the hearings are dated two months after the near disaster. Frequent voiceovers from the hearings fill in information on the procedures at Wildfire as they occur. A multi-screen effect is used at different points in the film: for example, to display the members of the science team in different locations in the Wildfire laboratory; the state of the two survivors; technical equipment used to evaluate their condition; and the corpses in Piedmont. As indicated in the credits, computers and medical and technical equipment that gave the film its authentic look were provided by several technical companies that also provided advisors on their use.
The Andromeda Strain was based on the first novel that author, anthropologist and medical doctor Michael Crichton published under his own name. According to a Hollywood Reporter article, Universal bought the novel right for $350,000 in 1969 and budgeted the film at $6.5 million. Crichton, who had a cameo appearance in the film as a surgeon, has since continued his career as a best-selling novelist; his stories frequently include great scientific and technical detail. Many of Crichton's novels have been made into financially successful motion pictures, including the 1992 Universal blockbuster Jurassic Park. Crichton also directed several films, as well as executive producing the popular television series ER.
A January 1970 Variety news item indicates location shooting for The Andromeda Strain in Schafter, TX. Another Variety item in April 1970 indicated a scene was to be shot in a large corn field in Ocotillo Wells, CA. A modern source adds John Whitney Sr. to the crew as a visual effects man.
According to a modern interview with producer-director Robert Wise, in his adaptation of the novel, Nelson Gidding suggested that he change one of the novel's all-male scientists to a female. Wise initially refused, wary of critical comparisons to Twentieth Century-Fox's 1966 science fiction production, Fantastic Voyage (see below), in which "bombshell" Raquel Welch appeared as a surgical assistant. Gidding prevailed after he described the middle-aged, caustic character "Dr. Ruth Leavitt" played by Kate Reid. In the same interview, Wise described filming the "death" of the lab monkey, a sequence one review called "Shakespearean" in its melodramatic rendering. Under the guidance of a university veterinary, an airtight set was filled with carbon dioxide and when the cage was opened, the monkey had no oxygen to breathe, prompting its dramatic collapse. A veterinarian was waiting just outside the closed set with an oxygen cylinder that was used immediately to revive the monkey.
The Andromeda Strain was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. In 2004 it was announced that Ridley Scott would produce a mini-series of The Andromeda Strain for NBC television. As of June 2006, the project remained in development.
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States on Video October 17, 2000
Released in United States Spring March 12, 1971
Re-released in United States on Video August 6, 1996
Based on the Michael Crichton novel "The Andromeda Strain" (New York, 1969).
Formerly distributed by MCA Home Video.
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States Spring March 12, 1971
Re-released in United States on Video August 6, 1996
Released in United States on Video October 17, 2000