This is a gripping thriller. The plot in specific fascinates me. We have a story-line in the present, and a parallel story-line in the past running through flashbacks, all while the mystery of "Who is the killer ?" is on, let alone a big climax where there are desperate attempts to stop a catastrophe in the nick of time. This gets my "WAW" rank easily and worthily.
Michael J. Lewis music was too ominous, and too beautiful for that matter. Some of the dialogs were superb. And Richard Burton is one of the reasons why this movie will be immortal. Mainly, it's a thriller with substance. So when Burton is chosen, it's not just a known name on the poster to attract the audience, it's also a great actor to master the intended depth and seriousness best. And he did it perfectly.
Speaking of that substance, our lead character, Morlar, is a man who has psychokinetic abilities which can kill anybody he hates. And when he doesn't find any help to defeat his abilities—his hate, as well as those abilities, inflame to madness. But on a deeper level, he's not a man, inasmuch as the man, namely the human being as a son of the modern civilization, who possess super abilities, and – in the same time – is possessed by a devilish desire to destroy. Hence, it's not "man is a speaking animal" or "intellectual animal" anymore, he became "the man with the power to create catastrophe" !
Then, he thinks that he's a messenger of God, who must use his abilities to punish the whole establishment, and bring justice to the world. And it happens to be that his so-called justice equals insanity and mass destruction that finish Boeing 747, office tower, cinema, and cathedral. And in the end, he goes to explode a nuclear power station, to be – symbolically – the modern civilization's man who will end it; due to lack of love, abundance of delusion, or suffering megalomania anyway.
Director Jack Gold used metaphors, concerning the modern civilization's human, and his sins in older time, through his previous movie Man Friday (1975). But the thing about the metaphor in The Medusa Touch is that it loaded Morlar heavily to be many things; from a deranged superman, to the Great Powers (Noticing that the nuclear doomsday was a recurring nightmare during the cold war era).
The true foibles in the script aren't grave though : In the start of the plane crash scene, the dialog repeated all what was said before, concerning Morlar's evil urges. The story-line of the high executives, who were interested in Morlar's case, almost pushed the movie to be a supernatural / political thriller, a la Brian De Palma's The Fury released in the same year. However, that line was forgotten along the way, and seemed eventually pointless. The matter of the lead meeting a mysterious "Mr. L" is supposed to indicate that he has "Lucifer" as a friend or mentor. Nevertheless, the movie doesn't clear it up, or give it that importance. It's just a shot during a scene, too short and light for its own good.
Despite how Lino Ventura performed magnificently, the matter of a French detective assigned to investigate in London was weird (later I knew that there was French money in the production). However using his colleague as a possible suspect, who leaves unnecessarily scary messages for Ventura, or drives so fast towards him—was weirder. It was an excuse to make up some jolts, which enhanced the movie's "horror" side yet a little cheaply.
Aside from the writing, Lee Remick portrayed emotionally cold character, coldly. Burton was 53 year old which made him older than the character in some flashbacks. The courtroom scene had bad lighting; it made Burton look 100 year old already. The plane crash was poorly done. But anyhow, we're in 1978, and the movie isn't a blockbuster, plus I believe most of the budget went to the cathedral's climactic sequence, which – on the contrary – was fairly impressive. A TV-ish spirit tarnished the director's work, especially when the movie cuts to another camera, then returns to the first camera, to find that it's still in the same angle, maintaining its same cadre as well. This is a stagnant, if not lazy, TV more than cinema (Jack Gold was originally a TV director).
Among many good scenes, 2 stand alone. The first is the vocal flashback, in which the lead talks about his urges while the doctor, and the detective, remember separately at one moment; which's cinematic poetry for me. The second is when the lead visits a fortuneteller. It was vogue and laconic. But in the end, it's clearly understood that the fortuneteller didn't see the lead's end, he rather saw the humanity's end. It harmonizes with how the lead's baby was born deformed, and then got killed by his father. Both ways, there is no future.
While it foretells the unfortunate fate, it had one for itself. Roger Ebert ranked it as the worst movie of 1978. Peter Nicholls in his book (Fantastic Cinema) called it a melodrama with overacting. And while giving it a good review, Pierre Greenfield said that it doesn't quite reach the heights it aims at. For me, despite its downsides, it's a splendid entertaining thriller, which has pessimistic substance. Originally, a thriller with substance is very scarce kind to come by. Moreover, you have to admit its uniqueness as a supernatural thriller in 1978, before a flood of similar movies and TV shows in later years. I even think that it affected some of them, like The X Files TV show, especially in terms of having a mix of detective story, sci-fi, and something serious to say.
Finally, Mr. Ebert, we all know that The Swarm was the worst movie of 1978. So, weren't you too harsh with The Medusa Touch ?!