Say “Cheese” 010 – Agency (1980)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Let’s just go ahead and admit what we’ve all known for a long time: Advertising is evil.

There’s never been any real doubt about that, and I suppose it’s never been more obvious than today. In a world where we’re talking about fake news which is really just advertising and propaganda masquerading as news, in a world where one of the biggest supposed scandals right now is social media advertising being used as manipulation by the Russians, in a world where almost everything we see is in some way designed to make us buy something or think something or engage with something, in a world where advertising permeates every facet of life, it’s hard to deny that much of it can be described as evil.

What may not be so obvious is that advertising agencies are actually run by the devil. Or at least they may be. And the devil is even more insidious when he can appear to be Robert Mitchum.

Fortunately, The Six Million Dollar Man is here to save us.

I wrote above about how obvious the manipulation efforts of advertising can be. Back in the 80s, however, that manipulation was a bit less obvious. Why? Because that was the time of subliminal advertising.

For those who may not be aware of the concept, the idea of subliminal adertising was that there would be images hidden in advertising that the conscious mind wouldn’t notice, but the subconscious would. One fabled example, which is actually referenced in the 1980 movie Agency (which is the film we’re talking about today) is the image of a naked woman hidden in the ice cubes of a picture of an alcoholic drink in order to make the viewer see the liquor as more sexy.

Another favorite practice would be inserting one or two frames into a film or TV show with a message that again, the conscious mind might not pick up on, but would subtly influence the viewer’s subconscious.

Okay, so with that concept in the public mind at the time, I’m sure that it wasn’t much of a stretch for someone at one of the movie studios to say “Let’s take that idea of subliminal advertising and see what we can do with it to make a thriller.” And so, the movie Agency was born.

I mentioned above the supposed Russian meddling in the recent U.S. presidential election. Perhaps this film could be seen as somehow prescient, since it involves an advertising agency run by Robert Mitchum attempting to influence the outcome of a presidential election through the use of subliminal advertising.

On the side of the good guys, though, is advertising executive Lee Majors, who finds himself being pushed out of a major campaign and begins to suspect that something is up. It’s not long before he finds himself confronting Mitchum and finding that there may be even more behind the conspiracy than he first thought.

I couldn’t really find a good trailer for the movie, but here’s a series of clips to give you a feel for what’s going on.

Up Next: The Swinging 70s  Disk 2 Movie 2: Against A Crooked Sky – Let’s hope Richard Boone is more forgiving than John Wayne.

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