The People

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Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, The People (1972) is a made for television film based on “The People” stories by Zenna Henderson. The People reunites Kim Darby with William Shatner for the first time since the Star Trek episode “Miri” (1967). Like Star Trek, The People is a work of science fiction whose formal execution was entirely decided by its rather modest budget. However, the concepts present in The People, coupled with the acting of the leads, renders the film a nevertheless engaging enterprise.

The People follows a new school teacher (Darby) who has been sent for to assume a position in the cloistered, seemingly traditionalist community modeled after the Amish. The reality is that the community is a group of powerful yet peaceful extraterrestrial beings who have taken on an Amish-like guise to avoid persecution on earth. Over the course of the film their powers and origin story is gradually revealed through Darby’s varying culture clashes with the elders of the community.

Directed by longtime television veteran John Korty (best known today for helming The Ewok Adventure), The People is a relatively standard exercise in made for television move making. There isn’t much of a visual style to The People beyond the various special effects shots. But this absence of style hardly matters when compared to the plot. Zenna Henderson’s stories and novels empowered a generation of young misfits and outsiders to find one another and build their own communities and surrogate families together. The People may not be as moving as Henderson’s writings, but it does accomplish this message of inclusivity and equality.

If it weren’t for the notoriety of Zenna Henderson’s books and Coppola’s role as a producer The People would likely have become one of hundreds of neglected and forgotten made for television movies from the seventies. William Shatner, Kim Darby, Diane Varsi and Dan O’Herlihy all give excellent performances that keep The People compulsively watchable. The People isn’t the greatest science fiction film made for television, but it is well worth checking out, especially for those who grew up reading Henderson’s books.