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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Invasion USA

This little B-film shows up on some lists as a sci-fi film, but that designation seems a bit of a stretch. There's no rockets, saucers, aliens or any kind of technology involved. However, since there weren't many sci-fi movies released in '52, so I'll include it. Invasion USA (IUSA) is an apocalyptic vision. What if the Soviets did attack and invade the USA? Americans in 1952 were feeling very vulnerable to communist attacks. Such feelings tend to spawn cautionary tales of woe. Yes, it's a Red Scare movie. It's easy to scoff at in 2007, but in 1952 America was very scared of the Reds. IUSA is actually a good example of a venerable genre: The Cautionary Tale. More on that below in the Notes section.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Six people sit in a New York City bar: A TV reporter, a congressman, an industrialist, a society girl, a rancher and an enigmatic Mr. Ohman. The first five all share their various reasons for not liking the government's intrusions into their lives. Mr. Ohman quietly rebuffs the group for their preference for personal prosperity over national security. He swirls his brandy snifter exaggeratedly. The bar's TV reports news of crisis. Bombers attack the Alaska, then the American northwest. Each of the five then leave the bar and experience the invasion of America in their own personal corner. The conquest is brutal and complete.

The ending is a sort of variation on the old "it was all a dream" plot device. It turns out, that Mr. Ohman had somehow hypnotized the bar patrons with his twirling snifter and gave them each a "vision" of what invasion would be like -- for THEM. They all profess a patriotic change of heart.

Why is this movie fun?
This movie has so very much stock footage in it, that it's kinda fun to try to spot original footage. In the stock footage, you'll note that the equipment is American. B-29 Stratofortresses do the bombing of San Francisco. F-80 Shooting Stars are supposed to be Russian jets. C-82 Packets carry the Russian paratroopers. How clever of the Russians to build all that American hardware for their invasion! Try to see if you see any actual Russian equipment. Of course, American military stock footage was a LOT easier to acquire.

If you ever watched the old black and white Superman TV series, both Lois Lanes -- Phyllis Coates and Noel Niell -- got bit parts. Also, knowing the features of The Cautionary Tale, you can spot little message digs that get thrown in.

Cold War Angle
This movie is nothing BUT a Cold War angle. It wallows in the topic without any hint of metaphor or analogy. It's just plain ol' commies attacking America. No imagination required.

As with most movies that focus on a small group of people, they're usually meant as a cross section of America. Each of the five have their selfish conceit, which is dashed by the invasion. The industrialist refused a government contract to build tanks because it wasn't profitable. His factory is taken over by commies to build tanks for the invaders, etc.

Notes: The Cautionary Tale
IUSA is a fine example of a genre of fiction which has old roots. The Cautionary Tale took it's modern form with a short story in 1871 by Sir George Chesney, The Battle of Dorking. Chesney (a military man) wrote of a fictional Prussian conquest of England, and provided the moral of the tale. It was all the Brits' own fault because they had chosen to focus on business at the expense of military spending. This was a hot political issue in the 1870s. Chesney's story was a tale of "what if..." the proponents of a smaller army get their way in parliament. The Cautionary Tale was so powerful that the technique was copied regularly every since.

The traditional pattern for The Cautionary Tale is to paint a dire picture of woe in the near future, perpetrated by cruel brutes against our good citizens. Then tell the reader that it all happened because the people didn't fund X or Y or Z (fill in the funding issue d'jour). IUSA fits this pattern perfectly. Watch it as a political action commercial. Spot the funding agenda items. In 1952, the Red Scare was at full steam. People really and truly feared the prospect of Russian invasion and/or nukes. The issues were not quaint abstractions to the audiences of 1952.

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