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Friday, August 10, 2012

Invasion

Continuing Digression Week in the mid 60s, is another obscure British sci-fi: Invasion. It's obscure enough and low-budget enough that it did not seem to get much promotion via posters.  Anglo-Amalgamated handled the release in the UK in '65. A.I.P. brought it to American theaters in '66. Like Unearthly Stranger a couple years prior, Invasion is a low-budget, black and white mystery sort of sci-fi. Merton Studios was no stranger to low-budget productions, having much experience with minimal detective/mystery films and television. Edward Judd stars as Dr. Mark Vernon.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A mysterious rocket lands in the English countryside by night. It causes some brief interruptions of electrical devices, but otherwise goes unnoticed. Mr. Blackburn is driving home from a party with Barbara (not his wife). Suddenly, a man in white appears in the road. They hit him. Blackburn puts the hurt man in his car, but drops off Barbara at a neutral flat first. Then he takes him to the local rural hospital. The hurt man is a mystery. He has asian facial features, but has no ID and "blood" unlike humans. X-rays also reveal a metal disk in his brain. Two other shadowy figures (with good figures) seem to be stalking the unconscious stranger. The army find the landing site and the escape pod in the woods. While everyone is at the hospital, it becomes apparent that there is a force field has developed around it. No one can leave or enter, nor can heat escape. It becomes unbearably hot. Mr. Carter, the hospital director, decides to go for help. He tries to break through the force field with his Morris Traveller, but only crashes and kills himself. The stranger awakes. He says he is an alien looking for an escaped prisoner. He needs his space belt (still in Blackburn's car). The two lady aliens lurk around Blackburn's flat, (also looking for the belt?) but frighten him into a heart attack. Dr. Vernon deduces that he can get out beneath the forcefield because water is still coming IN through the pipes. He goes out through the sewer tunnels and retrieves the missing belt. When Vernon returns, one of the alien women tells him that they are the keepers looking for stranger who is their escaped prisoner. Vernon trusts a pretty face. Meanwhile, however, the stranger is up, out of bed and dressed in his white rubber suit again. He stabs Major Muncaster and takes Dr. Claire Harland as hostage. He takes her to the escape pod. Using Claire as a human shield, he gets past the soldiers and takes off (without her). Once airborne, the other aliens' rocket intercepts him and they all blow up. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Despite the obvious low budget, Invasion is quite engaging. Mostly a mystery story, it has good atmosphere. For the most part, the acting fairly good. There's some food for thought too. The alien women are apparently dominant on their planet. Dr. Howard is able to browbeat the stranger into admitting things because she's a woman. The aliens really don't care about earth. It's just a backwater hick planet they broke down on. Yoko apologizes for the deaths and all, but a job's a job. And, there is still crime out there in space, police and prisons. These are not the usual idealized kumbaya aliens, nor the nasty conquering ones.

Cold War Angle
There is the spy-like atmosphere of mysterious strangers and no knowing who you can trust. There is brief moment too, as the soldiers wonder if the capsule is a secret Russian project. The fact that the aliens are all oriental may be play on fear over Red China.

Notes
Small Invasion -- Despite the title, the aliens aren't really invading. They intrude, but only to repair their ship and retrieve their prisoner. Many invasion films strive for a global scale, (War of the Worlds '53, for instance). But there is a subset of "pub invasion" stories, in which events are played out among a small cast, usually confined to a single location. Devil Girl From Mars ('54), comes to mind. "Pub invasions" are easier on the budget. Even easier if the aliens look just like humans.

Force Fields -- While the trope was created decades earlier, there was a spate of "force field" isolation movies in the 60s. There was one over the village in Village of the Damned ('60), The Slime People ('63) put Los Angeles under a mysterious dome. In The Bubble ('66), unseen aliens put people in a fake village under a dome.

Liking It Hot -- There were also several films -- most of them British -- in which things getting very warm was part of the story. The Day The Earth Caught Fire ('61), as well as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the same year. Night of the Big Heat ('67) had aliens heating up a remote island. Perhaps all this visible suffering in the heat was cathartic for audiences. The summer of 1959 was a hot one. It wasn't record heat, but the UK had enjoyed many mild summers prior, so it felt more extreme.

Compensating? -- Another possibility for Invasion's heat theme is rather like in the Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" (November '61) in which a character dreams of oppressive heat because the earth is freezing to death. The winter of '62/'63 was an especially cold and severe one for southern England. Were films of too-hot appealing because of the cold?

Star Gazing -- Edward Judd just happened to star in a prior getting-hot film, The Day The Earth Caught Fire ('61) . He also played Bedford in First Men in the Moon ('64). Yoko Tani, who plays the lead alien, was the japanese doctor in First Spaceship on Venus ('62).

Subtle Auto Messaging -- Lost on American audiences were the subtle messages the choices of automobiles made. Mr. Blackburn drove a Vanden Plas Princess R. It was a "luxury" mid-size that Rolls Royce hoped would attract younger (or semi-wealthy) buyers. It marks Mr. Blackburn rather as a "Beemer" would in American films nowadays. This helps explain why Barbara shows interest in him. All this is tangental to the plot, but it adds some depth to the characters.

My, What Big Pipes You Have -- It's handy, but in bit incongruous, that the "rural" hospital is linked to the countryside by a maze of sewer tunnels large enough to walk through. The English countryside has quite the infrastructure, apparently.

Bottom line? Invasion is obscure, so not easy to find. The story is more of a mystery / drama, not an action flick. Viewers hungry for special effects or elaborate sets won't find much. The only special effects is the takeoff of the escape pod at the end, and it's minimal. But, fans of good story telling and obscure B-movies, will find entertainment.

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