Director: Alan Bridges
Writers: Roger Marshall, from a story by Robert Holmes
Producer: Jack Greenwood
Composers: Bernard Ebbinghouse
Production Company: Merton Park
Principal Cast: Edward Judd, Yoko Tani, Valerie Gearon, Lyndon Brook, Eric Young, Tsai Chin, Barrie Ingham, Anthony Sharp, Glyn Houston, John Tate
All too rarely seen these days, Invasion is one of the true gems of the British 60s SF cinema boom, a quirky collection of films that ran the gamut from the almost documentary-like Unearthly Stranger (1963), though the apocalyptic The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) to the widescreen masterpiece that is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and a great many points in between.
Invasion opts for the smaller scale, being set almost entirely in and around an isolated country hospital around which slinky female Oriental aliens have placed a force field, trapping their escaped male prisoner and forcing a fine cast of dependable British character types to sweat it out with typical British grit and determination as the temperature rises and the air begins to run out.
Despite what appears to have been the most inconsequential of budgets, director Alan Bridges does a remarkable job, creating one of the creepiest atmospheres of any of the run of black and white science fiction thrillers made in the UK in the 60s. The dark, shadowy black and white photography (courtesy of James Wilson, then at the end of a very long career which included the likes of Counterblast (1948), Satellite in the Sky (1956) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)) is particularly striking, adding immeasurably to the clammy claustrophobia of the proceedings.
Bridges makes the most of his meagre resources, particularly in representing the presence of the invisible force field that has encircled the hospital. In the film’s single most memorable image, a doctor tries to flee the besieged hospital in his car only to run into the force field and be killed in the impact. Using nothing more than a few stock sound effects, tight cutting and a mangled car prop Bridges expertly makes us believe in the force field without a single penny spent on special effects. Can you picture the CGI overkill if this simple and effective scene were to be shot today?
The cast is one of the great draws in Invasion. Edward Judd was something of regular in those low budget British genre films of the time – he’d already perfected his manly sweating routine in the brilliant Day the Earth Caught Fire, been to the moon in First Men in the Moon (1964) and been in several TV SF series, including The Invisible Man (Shadow on the Screen (1959)), Out of the Unknown (Time in Advance (1965)) and R3 (Experiment in Death (1965)) and still had Island of Terror (1966) and The Friendly Persuaders (1969) to come. His no-nonsense style was perfectly suited to this sort of realistic, low-key genre fare and he turns in a sterling performance here.
The under-used Valerie Gearon is excellent too, as a fellow doctor, making one wonder why she didn’t get more work at the time. Most of her work seems to have been on television but judging by her presence here she really should have had a lot more big screen time. The rest of the cast are largely made up of those know-the-face-can’t-quite-place-the-name sorts that were everywhere in 60s British cinema and the only really disappointing showings are from Yoko Tani the her sidekick Cali Raia who seem stilted and uncomfortable as the alien Lystrians. Raia seems to have done nothing before or since, though the Japanese Tani was a regular in British and European films throughout the 60s.
The script for Invasion was written by Roger Marshall (who later wrote Twisted Nerve (1968), What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972) and –And Now the Screaming Starts (1973) as well as episodes of many popular British TV shows) and Robert Holmes, a stalwart of Doctor Who (1963 – 1989). As well as creating the popular Autons for the show (later revived for Rose, the opening episode of the 2005 reincarnation of the show), Holmes contributed 18 scripts to the show and was, for a while, its script editor.
In 1970, he oversaw the arrival of the Third Doctor in the shape of Jon Pertwee in the story Spearhead From Space, the opening episode of which recycled many elements from Invasion – in both scripts, an unconscious man is rushed to a remote country hospital where he is found to be an alien.
Where the script for Invasion scores so highly is in its refusal to play along with what was then the standard model for alien invasion movies, instead playing against audience expectations and building up a very creditable mystery sub-plot. What we initially think we know about the aliens is turned around part way through the film when their true motives are revealed. Only the rather wet ending disappoints.
Invasion is a quite wonderful film, well acted, with excellent direction and lighting and a script full of ideas and crackling dialogue. It used to turn up fairly regularly on British television but seems to have vanished of late, not having had a broadcast for a few years and being criminally unavailable on commercial video or DVD anywhere at the time of writing. For those who despair of effects-heavy screen SF and hanker for something a bit moodier, a touch more intelligent and certainly a lot more memorable (that car crash sequence has seared its way onto the brain of many of us who first caught it on TV as kids during the 70s and 80s) then Invasion could well be the one for you.