The Secret Invasion (1964)

Cheapie director Roger Corman brings us this low-budget, high-octane thriller. THE SECRET INVASION was shot in Yugoslavia and released by United Artists in 1964.

In 1943, British intelligence sends five convicted criminals into Yugoslavia to rescue an Italian General and convince him to turn his troops against the occupying Nazi forces. This story was essentially copied a few years later by director Richard Conte in OPERATION CROSS EAGLES, which has a similar look and feel but doesn’t hold a candle to this film’s characters or action scenes.

Corman’s ensemble cast is made up of several familiar veteran actors. Raf Vallone is the leading criminal, who actually wants to earn his amnesty. Mickey Rooney (AMBUSH BAY) is great fun as an Irish demolition expert who can blow up just about anything. The ever-annoying Edd Byrnes doesn’t give too hoots about the mission and even attempts to escape to a German PT boat almost immediately, but has come to his senses near the end. Master of disguise William Campbell doesn’t trust silent killer Henry Silva (PROBABILITY ZERO), who he thinks is trying to botch the mission. An older Peter Coe (TOBURK) also appears as the Partisan leader, Marko.

Working with a low budget, Corman is surprisingly able to create a high number of suspense scenes and well-done action sequences. One plot aspect has the team keeping time by snapping their fingers when their enemy captors lift their watches. This allows them to time escapes perfectly, springing surprises on the Nazis. During the final battle, the old cliché of killers disguised as hooded monks comes up but is defied as one rips off his disguise; and Granger leads a pack of German attack dogs astray by ripping off his own bandage and allowing them to track his blood as he bleeds to death. The action scenes are excellently filmed, too, making great use of location photography to heighten the suspense. One long, drawn out sequence set in the hills of Dubrovnik involves hundreds of extras, lots of very loud gunfire, excellent explosions and some fine quick cutting. All of this makes the action even more nail-biting, as you never know who will live to the end and who won’t.

The film boasts a great Hugo Friedhofer score which adds the perfect mournful touch to a scene involving a dead baby; and just the right rousing action theme for the combat portions. Cinematography is top-notch, with fine camera angles capturing emotions and action perfectly. Even on the small screen, the film has been pan-and-scanned with utmost care so you don’t lose as much as you usually do.

I saw this movie on the Encore! Network. It has been excellently cared for, with accurate flesh tones, sharp images all around (Vallone’s eyes are a clear blue even from far away). MGM has done a good job recently, digitally remastering a number of their old films (perhaps for future DVD releases?) such as ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST.

This is one of those rare war films which packs the most material possible into its’ low budget. The characters are strong, the action spectacular and the suspense truly nail-biting. Corman’s unorthodox twists make the far-fetched plot a little more acceptable. This is a 2-hour, no-intelligence-required action fest you’ll not want to miss.