Mickey Rooney (Baby Face Nelson) and Stewart Granger (King Solomon's Mines) co-star in this action-packed war drama about a group of criminals gathered into the greatest infiltration force in WWII. When an Italian general decides to join the Allies, Nazi troops capture and imprison him before he can defect. Desperate for the information and resources the general would provide, the Allies assemble a rescue team of the only men able to infiltrate the Nazi prison undetected... criminals. But when the team's carefully planned prison break erupts into an all-out fight for survival, it will take more than bravery to carry out their mission and turn the tide of the war. Wonderfully directed by cult legend, Roger Corman (Premature Burial) and featuring an outstanding cast that includes Raf Vallone (Phaedra), Henry Silva (The Italian Connection) and Edd Byrnes (TV's 77 Sunset Strip), The Secret Invasion is an explosion of fast, absorbing entertainment that doesn't let up until the final salute.
How can anyone have anything bad to say about Roger Corman? Sure a number of his early films were of questionable cinematic value, but it's hard to argue against the fact that they were entertaining! By the time the 1960s came around Roger and his producer brother Gene Corman started getting bigger and bigger projects with half-way decent budgets. Three years before 1967's 'The St. Valentine's Day Massacre,' Roger was given one of the largest budgets he'd ever gotten up to that point, $600,000, to shoot 'The Secret Invasion' for United Artists. Shot in the then communist held Yugoslavia, Roger puts his fantastic cast through the ringer bringing this World War II action adventure film to life!
British officer Major Richard Mace (Stewart Granger) is put in charge of a suicide mission to lead a platoon of men deep behind enemy lines in Italy to rescue an Italian general who will defect to the Allies and help open up a new front ahead of the American and British invasion of Italy. Instead of a team of professional soldiers, Maj. Mace is given a team of convicted criminals - all with unique, special talents. The Italian Roberto Rocca (Raf Vallone) is the organizer. Terence Scanlon (Mickey Rooney) is an IRA demolitions expert. The American Simon Fell (Edd Byrnes) is the documents forger. John Durrell (Henry Silva) is the lethal assassin who can use any implement to kill. Jean Saval (William Campbell) is the impersonation artist.
With his men assembled Maj. Mace must struggle to maintain control of his men, prevent desertion, and keep his troops focused on carrying out the plan. As with any complicated plan of this type, things never go according to plan. In order to complete the mission, save the general, turn the Italian army against the Nazis and have any hope for survival, the team must work together and use their wits and their unique talents.
On the surface, one could easily assume that 'The Secret Invasion' was a simple and quick 'Dirty Dozen' rip off. The only problem with that assessment is that this movie predates that specific Lee Marvin action film by a solid three years! That means MGM/UA loved this movie so much that they went ahead and basically remade it with a bigger cast and larger budget. Which - if you've seen 'The Secret Invasion' it's easy to see why they'd want to!
From start to finish - 'The Secret Invasion' is fun. It perfectly balances humor, suspense, and action while pulling off a big budget look on small budget size. Roger Corman chose Arthur E. Arling, Oscar winning cinematographer for 'The Yearling' to shoot this picture, and the results are fantastic. By shooting in Yugoslavia, Corman and company are able to pull off a thrilling little movie that looks and feels real. 'The Secret Invasion' is Roger Corman at his absolute best.
Helping 'The Secret Invasion' is the fantastic cast. Everyone involved is clearly having a great time playing their specific roles. Considering they got to a lot of their own stunt work, running, jumping, climbing rocks and shooting machine guns, it's easy to see why they took to the material. It's a blast to see Edd Byrnes try to escape his duties by cooking up some elaborate scheme, rope in the others and then fail. It's fun watching Mickey Rooney hang on a thick Irish accent as he sings a tune while blowing up Nazis. It was awesome to see Henry Silva play a character that relishes the chance to kill, but is torn to pieces when he does it accidentally to an innocent. All of the time and effort centered around building up believable, likable characters pays off by the time the film reaches the climatic battle. If you've never seen the film, you're in for a fun treat.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Secret Invasion' arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
For a medium budget Roger Corman film that's over 50 years old, 'The Secret Invasion' looks pretty darn fantastic with this 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Don't let the early stock footage worry you. There is the expected age and print wear in the form of nicks and specks, but otherwise this image is practically perfect. With film grain intact while still under control, detail levels are absolutely outstanding. All you have to do is look at the beautiful Yugoslavian architecture and the costumes to see this film holds up beautifully on Blu-ray. Black levels are for the most part pretty solid, there are a couple night scenes that some subtle crush issues, but nothing terrible. Colors are also equally impressive. This is a bright movie so primaries have a lot of pop to them - especially red as quite a bit of fake blood makes an appearance, but thankfully never looks pink. Flesh tones are equally solid. All around this is an impressive catalog transfer.
With its English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, 'The Secret Invasion' brings WWII to your living room in grand fashion. Much front half of the film is dialogue driven with only a few loud action beats to spice things up. During that time levels stay consistent and true and you never have to struggle to hear what's being said as dialogue, sound effects, and music have plenty of separation. Towards the climax of the film, levels get a little tipsy. It appears that a lot of the dialogue had to be looped in later as there is quite a bit of rubber mouthing happening and the words spoken don't quite feel present to the scene. That's probably a side effect of the shoot itself, but it is especially noticeable with the high quality of this track. Without any anomalies of any kind or any kind of age related hiss or pop, this audio track does this movie justice.
Interview With Roger Corman: (HD 5:35) This quick on-camera interview offers a lot of insight into what went on during the production. It's easy to see Roger is a fountain of information so it's a shame that this interview is so short.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 3:12) It's a fun trailer that sells the movie well and at the same time helps you appreciate the condition the main film is in.
When you sign up to review a Roger Corman movie, you're virtually guaranteed to have a good time. Whether or not that's because the movie is actually good is debatable, but in the case of 'The Secret Invasion' there is a lot of fun to be had with this little action adventure thriller. The story is clean. The production is impressive. The cast is a blast. If you've never seen this film, give it a shot, the audio is strong and picture quality is outstanding. A great way to spend 98 minutes of your time. Easily recommended