In between the making of his AIP Edgar Allen Poe films, director Roger Corman flew to Yugoslavia to shoot a bigger budgeted (in terms of Corman productions) war epic originally to be called “The Dubious Patriots” but finally released as THE SECRET INVASION. Produced by his brother Gene Corman for United Artists, THE SECRET INVASION was budgeted at $600,000 (Roger proudly finished the film under that) but the outcome appears as though it costs twice that.
During World War II, British Intelligence officer Major Richard Mace (Stewart Granger, THE WILD GEESE) gathers a group of international allies (Raf Vallone, Mickey Rooney, Edd Byrnes, Henry Silva and William Campbell) who are actually prisoners convicted of assorted crimes. In exchange for their freedom, they opt to go with him on a suicide mission which will involve rescuing an Italian general (who was planning to turn his troops against the Germans) held prisoner by the Nazis in Dubrovnik. Smuggling themselves into the country after a sneak attack on a Nazi sea vessel, they later find themselves captured in the same fortress where the general is held prisoner, and it will take some clever scheming to work out an escape plan.
Although the storyline for THE SECRET INVASION is similar to Corman’s earlier western FIVE GUNS WEST, it's more notably comparable to Robert Aldrich’s splashy and much better known THE DIRTY DOZEN, released about three years later. Corman has even been quoted as saying that the producers of that film postponed production over a year due to the similarities with his project. If anything, THE SECRET INVASION proves how adept the director is at any particular genre, and with what seems like a cast of thousands, picturesque locations, a decent dose of intrigue and some well-orchestrated action, this ranks as one of his most handsome productions. With a good amount of violent flavoring, the combat scenes are pretty explosive; expertly choreographed and sharply edited, all adding to the film’s larger-than-its-budget appearance.
What also makes this film unique is its central cast, which is not made up of Corman regulars, but rather an oddball mix of international stars, some bigger stars than others. With the fast pacing, there is no time for characterization, and only Silva’s ambiguous “silent killer” is given any concentration in this department. Vallone’s character is such an organized leader, you’ll forget he was ever brought into the picture as a hardened criminal. Always sporting some kind of hat, Rooney seems to be having a ball as Terence, the demolition expert, but his Irish accent is sometimes reminiscent of the “Lucky Charms” Leprechaun. Top-billed Granger thought of this film as a personal comedown in terms of budget and independence from a major studio, and Corman has said that he was the most difficult thesp he ever worked with, demanding that one significant line of dialogue meant for Byrnes be given to him. Fans of classic Universal horror will recognize a slightly older Peter Coe (HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY’S CURSE) as a brave resistance fighter.
This is one of a few Corman-directed titles that Kino has licensed from MGM and has brought to Blu-ray recently, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The 1080p HD transfer preserves the war epic in its 2.35:1 Panavision glory, and it looks terrific. A substantial improvement over the standard MGM DVD release of a few years ago, the palette of colors are on the warm side and nicely saturated, while skintones are well balanced. Detail is sharp and textures are good, especially when showcasing the numerous landscapes scenes, which have great depth. Grain is maintained well and the transfer source is clean, save for some specking and minor debris. THE SECRET INVASION’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 audio provides ample support of dialogue sequences as well as the action parts, and there is no sign of troublesome hiss or distortion. English SDH subtitles are provided.
There’s a solid new video interview with Roger Corman (5:35) who reveals that the idea for the film originated in a dentist’s office, as he was looking at an issue of National Geographic, then conjuring up the story while sitting in the dentist's chair! Corman goes on to say how they almost had a riot while shooting in Yugoslavia (when an on-set Nazi flag was raised) and how much he enjoyed working with cast, as well as his brother and veteran cinematographer Arthur E. Arling. The original theatrical trailer is also included. (George R. Reis)
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