The Secret Invasion (Roger Corman / U.S., 1964):

Roger Corman’s curt exposition assembles the "dubious patriots" (his original title) and establishes the accelerating tempo. It’s 1943, the British officer (Stewart Granger) surveys the quintet of criminals sprung for a suicidal Balkan mission: A cultured ex-gangster (Raf Vallone), an IRA rouser (Mickey Rooney), a forger (Edd Byrnes), a dandified "master of disguise" (William Campbell), and an Angel of Death (Henry Silva). Their objective is to spring an Italian general from a Nazi fortress in Dubrovnik, the men sneak into town at night (fog and a water tank are all Corman needs) and are received by the partisans. "We’ve come to free it. And who will free it from us? And who will free us from ourselves," Vallone ponders, chuckling then at the smuggled existentialism. (And later, to the German kommandant: "These uniforms make our decisions. We are both prisoners.") Mostly remembered (if at all) as a precursor to The Dirty Dozen, this taut firestorm documents a guerilla director’s flirtation with mainstream filmmaking. (It’s no coincidence that, like Welles’s The Stranger, it’s a story about infiltration and camouflage.) The smoothness is by no means impersonal: Corman avails himself of Yugoslavia’s seaside vistas and ancient rocky corridors, but his insistence on mortality is a continuation of the morbidity of Machine-Gun Kelly and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Indeed, Silva’s taciturn assassin, with his gentle touch and at times helplessly lethal fingertips ("Death walking about, looking like a man"), could have stepped out of the Poe pictures. The stinger appropriates Gunga Din and Rossellini's Il Generale Della Rovere for irony, and closes on the fatigued warrior with a distaste for "lost causes." With Spela Rozin, Helmo Kindermann, and Enzo Fiermonte.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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