Invisible Invaders (1959) starring John Agar, John Carradine, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge, Robert Hutton
When stock footage attacks! Actually, Invisible Invaders is a better movie than that, but it’s clear upon watching that it was done on a shoestring budget, with ample use of stock footage, footage from documentaries, etc. The basic plot has invisible invaders — aliens, who previously ignored Earth, but have now taken notice since the atomic age, and demand surrender to their invisible empire — or they will animate corpses and use them to cause vast devastation, while being immune to any damage. A small group of scientists and one military man need to band together, find the aliens’ weakness, and fight back.
Admittedly, the basic plot’s been done before — but, despite the low budget, the acting is quite good, and the basic characters are interesting, and more fleshed-out than we typically see in such films. They include:
- Dr. Noymann (John Carradine): an atomic researcher who is killed at the outset of the film, and whose corpse is initially used by the aliens to contact
- Dr. Adam Penner (Philip Tonge): a former atomic researcher, who questions the destruction caused by his research and walks away from it, before being contacted by the alien using the corpse of his friend and colleague, who isn’t initially believed by
- His daughter Phyllis (Jean Byron), who initially thinks that he’s overwrought after the funeral of his old friend; at the same funeral is Dr. Penner’s friend and former student
- Dr. John Lamont (Robert Hutton), who thinks initially that Dr. Penner is simply upset, until the aliens attack, and they all have to work in a secret military laboratory, protected by
- Major Bruce Jay (John Agar), an Air Force veteran who begins to fall in love with Phyllis, and conflict with Dr. Lamont
There are several things worth noting, as far as the plot and acting — unlike so many of these science fiction movies, the brilliant scientists’ first plan simply doesn’t work, although they learn from it. The military man isn’t a one-dimensional killer; when he’s forced to kill a civilian, he clearly regrets it, and carries that burden with him. Likewise, Dr. Lamont isn’t a hero, he’s a scientist, and he has a moment when he tries to surrender to the aliens — and afterward, he’s repentant of his weakness, forgiven by the others, and the group moves forward. Lesser actors would have made that unrealistic. In several respects, Invisible Invaders reminds me of Ray Harryhausen’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and that’s a compliment.
Editorial review of Invisible Invaders, courtesy of Amazon.com
An absolutely guileless piece of anti-nuclear agitprop, Invisible Invaders‘ unwavering single-mindedness and artful, bargain-basement effects have contributed to its deserved reputation as a early sci-fi classic. Essentially a didactic play of ideas–closer to Shaw than Spielberg–the story line follows a reluctant nuclear scientist (played with genuine sensitivity by Philip Tonge) whose conscience forces him out of the military-industrial complex. When a race of invisible aliens declares its intention to destroy Earth, Tonge must scramble to find their weakness. Veteran B-movie hunk John Agar lends support as a courageous army major who takes charge of the experimentation, and, in the process, supplies the film with its only shred of a subplot by romancing the scientist’s daughter (spunky Jean Byron). Substantial newsreel footage and seemingly unrelated canned shots add to the creepy atmosphere, and the film’s one real special effect–concentric circles representing sound waves–proves quite effective in its pure minimalism. Shot, apparently, on a budget of pocket change and bounced credit- union checks, Invisible Invaders stands as an inspiration to cash-poor indie filmmakers everywhere, and to anybody who understands that the true measure of a science-fiction narrative is not the force of its explosions, but of its ideas. —Miles Bethany