Review Date: June 17, 2002
Released by: Synapse
Release date: 5/7/2002
Region 1, NTSC
The prosperity of film as an art form was in jeopardy throughout the early 1950's. In attempts to prevent subliminal communist takeover, the United States government, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, issued a censorship plan that would make the MPAA seem tame in comparison. Hundreds of motion picture visionaries like director Elia Kazan were unjustly silenced at the hands of the governments. Kazan, who had always been one to expose and evaluate social relations in culture was forced to submit to the current state of filmmaking. In the place of socially relevant pictures that advanced filmmaking as a craft and society in general were replaced with mindless propaganda exercises, devoid of skill or thought. Throughout most of the 50's films like Zombies of the Stratosphere
and Target Earth
littered cinemas, preaching capitalistic values and exploiting society's fear of invasion.
Of the films to be released during that timeframe, Invasion, U.S.A.
is perhaps the most potent example of the effects that the oppressive political climate had inflicted upon the art of filmmaking. Promising big explosions and pure Americana, the piece was meant to denounce communism and promote military enrollment. The 1950's were a sad and scary time for the filmmaking craft, and thanks to Synapse Films, one of the most representative films of the time has been given the special edition treatment. Let's take a look at how the disc measures up.
The film opens in a bar as cattle rancher Ed Mulfory (Erik Blythe
) and the mysterious Mr. Ohman (Dan O'Herlihy
) have a drink as the local news plays on television. The bartender, Tim (Tom Kennedy), mutes the TV following reports that unidentified planes have been rumored to have been flying over the Alaskan air fields. Newscaster Vince Potter (Gerald Mohr) enters, as does George (Robert Bice
) and Carla (Peggie Castle
), rounding off the bunch of main characters. Together they all sit, as Vince interviews the lot about government policies, army drafting and fighting communism.
Things heat up as Ohman (get it?) warns the group about the state of society and government, telling them that "in order to win a war, a nation must concentrate". Moments later their concentration is interrupted as a special news bulletin reports that the rumors of aircraft attack is indeed true, as hundreds of foreign jets make their way towards the United States. The Communist enemies (whose identity is never revealed, but are obviously Russians) drop atomic bombs left and right over a nation in panic, as Seattle, and New York, among others, go up in shambles.
America tries to counter this unexpected attack, but because of weak army enrolment, they are unable to prevail. So with stock footage abound, planes drop hundreds of bombs and cities go up in flame. Meanwhile, George and Ed head on over to San Fransisco for safety, but it too, like the rest of the major US cities, falls victim to the atom bomb. A love between wise talking Vince and the innocent Carla blooms, but will it survive the chaos? Will the U.S.A. fall victim to the commies? The answers to these questions are redundant.
is nothing more than a forced propaganda piece in order to appease the restrictive and tyrannical US government in the 1950's. The plot is razor thin, consisting almost entirely of badly composed stock footage of flying jets and dropping bombs. At 72 minutes this film still seems long, and the cheap cop-out ending does nothing positive for the film, either.
Granted, there are some redeemable qualities worth mentioning. Tim O'Herlihy lends a quality supporting role, and between this film and Halloween III
he sure knows how to play a solemn character. Consider him the Christopher Walken of the 1950's. Leading man Gerald Mohr also has an entertaining persona, and counterbalances O'Herlihy's somberness admirably. Fans of kitschy cinema and B-movies should get a kick out of the tacky dialogue and "special" effects as well. Marketed as a disaster film, it does deliver its share of demolition and explosions.
Out of context, this film is a mediocre destruction movie, and at times is somewhat amusing. But for me, it reminds me of a time when freedom of expression was revoked from visionaries all over the supposed "Land of the Free". Invasion, U.S.A.
hammers home its Americana and anti-communist messages quite clearly and frequently, and it is almost disheartening to see such a talented cast and crew wasted into making an extended advertisement for army enrollment. This film is recommended to those who wish to witness first hand how communist hysteria reduced filmmaking as an expressive art medium into merely an assembly line of forced government ideas. Dark times indeed, but a part of our past, no less.
Synapse Films presents this film in a 1.33:1 windowboxed ratio newly mastered from "a rare 35mm print", and the results are less than satisfying. The actual master of the film is clear with consistent and defined black and whites. Shadow delineation is surprisingly strong, and the black levels are solid. Unfortunately, the print used for restoration was in very poor shape, with consistent grain and blemishes abound. The stock footage used in the film is especially rough, with dust, grain, scratches and every other visual blemish imaginable included on the print. There are scenes when the print damage is so prevalent that it almost becomes tough to retain what is going on. Thankfully though, the scenes in the bar and the actual film shot for the movie appear in much better shape, but still contain a considerable amount of grain. There are moments when Invasion, U.S.A.
looks crisp and sharp, but they are few and far between, and surface only when the print isn't marred with damage. Fault cannot be laid on Synapse though, because they have obviously tried their best with the material available, it is just too bad that the material looks like it has been victim of an H-bomb attack itself.
Presented in English mono, the audio certainly won't give your speakers a workout. The dialogue however, is presented fairly clearly, and overall the track sounds about as good as it ever will. For a 50-year-old film with a low budget to boot, there certainly isn't going to be any fireworks, but the mix is decent, and up to par with most other mono efforts of the time.
Synapse deserves mention for always putting their utmost effort into their DVDs. They have consistently released excellent special editions to not-so-special films, and they have done so again in their work for Invasion, U.S.A.
With almost 2 hours of supplements, plenty of background to the film and the time in which it was made is revealed via some excellent timepieces.
First up is the entire 1962 short film, Red Nightmare, clocking in at a minute shy of 30 minutes. The film involves Jack Kelly playing your average American, with a suburbanite home, a beautiful wife and kids, and most importantly, freedom. The narrator makes mention of how great it is to have the freedom and liberties in the United States, and how its citizens seem to take it for granted. To prove the wonderful American way of life, the narrator has Kelly dream that his town has been turned over to Communist rule. Everyone speaks in monotone and looks as if they were zombies fresh out of Night of the Living Dead. Kelly's kids enroll in private school to think for the common good, and his wife even turns him in for treason against the scathing government. Kelly awakes from his nightmare to realize the benefits of a capitalist society and everyone lives happily ever after.
The film is a blatant propaganda piece, more so than Invasion, U.S.A.
, making Soviets appear cruel and unjustly. Ironically, in the film, while the narrator mentions the faults of a Communist society, he states they use "propaganda as an art", when this film is perhaps the most striking example of such a claim. It is an entertaining supplement, divulging just how paranoid the American Government had become to shield its nation from communism during the Cold War era.
Next up are two equally as revealing supplements, presented in the form of an audio track which plays during the film. The first track, which runs from the start of the film to roughly 23 minutes in, is "If The Bomb Falls" which details how to prepare and live in a fallout shelter for up to two weeks. It details what supplies to bring, how to build a shelter, and what precautions to take. It is actually quite chilling to hear, given its monotone presentation and apocalyptic tone. Following directly after this recording on the same audio track is "The Complacent Americans", running for 37 minutes and ending at the 1 hour mark in the film. It involves a mock H-Bomb dropping, where an explosion is simulated and then an extremely long monologue of one of its survivors. In his monologue he speaks of how he never imagined such a proficient nation like the US of A falling victim to nuclear attack, and how he wished he were more prepared. Complete with an off-putting echo with radio frequencies in the background, this is quite unsettling. Both released during the fallout shelter craze of the early 1960's, these provide further insight into America's fear of conquest and destruction during the boomer years.
Also included on the disc are newly shot interviews with Dan O'Herlihy, William Schaller and Noel Neill about the film and its production. O'Herlihy is particularly pleasant, reciting a scathing review written for the movie, and divulging his thoughts on government. Proclaimed as the "America's Preeminent Atomic Character Actor", Schallert is particularly well spoken, citing longwinded responses to his involvement in the film, other atomic films, and even Orson Welles and Touch of Evil. And lastly, Noel Neill is looking a little old, and doesn't really reveal anything that interesting. She repeatedly praises the film, and mentions how it is "probably better than that Pearl Harbor movie." The piece runs 17 minutes and is both entertaining and informative.
Rounding off the disc is a full screen 1956 re-issue theatrical trailer, which looks roughly the same in quality as the film. There is also a "Conelrad 100" text listing of the Top 100 Atomic Films Ever Made. You know a genre is bad when Armageddon is included in a Top 100 list. There are also fairly lengthy text introductions to all the supplements, giving the needed background to view them with the proper mindset. Overall, Synapse has produced an excellent Special Edition here, which will no doubt please fans, as well as those interested in American history.
Invasion U.S.A. is a shoddy little propaganda film, made both to appease an overbearing government and to cash in on nuclear terror. It is not a good film by all means, but its context into the evolution of cinema and society is important, and is a film that should be seen for those merits. The audio and video presentations on this DVD are below par, but such a fault can be blamed on the source material, not Synapse. The supplements are stellar however, providing diverse and revealing information on the film and its context, making this disc a keeper.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – C-
Sound – C
Supplements – A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 12 minutes
- Black & White
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English stereo
- Atomic Audio: Both "The Complacent Americans" and "If The Bomb Falls" LPs played over a separate audio track.
- 1956 Re-Issue Theatrical Trailer
- Red Nightmare short film
- Cast interviews
- Top 100 Atomic Films list