Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

THE INVADERS (1967)



THE INVADERS (ABC Television 1967.)

One night driving while he's tired, architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) stops for a moment and sees a spaceship in the distance. From that moment forward his life is never the same, as he learns that an alien race from a dying world has secretly come to Earth and is working to take it over and change the environment to make it more favorable for them. The aliens have changed into human form (without our internal organs, however) and some of them have a "mutated" fourth finger that makes their pinkie stick out. Otherwise they are indistinguishable from us. They even have special academies that train them in being able to mimic human emotions. Whenever an invader dies, his body disintegrates, making it even more difficult for Vincent to convince others of the invasion. [The aliens die very easily. Wounds that might merely put a human being into a hospital kill them instantly.] Vincent devotes his life to tracking down every lead he can to the aliens' presence, and manages to outwit several of their dastardly schemes. [One episode acknowledged that Vincent still had a living to make and had him take on an architectural assignment. Fans probably wondered if he were independently wealthy!] Eventually Vincent gained some important allies in his fight, and there was a group of alien-hunters actively working against the inhuman antagonists. [Kent Smith became a regular in the second season.] An early episode suggested that any alien with emotions or a heart was a mutation, but later episodes suggested some aliens had almost "human" feelings, or at least were learning to understand the human viewpoint and could even be sympathetic – to a point.

Out of 43 episodes, only two or three were mediocre. Most were quite good and a few were outstanding, including: “Quantity Unknown,” in which James Whitmore gives an excellent performance as a victim of the aliens; “The Innocent,” in which Michael Rennie, equally good, plays an alien who takes Vincent into one of their spaceships; “The Betrayed,” in which Ed Begley hires Vincent to design a plant and Vincent’s girlfriend, Susan (Laura Devon), is killed off; “Moonshot,” which features the substitution of a lookalike alien for an astronaut (Peter Graves); “Wall of Crystal,” which features Vincent’s brother and sister-in-law; and “The Condemned,” with Ralph Bellamy.

Season two also had its share of memorable episodes: “The Saucer," with a couple on the run coming across an abandoned saucer; “The Watchers,” with Shirley Knight as the blind niece of a wealthy man (Kevin McCarthy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers); “The Trial,” focusing on the alleged murder of an alien; “The Prophet,’ with Pat Hingle as a phony alien evangelist; the very suspenseful “Labryinth,” with quirky Sally Kellerman in a story of a struggle to hold onto alien X-rays; “The Believers,” in which Vincent has a whole group to work with; “Task Force,” with Linden Chiles and Nancy Kovack; “Counter-Attack,” in which things get very tough for Vincent; “The Pit,” with Joanne Linville; “The Organization,” with hoodlums working for and against the aliens; “Light Seekers,” which features friendly aliens who are working against the invasion scheme; and “The Pursued,” with Suzanne Pleshette as an alien who can’t control homicidal impulses.

In addition to the aforementioned guest stars, other actors who appeared on the series included: Diane Baker; Roddy McDowell; Zena Bethune; Virginia Christine; Fritz Weaver; Dana Wynter; Gene Hackman; Carol Lynley, Karen Black; Phyllis Thaxter; Barbara Hershey; Ed Asner; Arthur Franz; Burgess Meredith; Anne Francis; Dabney Coleman; Jason Evers; Charles Drake; Jack Warden; Roscoe Lee Brown; Barbara Luna; Robert Walker; John Ericson; Susan Oliver: Anthony Eisley; and many others.

The Invaders was created by Larry Cohen and was highly influential on The X-Files, V and other programs. Domimic Frontiere’s theme music was suitably ominous and memorable. The science was not always consistent or well thought out, but in many ways The Invaders was more of a drama than a science fiction series. Star Roy Thinnes was perfect for the role of Vincent, getting across the character’s haunted, intense, obsessed state-of-mind in virtually every episode. The acting of the guest-stars was generally of a high order as well. The show engendered a series of paperback books and a TV mini-series many years later.

Verdict: The ultimate paranoia program.***½.

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