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Synapse Films presents
Invasion, U.S.A. (1952)

Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?
Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.
Vince Potter: What?
Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That's the way we'd like to beat Communism, by wishing it dead.

- Gerald Mohr, Dan O'Herlihy

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 21, 2002

Stars: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O'Herlihy
Other Stars: Erik Blythe, Noel Neill, Robert Bice, Tom Kennedy, Wade Crosby, William Schallert, Phyllis Coates, Knox Manning
Director: Alfred E. Green

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild war violence and atomic bombs explosions)
Run Time: 01h:13m:25s
Release Date: May 07, 2002
UPC: 027616868367
Genre: war


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+B+B A-

DVD Review

In the U.S. the fear of communism and the overall Soviet threat was a dominating way of life in the 1950s and '60s, with the spectre of atomic warfare seemingly escalating on a daily basis. Hollywood did its part and provided a wealth of generally heavy-handed cold war propaganda films during the era, designed to rally the American populace around the idea of doing whatever it could to stop the deadly "Red Menace."

Shot in seven days in 1952, director Alfred E. Green's Invasion, U.S.A. mixes a healthy dose of stock war footage into a doggedly manipulative story of an all-out enemy attack on American soil. Or is it? Though the enemy is never referred to as "Russian" or "Soviet," it is obvious—by the laughable Boris Badenov-style accents—where the bad guys are supposed to be from.

In a Manhattan bar, an unusual mixed bag of stock characters (including a cattle rancher, a TV commentator, a tractor maker and a congressman) find themselves doing more than just listening to mysterious stranger Mr. Ohman (Dan O'Herlihy), who refers to himself as a forecaster. Ohman listens patiently as a debate over how to stop communism essentially is always someone else's problem, or as one character puts it: "Let George do it." The threat of enemy invasion or beefing up our military forces, to this crowd of fat and happy Americans, is a non-issue. When the bar patrons attention temporarily shifts to Ohman's oversized brandy snifter, the world suddenly tumbles off it's axis of stability, with the remainder of the film serving to deliver object lessons in proving just how misinformed each of those poor, self-absorbed saps really were.

An invading force of enemy planes (again, obviously Soviet, though unnamed) launch a bomb-dropping assault on U.S. soil, including a barrage of atomic bombs on strategic targets as well as paratroopers dropping into major cities. At one point a newscaster almost casually refers to the fact that "only three A-bomb drops" have occurred, but that is really only a hint of what is to come. Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, New York City and Washington D.C. become prime targets, and their destruction here (which might have seemed smirk-worthy pre-9/11/01) takes on an entirely new, decidedly eerie, meaning.

The message in the Robert Smith script (which can never be accused of dancing around the real issues) was remarkably cutting edge and more than a little provocative for 1952. It declared that a hodgepodge of crass materialism, an understaffed military and a "let George do it" mentality would weaken the infrastructure of the United States to a point where an enemy (re: Soviet) invasion could, and in all likelihood, would occur. Scary stuff, to be sure, and the visuals in Invasion, U.S.A. must have been alarmingly grim and disturbing to moviegoers unaccustomed to seeing the U.S. not only under attack, but crumbling like a house of cards.

While much of this film looks understandably hammy by today's standard (it did receive the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, after all), the message of fear that Green daringly delivered still rings loud and clear.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratiowindow-boxed - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Synapse has released Invasion, U.S.A. in a 1.33:1 windowboxed transfer, which produces extremely thin black bars on all fours sides of the image. This compensates for loss of picture on sets that have excessive overscan, which is highlycommendable. The restoration job on this one, done from an existing 35mm print, is darn good, considering the age of the film and the fact that it is an amalgam of over 30% stock war footage. Glaring print flaws are kept to an absolute minimum during any of the scenes with actual actors, while some of the stock stocks of warplanes and the like tend to look a little beat up, but that is no doubt a result of the quality of the original source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A 1952 B-movie means mono, and that's what we get here. The mix is clean, with really no hiss or crackle to speak of, and understanding the dialogue was never a problem.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. If The Bomb Falls
  2. The Complacent American
  3. Red Nightmare
  4. CONELRAD 100: Film Encyclopedia Of The Top 100 Best Atomic Films Ever Made
Extras Review: Synapse has done Alfred E. Green's film proud by blanketing it with a fine stash of similarly atomic-themed supplemental materials.

Audio Features
Instead of some type of traditional audio commentary, this disc features a pair of eerie cold war albums from 1961 on the second audio track. It's very strange to imagine LP's like this were ever made, let alone released, and the quirky retro appeal is thinly masked by their unfortunate relevance today. The two albums are:
If The Bomb Falls (22m:56s)
Narrated by monotone David Wiley, this gloomy segment describes how to plan to survive an atomic bomb attack by living in a fallout shelter. This is a by-the-book, how-to list of how much food (such as applesauce: 112 oz. per person) is needed to survive below ground. The recurring theme of "Be Alert, Stay Alert" doesn't sound that much different from how we are acting today.

The Complacent American (37m:04s)
Robert Connelly is the title character in this slightly more theatrical rendition of an atomic bomb attack on a fictional U.S. city, in this case it's the aptly named Target City.

Red Nightmare (28m:47s)
This 1962 Twilight Zone-ish short was directed by The Wolf Man's George Waggner (here listing his name as george waGGner) for the Department of Defense, and served to offer up a scenario of what would happen if we suddenly lost our freedoms. The film features Jack Webb as the one-note narrator, who introduces us to milk-drinking everyman Jerry Donovan (Jack Kelly), a guy who is just too busy to do his part for America. When he wakes up one morning under Communist rule, his happy world is turned upside down, and he learns the hard lesson of "Russian treachery." Predictably heavy-handed, Red Nightmare is however a surprisingly enjoyable peek at the fear of Communism that permeated the U.S. during the height of the Cold War. Watch for a cameo by Robert Conrad as Jerry's quota-spouting co-worker.

CONELRAD 100: Film Encyclopedia of the Top 100 Best Atomic Films Ever Made
CONELRAD, a website that claims to be "devoted to Atomic Culture", provides a terrific list of the 100(!) best atomic bomb films ever. This alphabetically listing includes a brief synopsis of each film. The films range from the serious to the campy, and would serve as a great source if you were looking to put together your own A-bomb film festival.

Video Interviews (16m:39s)
The three separate interviews in this segment, conducted by CONELRAD's Bill Geerhart, were recorded in the summer of 2001, and feature comments from Invasion, U.S.A. stars Dan O'Herlihy, William Schallert, and Noel Neill. None of the three have any real vivid tales of the 1952 filming, but O'Herlihy provides the meatiest anecodotes, and he briefly discusses his conversion to Socialism and his time spent living in Russia during the filming of Waterloo in 1970. Schallert (who comes across like the really nice guy he usually plays) chats briefly about his career, and Neill (whose role in Invasion, U.S.A. is remarkably brief) spends her best moments discussing her turn as the first Lois Lane. This piece also includes bios on O'Herlihy, Schallert and Neill.

This fine set of extras is capped by a 1956 re-release trailer for Invasion, U.S.A. and a two-page booklet written by CONELRAD's Bill Geerhart.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Alfred E. Green's dark Invasion, U.S.A. predates similar films like Red Dawn and Amerika by decades, and still stands as one of the finer examples of anti-Soviet B-movie preaching ever produced by Hollywood. Looking at it today, it is both campy and disturbing, with the modern day parallels (the bombed out skyscrapers in New York) looking eerily familiar.

Synapse has come through with a solid image transfer on this release, and the extras are as engaging as the feature film.

Recommended.

 


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