While I'm not fond of watching films on my computer, I do love Netflix's instant viewing just because I can sample some movies I'm not sure I really want to spend time on, on the spot, without waiting for the DVD to ship to me. I'm still waiting for King Solomon's Mines to arrive, so while I'm in a Stewart Granger mood (and I appear to have now forgiven him and gotten over my image of him as a double-crossing ratfink), I decided to try out The Secret Invasion, a 1964 WWII war movie directed by Roger Corman. Seemed like it might be right up my alley.
After a lackluster, rather cheesy first twenty minutes, it evened out and became a rather enjoyable WWII movie. This film seems to be a predecessor to The Dirty Dozen, with a similar concept. In this case, Stewart Granger's British officer leads five criminals on a mission into Yugoslavia to free a general from a Nazi prison. If they're successful, they'll be granted pardons. These prisoners are played by Mickey Rooney, Henry Silva, Raf Vallone, Edd Byrnes, and William Campbell. This may be a rather low budget film, but it certain brings an interesting cast to the plate! William Campbell, of course, is always delightful, and I love Raf Vallone. He's a solid actor, and I always think I've seen him in more movies than I have, for some reason. In many ways, he's more the lead in this film than Granger, and I liked his character a lot. His character carries this film, and he stays at the emotional center. He's also the smart one who basically takes over -- with no objections from Granger's character, interestingly -- to complete the mission. Mickey Rooney can often be annoying, but he looks like he's having the time of his life here, all grins and good humor, so I didn't mind him.
The movie benefits greatly from being filmed on location in Yugoslavia. It looks great, all sweeping vistas of the blue sea, blue sky, the old stone town, the mountains. Beautiful scenery. There's also a ton of extras for the big finale. Sometimes I think I get so used to television and its smaller budgets (mostly thinking Combat! here with usually no more than a handful of enemy soldiers giving chase to the good guys at any given time), that when easily a couple hundred enemy soldiers appear and start fanning across the countryside, I was thinking, whoa! The good guys are really in trouble. And when a matching number of armed partisans show up... well, it makes for an exciting finale, that's for sure.
The plot had a few interesting twists towards the end which kept it from being a strictly routine commando-mission type plot. I'd have to say I really enjoyed the second half. The first half has the obligatory get-to-know-the-criminals section, which was very brief, a couple escape attempts by some of the criminals, and arrival in Yugoslavia and setting up the scene. The second half is where the real action and story occurred.
Stewart Granger is one of those actors who aged extremely well. He's as handsome and fit as ever and still well-suited to action. He wields a machine pistol as nicely as a sword. There's lots of running around, hand-to-hand combat, etc., and he's right in the thick of it.
Not a film I'd want to own, but I'm glad I saw it. It was a diverting, suspend-your-disbelief, behind-the-enemy-lines couple of hours.