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Network Double Bills: Maroc 7 and Invasion

  Network on Air's streaming service is continuing the idea of using the brand's extensive film library known as The British Film for a series of double bills, inspired by the way to watch movies that only started to be widely phased out in the nineteen-eighties. Before that, tradition dictated that if you attended your local cinema before then, you would be treated to a pair of films, plus advertisements, trailers and even short subjects to supply what would be regarded as a full evening's entertainment (or indeed a full afternoon's entertainment). One double features a pair of sixties adventures, one science fiction and the lead a Moroccan-set thriller in brilliant colour.

In support, Invasion (1966) is recalled for a Doctor Who connection - the writer of the original story showed the worth of recycling by using it to kick off Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor in 1970. Therefore you have to assume there was a section of the audience tuning on that Saturday teatime to think, here, this is all rather familiar, and that was down to each of these beginning with the premise of an alien landing on Earth and taken to a cottage hospital, whereupon both the military and space visitors take an interest. However the screenwriter Robert Holmes, regarded as one of the television series' best scribes, used the episode to head off in a different direction.

Therefore the earlier Invasion could be seen as the opposite, since both finales contradict one another narratively, not to say this film deserved to be a footnote, as it stood up as a neat and atmospheric yarn on a budget, taking place almost entirely at night for extra ambience. Edward Judd led as one of the hospital's doctors, Mike Vernon, a dependable figure and endearing himself to many who grew up watching such material, a square-jawed British hero who also happened to enjoy some of his biggest exposure in the "Think once, think twice... think BIKE!" road safety campaign of the seventies, one of those odd little career quirks for which a performer can stay in the mind.

Back at the plot, the invaders numbered a couple of ladies in jumpsuits with an Oriental look to their features, just as the injured alien does. He was played by Ric Young, a stalwart of movies for decades, though he spent most of this movie lying in bed recuperating until he springs into action in the last fifteen minutes of a fairly short movie. His space sisters were led by French-Asian actress Yoko Tani, who by now was settling into a run of lower profile genre work in film at least, not unlike her co-star Tsai Chin who played Nurse Lim. She was a regular in this variety of entertainment, then most recognisable as Fu Manchu's daughter, though her work spanned that right up to appearing as Ming-Na Wen's mother on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and as the eponymous Lucky Grandma.

You think she has been cast so the audience don't mistake every Asian performer as an actual alien, but that is seeing Invasion through a twenty-first century prism since the actual reason is so Tani can take her place and nobody will notice, perhaps less progressive. In further complications an invisible force field is erected around the hospital, which may have some reminded of Stephen King's fine novel and subsequent farce of a television series Under the Dome - there's even a bit where a vehicle is smashed up by driving obliviously into the unseen barrier. When you reach the denouement, you could observe the whole film had been built around the stock footage of rockets in flight that take up a major part of it, but that would be to do this a disservice as its moody, low key suspense was well sustained by director Alan Bridges whose work in television spoke to a talent with economy as evinced by thrifty yet effective methods, and having the cast sell the drama with skill. A good show all round, ideal for late night viewing.

Next, the intermission, once again shilling those snacks and soft drinks (and suggesting we pass them along the row of seats - hoping for full houses?), then what appears to be a promotion for air travel turns out to be an extended ad for cigarettes. Rank's Look at Life shows up as well, here looking at the life of the modern artist, with a selection of artwork that, while up to the minute in its day, comes across as very sixties indeed from decades later. Then it's the trailers for a future double bill, cheating a bit because they're both seventies efforts, the ribald comedy Keep It Up Downstairs and the sitcom adaptation Man About the House (and yes, it does include that dodgy race gag).

Now, our main event, Gene Barry taking the lead in Maroc 7 from 1967, a not-quite spy caper set largely in Morocco, though opening in Swinging London. Barry is probably best known for his television work - he starred in Burke's Law, a cop show, and The Adventurer, an, er, adventurer show - though science fiction fans will treasure him as the hero battling apocalyptic Martians in the fifties epic War of the Worlds. He worked consistently for many decades without ever becoming anyone's preferred celebrity, one of those dependable types, in this case the square-jawed, baritone-voiced protagonist who could get out of all sorts of scrapes without a hair out of place.

Really, the reason he was in Maroc 7 was to offset the female pulchritude elsewhere, he was the uber-masculine desperado, frankly a bit long in the tooth to be romancing the likes of the ladies to be found here, introduced breaking into a fashion agent's safe to liberate her diamonds. So he must be a wrong 'un, right? Ah, there are a few twists to be reckoned with before the end credits roll, though it will likely be little surprise to learn, no, Barry's Simon Grant is not a baddie, he's on the side of the angels and attempting to bust a jewel-smuggling ring. We soon discover the fashion agent is actually the ringleader and is using her agency as a front for her nefarious activities.

Who is playing this schemer? None other than Cyd Charisse, the dancing star of many a musical from The Band Wagon to Singin' in the Rain for whom this effort marked something of the end of an era, as it was the last time she would take the lead (or as good as) in a movie in her career. She would appear in the odd television role from then on, and there was Warlords of Atlantis let's not forget, but her days as a big draw were coming to a close. She was in her mid-forties when she supported Gene, but could have passed for younger; this did, however, make her more of an age to be romanced by his craggy character, so naturally nothing of the kind happens for the whole course of the picture, as Elsa Martinelli and Alexandra Stewart are the recipients of his attention.

You know the old story of the McGuffin, which Alfred Hitchcock defined as the object or device that the audience don't care about, but the characters do? Well, Maroc 7 was all McGuffin, you didn't give a stuff about the jewels or anything else concerned with the conspiracy, what attracted you was the bright colours and the immersive sense of being in the sixties when it was really hip and happening. Beginning at that London party with all the bright young things, well, maybe not Gene and Cyd, and ending with the models posing all over Morocco for photographer Leslie Phillips (who as producer was instrumental in getting this made), director Gerry O'Hara demonstrated a genuine visual flair that summed up the era better than some of its contemporaries. Therefore this was one of those vintage movies where you simply drank in the rich atmosphere and were none too bothered if the plot got away from you (it wasn't that complex, it just wasn't so clearly put across). If you had ever wanted to see Gene Barry in a fistfight with Leslie Phillips (who says, "Ding dong...!" nowhere in this), you knew this was your kind of entertainment.

These double bills are a nostalgic in the right way rendition of the sort of evenings out of yesteryear that so many Brits would experience, and as the preserved (or restored) prints of the films are pristine, reminiscent of what they would be like to watch as new. Click here to join the Network website.
Author: Graeme Clark.


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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018