Unearthly Stranger (Blu-ray film review).

The Royal Institute for Space Research is situated near the Thames in London in a building with an oddly familiar spiral staircase. If anybody can identify the staircase, please let us know. Of course, there’s no such Institute but it does make a good fictional setting for this 1964 black and white, low-budget thriller ‘Unearthly Stranger’ where scientists are trying to perfect space travel using the power of thought alone. We know from the start that things are not going right because one of the leading scientists, Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) is seen running along Whitehall at night trying to get to his office. In a frenzy, he enters the empty building and puts down his thoughts on a Grundig tape recorder (remember them?). Incidentally, the movie is directed by John Krish, who was also responsible for some of the TV ‘The Avengers’ series.


Going back a week or two, we see Professor Geoffrey Munro enter his office at the Institute. He is played by Warren Mitchell, more famous for his later role as Alf Garnett in ‘’Til Death Do Us Part’. Unfortunately, the Prof doesn’t last very long for, despite having made some sort of breakthrough in research, he dies of a brain haemorrhage when excessive forces are directed towards his head. The new guy in charge, Dr Davidson, steps into a scenario he doesn’t quite understand. His friend Prof John Lancaster (Philip Stone) and the chubby sweetie eating security chief, Major Clarke (played by the instantly recognisable Patrick Newell) are apparently keeping things from him. Munro’s body disappears to who knows where in the security vaults but Davidson isn’t all that worried because the middle-aged scientist has just married a beautiful young woman half his age, Julie (Gabriella Licudi), after a brief romance lasting only two weeks. However, something doesn’t seem to be right about the girl. She doesn’t blink! He relates this to his friend Lancaster but he scoffs, telling him he is talking nonsense.

Miss Ballard is the secretary at the Institute. Many will know the actress Jean Marsh, especially in her role from the TV drama ‘Upstairs Downstairs’. The scene is now set for the action to take place and it is pretty good action it must be said. Despite being a low-budget affair with no special effects, the camerawork and script all add to the tension to make this an excellent movie. It’s quite obvious that Julie is an alien! Despite being a kindly character who does seem to care for her husband, babies cry at the sight of her and passing a schoolyard where hundreds of children are playing, in a memorable scene she completely poops the party making the children retreat back into the school, all caused by a friendly smile. Julie’s ensuing tears begin to burn her face.

At first, Lancaster is sceptical about Davidson’s wife being odd but, going to their country house for dinner, he notices her taking a casserole out of a searing oven with her bare hands. Initially keeping this to himself, he eventually talks to Davidson but he seems to have gone the other way and wants nothing bad said about his wife. In the meantime, Major Clarke does a check on Julie to discover she doesn’t have a past, this making him suspend Davidson from duties until the situation is resolved.

While living at home, Davidson applies his mind to the theory of telepathic spaceflight and manages to solve the problem. This is an action which could possibly seal his fate because the aliens do not want this research discovered and order his death. Who would carry out the execution? None other than his lovely wife, Julie!

The action progresses rapidly towards a rather shocking end. The movie may only be 78 minutes but it’s an absorbing script with plenty to think about. One or two tawdry moments perhaps but, generally, it’s all rather good, making you wish that a sequel was made. Of course, it never was but it would have been a great idea. While not exactly bodysnatchers, it’s something similar and is ideally suited to the time of production during the height of the Cold War.

The acting throughout is superb, especially by John Neville, but it would be wrong to highlight anyone in particular because they all performed exceptionally well. This goes to show that a really good movie could be made on a low-budget and in black and white. The only downside about the Blu-ray is the extra material which is very scant, comprising no more than a trailer and some stills. Despite this disappointment, it’s a very enjoyable movie which is well worth watching and can certainly be recommended. And the ending! You’ve just got to see the ending!

Rod MacDonald

November 2014

(region 2: pub: Network. 1 blu-ray disk 76 minute black and white film with minor extras. Price: £ 9.18 (UK). Cat: 7957092.

English sub-titles.

cast: John Neville, Philip Stone, Gabriella Licudi, Patrick Newell and Jean Marsh

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