Monday, 27 May 2013

Invasion USA (1952)

Entertaining Propaganda.

You’ll never be able took away
From the horror of "Invasion USA!"

Director: Alfred E. Green
Producer: Albert Zugsmith, Robert Smith
Writers: Robert Smith, Franz Schulz
Music: Albert Glasser
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 74 minutes
Budget: $127,000


Gerald Mohr: (Vince Potter)
Peggie Castle: (Carla Sanford)
Dan O'Herlihy: (Mr. Ohman)
Robert Bice: (George Sylvester)
Tom Kennedy: (Tim the Bartender)
Wade Crosby: (Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway)
Erik Blythe: (Ed Mulfory)
Phyllis Coates: (Mrs. Mulfory)
Aram Katcher: (Factory Window Washer)
Knox Manning: (Himself)
Edward G. Robinson Jr: (Radio Dispatcher)
Noel Neill: (Second Airline Ticket Agent)
Clarence A. Shoop: (Army Major)



The opening credits to Invasion USA feature a picture of the New York skyline containing sky-scrapers standing proud and strong. The film then starts off in a New York City bar where several people are gathered drinking and talking while a news reporter, on a very modern-looking (for 1952) flat panel TV, reports on world tensions and the “possibility of all-out war.” However, this group of Americans do not want to hear such things and the TV set is switched off. The group includes:

Vince Potter, a television/radio news reporter who asks those at the bar if they are for or against a “universal draft.”

George Sylvester, a tractor manufacturer from San Francisco, who is opposed to the government directing him to make tanks (“Draft factories? That’s Communism”) and is faced with threats that his plant could be taken over by the government.

Carla Sanford, a beautiful woman who is accompanied by George Sylvester. She states that she worked in a factory during the last war, but had to stop because it was damaging her hands.

Ed Mulfory, a cattle rancher from Boulder Hill, Colorado.

Arthur V. Harroway, an effusive and boisterous Illinois congressman visiting New York who praises Vince for being 'the voice of the people.' The people, according to him, are against Communism, war and high taxes.

The mysterious Mr. Ohman, a “fortune-teller” or forecaster who believes that “America wants new leadership.”

Tim, the Bartender who’ll do what he’s always done, come what may: mixing drinks and bartending

A discussion ensues between the Mr. Ohman and the others where we learn that they all oppose Communism and enjoy the material wealth they derive from the current system. Not surprisingly they support lower taxes and don't see the point of private industry’s support of government. Mr. Ohman does not think their views make any sense. Ohman claims that America wants new leadership, but would prefer someone else to worry about its problems. In other words, “Everyone wants George to do it.” Its citizens would prefer a “wizard who could wish communism away.”

Suddenly tensions on the world stage explode as an unnamed but obvious ‘enemy’ conducts air attacks over Seal Point, Alaska and Nome followed by paratroops landing on Alaskan airfields. The plan of attack involves the capture of civilian airfields as staging areas and A-bombing of military airfields. The United States retaliates attacking the obvious enemy's homeland with B-36 bombing missions. Despite this, the obvious enemy advances into Washington and Oregon while the shipyards in Puget Sound are A-bombed. 

With things falling apart and faced with imminent disaster, the group at the bar rush off to do their bit against the obvious enemy. With a peculiar sense of timing, Potter and Sanford fall in love with each other. After all, "War or no war, people have to eat and drink ... and make love.” After attempting to enlist to help for the war effort, Potter is denied several times. He resumes his broadcasting role, while Sanford volunteers to help run a blood donation drive. The industrialist, Sylvester attempts to quickly turn his tractor-manufacturing business around to produce tanks but he soon becomes a casualty in the battle for San Francisco. The rancher, Ed Mulfory returns home and perishes with his family in the destruction of Boulder Dam by a nuclear missile strike. The President tries to rally the morale of his citizens with exaggerated claims of counter-attacks.

With a red-alert being issued that New York is about to be attacked, will the United States of America be consumed by this “enemy” and exist only as part of its wider empire?

And what of this strange man, Mr. Ohman sitting at the end of the bar with his huge brandy glass and his terrible Ohmans omens for the future?


The film, Invasion USA essentially serves as a splendid piece of cold war propaganda that is delivered in an entertaining manner. It is designed to both persuade and entertain and in fact, Invasion USA fulfils the main criteria that constitute a piece of propaganda, namely;
  • The promotion of a particular idea.
  • Informing its audience with a series of half-truths.
  • Deceiving its audience with outright misinformation.
  • Influencing the attitude of the audience toward acceptance of a particular position.
  • Presenting mainly one side of a situation or argument.
  • Partisan in nature.
  • Relies on manipulation of emotions rather than fostering critical thinking.
  • Demonising those individuals and groups it is aimed against.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific instances from the film, Invasion USA that demonstrates the above elements of propaganda.

The enemy in the film is portrayed as being brutal and sub-human. After the take-over of New York, one of the enemy soldiers demands that they celebrate the victory with whisky. As the soldier advances menacingly towards Carla ("Now you MY woman!"), Vince tries to stop him, but is shot for trying to help her. Fearing the fate that is to befall her, Carla jumps out of a window and screaming plummets to the ground to her death.

The film, Invasion USA, serves as a warning against complacency on the part of citizens which can lead to the kind of  invasion and occupation as depicted in the film. As things stand the American public is too materialistic and selfish, whereby the college boy "wants a stronger army AND a deferment for himself," “Labour wants new consumer products AND a 30 hour week,” the businessman "wants a bigger airforce AND a new Cadillac" and the housewife "wants security AND an electric dishwasher." Such notions serve to reinforce the importance of having a strong military that must be supported by the public and by industry. However, Industry hasn't done its patriotic duty by supplying sufficient hardware for the military. According to the film, it is these kinds of attitudes that will undermine US preparedness to tackle threats to its security. It may go some way to explaining why in the film so few guards appear to be posted to defend the centre of US government in Washington, during a time of national emergency. As the invasion progresses, a scorched earth policy is put into effect in order to deny the enemy the resources it will need. This act of desperation is explained as being the result of not being prepared to “provide a strong enough army to protect ourselves.” 

Ironically, it also encourages the idea that in order to combat the threat posed by Communism, it is necessary that the needs of the State supersede the needs and desires of the individual! Supposedly, freedom and democracy comes with a price. How similar this notion and Ohman's vision for a stronger America seems to be to the ‘Enemy’s’ declaration over the airwaves: "The People's Government of America will take the wealth from the greedy, the speculators, and the capitalistic bourgeoisie and distribute it among the workers whose labour will never again be exploited for the benefit of the war mongers of Wall Street. The People's Government brings the citizens of New York a new freedom. A freedom based on order. A freedom based on loyalty to the leaders of the Party, your Party…"

Hatred toward the “enemy” for its brutality and sympathy for the poor victims of that brutality are meant to bubble to the surface as the audience witnesses the image of the child’s doll as it floats forlornly in the flood waters from the bombing of the Boulder dam.

The audience’s emotions are further stirred by referencing past historical events such as when the President states to the nation that “another day of infamy has arrived.” People are being encouraged to direct their memories back to that time when a sneak attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan ushered America’s entry into the Second World War. Think about how audiences today might feel when confronted with references to the 9/11 attack and you will begin to see how powerful such emotional manipulation can be. In fact, the nuclear attack on New York in the film and the resulting destruction could even trigger some unwelcome thoughts and feelings in modern audiences despite the gap of 60 years.

Similar kinds of propagandist ideas such as the need for constant vigilance would not have been new to audiences who would have had vivid memories of World War Two and constant exhortations to beware of what they say and to whom. After all, “Loose lips, sink ships!”

Despite the fact that American defense spending was rapidly increasing at the time, the film exaggerates the enemy’s capabilities while creating the impression that America is idly sitting by and is ripe for another Pearl Harbor “day of infamy” scenario which would still be fresh in the audience’s minds. There is also the blatant misinformation concerning the US’s technical and military capabilities. Notice how slow the American radar stations seem to be when locating the invader's aircraft. With the state of the US’s radar and other technology even at that time, it would have been unlikely that detection would have occurred not until the enemy aircraft were directly over their targets.

The film does its best to simplify quite complex geopolitical factors to a basic ‘Us versus Them.’ theme. The ‘Us’ being the freedom-loving United States divinely ordained to take on the role of combating the ‘Them,’ the Soviets and their Communist expansion. The ‘Them’ enemy is never clearly identified but it is obvious that it is the Communist Soviet Union from their initial invasion via Alaska and the terrible accents.

Points Of Interest

A substantial proportion of the film is taken up by rather inaccurate stock military and combat footage. The audience is presented with a mish-mash of scenes depicting the destruction of New York using footage from the London Blitz; a jumble of WWII and Korean War stock footage; Communist forces fitted out in American military attire; Soviet pilots flying B-29s and B36s, along with Nazi-German Luftwaffe and Japanese aircraft!. At least there were some brief shots of Soviet MIGS. I guess budget constraints and the belief that the audience would not know what they’re looking at might have been a determining factor in all of this? After all, the film was shot in seven days in April of 1952 on a budget of $127,000.00. Despite all of this, it did make a return of close to $1.000.000. At least the relentless presentation of the invasion and battle scenes along with the music score do serve to create a rising sense of excitement, panic and hysteria in the audience.

I couldn’t help but wonder at the "Enemy’s” profligate use of nuclear weapons. It seems to reflect the kind of military tactical thinking that was a product of World War 2 rather than what would be appropriate for modern warfare. These days we are probably more aware of the results of nuclear detonations in terms of radiation, fallout and sheer destruction. In Invasion USA, nuclear weapons are thrown about like confetti blowing up airfields, dams, battleships, one-horse towns, and cities. One would have to ask if there’d actually be anything left to invade and occupy. However, in more recent times, just after the era of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) which was supposed to act as deterrence to nuclear warfare, a change of thinking occurred. Some people in government and the military started to propose using tactical battlefield nuclear weapons in the event of war erupting between the West / NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. Suddenly it was believed that nuclear weapons could become a viable battlefield option in a winnable war. Now that would be MAD!

One thing about the movie I just could not understand was why they decided not to show the president of the United States looking directly into the camera? All we saw was his profile while he addressed the public on such an important matter as the Invasion of the USA by another world power. I couldn’t imagine Barack Obama presenting only one of his ears to the public during such a time of national crisis!

There are some very silly but very funny occurrences in the film which rather than deserve criticism, actually add to the film’s entertainment value. For instance, when the "Enemy" sends its troops disguised as American soldiers to infiltrate Washington, DC, one of them who claims to be from a Chicago unit is challenged by an American guard, “Ever see the Cubs play?” He actually replies with, “Cubs? A cub is a young animal, a bear...” A “Yes” or “No” might have given him a 50/50 chance of avoiding a bullet!

What could be better than succinctly summing up the entire invasion with a metaphor that’s as American as apple pie, such as when the rancher declares, “This is it, the final game of the World Series…and we’re the home team!”

And then there is the exchange between Vince and Carla after the invasion is underway and atom bombs start raining down. Carla declares, “It’s a nightmare, this can't be happening!” Vince relies with, “It was a cinch to happen. The last time I met a girl I really liked, they bombed Pearl Harbour.” You gotta love it!

Although most of the characters are meant to represent various sections of the community and are largely forgettable, one character who does stand out is Mr. Ohman. His brief performance sets up that menacingly dangerous and eerie atmosphere that is to hang over the heads of the group at the bar and the nation as whole. It seems as if he can really hypnotize his listeners and that he has knowledge of the shape of things to come.

And so dear reader, maybe it is time for us to wake up from our individual and collective trances and realize that “tomorrow springs from today.” We must think about what we can do now to avoid future disasters or calamities that may be visited upon our way of life and recognise that threats to our existence can be of our own making and come in many forms, both expected and unexpected. We just need to…….”concentrate”……….. 

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

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