Unearthly Stranger is a 1964 British science-fiction film that sees an attempt by an alien race to integrate themselves amongst us in order to prevent the human race from contacting distant worlds.
It stars John Neville in the lead role of scientist Dr Mark Davidson who is working on ways of communicating across vast distances by the power of thought. His peculiar wife (Gabriella Licudi) may not be all she seems to be, especially because she never blinks.
The mid-1960s was an awkward period in the mixed career of John Neville: his days as a leading man of the celebrated Old Vic Theatre Company were behind him, and his starring role in Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen was still over two decades away. In Unearthly Stranger, he makes for a light leading man in a light and curiously uninvolving film.
It’s a shame, because the movie opens with considerable promise. Dr Mark Davidson (John Neville) runs along London’s Embankment, and director John Krish uses some tilted shots to thoroughly unnerve the viewer. The black and white film stock and the night-time locations lend the movie an unsettling noir quality, most especially because the picture, even on Blu-ray, has a patina rather than crystal clear definition. Krish works hard to give Unearthly Stranger a disjointed, nightmarish atmosphere throughout the film, using imaginative sound effects as well as bringing a fantastically creepy performance out of Gabriella Licudi.
The film tries to tap into the very real 1960s Cold War paranoia, and the fear of “Reds under the bed” – or spies walking amongst us and infiltrating our society in order to bring it down. It uses a science-fiction element of aliens who look just like humans to parallel contemporary concerns. How well do you know even the person you’re married to? The problem is that the story hasn’t been clearly thought-through, and a muddled plot is conveyed poorly with an overreliance on flashbacks for exposition, including some horribly hokey dialogue. The giveaways of the non-human nature of the aliens are risible, which undermines the disturbing mood Krish has worked hard to build up.
The story never really coheres, and the characters are largely unbelievable. John Neville’s scientific work is hugely improbable, as is Patrick Newell’s role in security. The dramatic reveal of Gabriella Licudi as an alien is a damp squib, simply because it lacks credibility, and the audience has it figured out a long time before John Neville, rendering him witless for his disbelief and denial. The film also suffers because the central questions set up by the story never satisfactorily resolve. The end result is an underwhelming film that could have been far better with a workable script and some credible science.
Plus points are undoubtedly imaginative direction from John Krish, as well as good performances from Philip Stone (The Shining) and, despite a poorly-written part, the always entertaining Patrick Newell (‘Mother’ in The Avengers) as Major Clarke. There are supporting roles for British stars Jean Marsh and Warren Mitchell. Sadly, the final verdict is that Unearthly Stranger falls flat owing to a poorly-realised concept.
Unearthly Stranger is released as part of Network’s The British Film collection. Extra features include a theatrical trailer and image gallery. It is available on Blu-ray and DVD.