Roger Corman’s The Secret Invasion (1964) sounds like a scaled-down rip-off of The Dirty Dozen—except that it beat that film to the punch by three years. For that matter, it beat the novel to the punch, since the latter didn’t come out till 1965. But—and this is probably key—the novel’s premise was known before that and was, in fact, bought by MGM in 1963. The chance that Corman knew the concept—a gang of criminals being used to fight in WWII—is hardly far-fetched. It hardly matters, though, since The Secret Invasion is one of the director’s best and most stylish non-horror films. The opening segment of the movie is a joy to behold in its breathless economy—and if the rest of the movie can’t quite live up to that, well, it’s not that far behind. Corman uses a decidedly B-picture cast, but they serve the purpose (Mickey Rooney looks distractingly like Mark Wahlberg in this movie). Whatever else they might be, the cast are all old pros, whatever the film and whatever the budget. The fact is that I’ll gladly take this bargain-basement 95 minutes of exploitation over the 150 minutes of The Dirty Dozen any day.
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