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Unearthly Stranger (1963)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK ltd

Main image of Unearthly Stranger (1963)
aka Beyond the Stars, 35mm, 75 min, black & white
DirectorJohn Krish
Production CompanyIndependent Artists
ProducerAlbert Fennell
ScreenplayRex Carlton
From an idea byJeffrey Stone
CinematographyReg Wyer

Cast: John Neville (Dr. Mark Davidson); Philip Stone (Professor John Lancaster); Gabriella Licudi (Julie Davidson); Patrick Newell (Major Clarke); Jean Marsh (Miss Ballard); Warren Mitchell (Professor Geoffrey Munro)

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A series of scientists working on a new techology to facilitate man's conquest of space are killed in mysterious circumstances. Suspicion falls on the wife of another scientist on the project, who may not be what she seems.

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Unearthly Stranger might commence with John Neville running through a deserted Westminster to record his final warning of "The horror that is to come!", but its melodramatic opening reel belies the low-key, poignant drama that follows. John Krish's background in wartime documentaries is reflected in the deliberately flat lighting and the authentic locations. Krish would later work with the film's producer Albert Fennell on The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69), and as with Steed and Mrs Peel's best adventures, Unearthly Stranger's narrative unfolds against an seemingly mundane, instantly recognisable background. The Davidsons' home apparently hails from a contemporary glossy magazine, but the film's pivotal moment, when Julie removes the casserole dish from the oven sans gloves - a truly early 1960s detail - is played absolutely straight. Thankfully the narrative contains little in the way of special effects costing 2/6d and prefers to concentrate on the Davidsons' relationship.

In this respect, the film is as close to the German bride scenario of Frieda (d. Basil Dearden, 1947) as to 1960s science fiction, for much of the sub-text deals with the problems of integration. Gabrielle Licudi was all too often used as 'continental set decoration', but in Unearthly Stranger her relationship with Neville's Mark carries a genuine charge. The fact that Julie's cover is her Swiss-Italian nationality allows the narrative to explore the difficulties of any outsider attempting to penetrate middle-class English society; even were she not from another world, her beauty, intelligence and, especially, her accent would all serve to isolate her.

Julie's attempts to integrate with Earth - as represented by Home Counties England - grow increasingly desperate, with Reg Wyer's cinematography at its finest in the scene in which a whole primary school recoils from her. The alien army lead by Jean Marsh's Miss Ballard may be sinister, but so are the forces of the British establishment represented by Phillip Stone's Professor Lancaster and Patrick Newell's gleefully snide, reptilian security officer, Major Clarke. In that respect, Neville's warning of "the horror that is to come" is ironic; the monsters might just as easily be found within English society. It was a recurring theme in 1960s British SF - see Invasion (d. Alan Bridges, 1966) or Quatermass and the Pit (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1967) - but Unearthly Stranger explores it with distinctive simplicity in terms of a marriage in which one partner is caught between conflicting loyalties.

Andrew Roberts

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Video Clips
1. A talent in the kitchen (2:38)
2. Keep away from children (2:28)
3. A bureaucratic mind (1:26)
4. Revealing the truth (3:23)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Invasion (1966)
Village of the Damned (1960)
A For Andromeda (1961)
Avengers, The (1961-69)
Krish, John (1923- )
Marsh, Jean (1934-)
Mitchell, Warren (1926-)
Priestley, Tom (1932-)
B Pictures
Science Fiction