Friday, August 13, 2010

The Invaders: "The Ivy Curtain"

The first season of The Invaders ranked with the best sci fi on television in the 1960s. The premise was a canny mixture of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fugitive (only in reverse).

Roy Thinnes stars as architect David Vincent, who accidentally spies an alien spaceship landing on Earth when he pulls off the road late one night to get a cup of coffee at Bud’s Diner (which, from the looks of it, has been long out of business). Vincent quickly discovers that the human-looking aliens aren’t friendly—their mission is to make Earth their home. When his incredible story meets with the expected skepticism, Vincent sets off in pursuit of the Invaders, determined to collect evidence and thwart them whenever possible. Whereas Richard Kimble was the hunted in The Fugitive, David Vincent becomes the hunter in The Invaders. It’s no coincidence that executive producer Quinn Martin and producer Alan Armer were driving forces behind both shows.

One of the finest episodes during Season 1 is “The Ivy Curtain.” It opens with an airplane malfunctioning in-flight during a thunderstorm. During the subsequent emergency landing, a large piece of cargo falls on top of one of the executives on board. The pilot rushes to help his passenger—but despite a huge gash in the executive’s arm, there’s no blood…no wound…no pain. The passengers surround the pilot like a pack of wolves ready to pounce on their prey. The title credits roll.

The focus then shifts to Vincent, who has arrived in a small New Mexico town on the heels of William Burns. The narrator (a Quinn Martin staple) informs viewers that Burns is an educator and business administrator—who has been on “planet Earth for less than a year.” Vincent trails Burns to Midland Academy, where the architect is captured by the aliens.

Vincent quickly escapes and learns that Midland Academy is one of several training camps for new alien visitors to Earth. They take college-like classes where they are taught the “language of emotion" (they even practice simulating fear). In one classroom, alien students are hooked to a computer that downloads Earth’s historical data into their brains (wish I’d had one of those machines in college!). The most intriguing “course” has young aliens learning how to blend in at a simulated (but still groovy) 1960s dance joint. In between doing The Twist, the teen Invaders huddle around tables and spout hip dialogue designed to inspire human anarchy.

The rest of the plot takes a more conventional approach in examining the failing marriage between a pilot (Jack Warner) and his restless wife (Susan Oliver). Yet, even this subplot is well-played by the guest stars, especially Oliver who convincingly portrays a woman who loves her husband, but needs more excitement than he can provide.

The best Invaders episodes, though, spotlight the menacing aliens. They are typically suave, intellectual villains who have ingrained themselves into the fabric of humankind. They are executives, doctors, educators, scientists, and politicians. It’s hard to tell them apart from the good guys—even their henchmen seems to dress like CIA agents in black business suits, sunglasses, and shoulder holsters.

Roy Thinnes anchors the show with an appealing presence and the requisite passion to stop the alien invasion. Still, he lacks the depth of character that David Janssen brought to The Fugitive (e.g., no one gained more mileage from a crack of a smile).

Apparently, though, the producers of The Invaders worried that Vincent’s one-man mission would prove wearisome as the series progressed. In Season 2, Vincent found and joined a group of fellow alien hunters called The Believers. It was an interesting concept that failed to live up to its potential except for a handful of episodes. Or, perhaps, The Invaders was just running out of fresh ideas as do all TV series. Still, at its best—as in episodes like “The Ivy Curtain”—The Invaders was a fascinating, sometimes thought-provoking TV series that lived up to its intriguing premise.


  1. Very interesting review, Rick. I remember catching a few episodes of The Invaders, but there must have been something else on that I watched because I didn't see many. The story lines are intriguing and I'd like to be able to see the series again. Why don't sci-fi channel or TVland or channels like that re-run these kind of series? I'd love to see them. Surely they would have more appeal than Green Acres, or even (dare I say it) Andy Griffith or Lucy (much as I love those 2) interminably running. And sci-fi channel shows some of the most awful old series, day-long marathons of forgettable stuff!

  2. Great write-up of THE INVADERS, Rick. Also, an enjoyable focus on a standout episode. I've seen a few episodes of this series, some of them on SyFy (née Sci-Fi), but that was quite a number of years ago, and, as Becky said, the network no longer broadcasts series like THE INVADERS. Forgive me if I'm wrong about this, but I believe that when an alien was killed, the body would glow a bright fluorescent light and then disappear. Quite a memorable way to go! And I think it's interesting that the show was created by the versatile and always intriguing Larry Cohen. Rick, a very fun review, and feel free to open discussions on further episodes!

  3. Thank for the comments on an underrated sci fi series, Sark and Becky. Yes, the aliens glowed orange and disappeared after they event that was exploited wonderfully in some of the best episodes. In one, an elderly alien couple was going to be forced to testify at a trial so they went to an empty hallway, swallowed cyanide pills, and--poof--no alien witnesses anymore!

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  6. I really enjoyed your profile of "The Invaders" and especially your analogy with "The Fugitive." Excellent review, Rick. It is interesting because in the earlier episodes you learn that some aliens can be identified because of an inability to bend either their fourth or fifth fingers. That seems to be less often observed as the series progresses. One thing is for certain. They are not our friends and they want to make the Earth "their world."