Cast & Crew
John Le Mesurier
At a military hospital near Dover in 1942, two convalescing officers, Maj. Freddie Oppenheimer, who lost a leg in combat, and Maj. Pierre Debrie, who lost a hand, judge themselves fit for active duty and devise a plan for demolishing a German gun which has been shelling the coast. Accompanied by the reluctant Lieutenant Pringle, an explosives expert with no tolerance for noise, and a veteran colonel, they leave the hospital and make their way across the English Channel in a stolen boat. Once in France, the four narrowly escape detection by German patrols and disguise themselves in stolen German uniforms. After dismantling some of the offending gun's mechanism, the invaders enlist the aid of the Germans to divert a trainload of ammunition to the gun site. Their target demolished, they make a slow escape on bicycles, but Pringle becomes separated from his comrades. As the others near the coast, members of the French underground mistake them for Germans and take them prisoner. However, with the reappearance of Pringle, whose atrocious French accent convinces the Maquis that he could only be English, the four men are permitted to return to Dover. Now hailed as heroes, they are informed by British Intelligence that another German big gun requires their immediate attention.
John Le Mesurier
Herbert R. Smith
J. B. Smith
Jack Trevor Story
A. W. Watkins
Invasion Quartet was directed by Jay Lewis (Sydney Box's partner in the London-based Verity Films, which made documentaries, propaganda and training films for England during World War II), who subspecialized in military dramas and comedies. Produced by Ronald Kinnoch, fresh from the success of Village of the Damned (1960), the film is unsubtle slapstick played with a winning measure of shamelessness and reserve, poking fun as it does at British stoicism and noblesse oblige. (When the quartet must forge credibility, they credit their actions to the shadowy Special Operations Division... or SOD.) Like Bill Travers, second-billed Spike Milligan was also a veteran of WWII. Wounded in the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, Milligan was hospitalized for shell shock and later suffered bouts of manic-depression, making his characterization of the high-strung Godfrey Pringle hit uncomfortably close to the bone. When he shot Invasion Quartet at MGM-British Studios in Elstree, Milligan had just ended his radio tenure with The Goon Show and spends much of the film changing from one outrageous costume to another, a tack that would become the trademark of his fellow Goon Peter Sellers.
Norman Collins' source novel was serialized in the spring of 1943 in the Canadian news magazine Maclean's, which published a bantam edition for Canadian soldiers overseas, and adapted for the screen by John Briley and Jack Trevor Story. A Yank, Briley had served in the United States Air Force during World War II and began writing creatively while stationed in the United Kingdom at Northolt Royal Air Force Base. He later became a staff writer for MGM at Elstree, penned the telekinetic fright films Children of the Damned (1964) and The Medusa Touch (1978), and won an Academy Award for writing Gandhi (1982). Jack Trevor Story began writing pulp fiction while editing the in-house journal for Marconi Instruments. A perpetually insolvent but prolific mystery, science fiction and western novelist, newspaper columnist and radio and screenwriter, Story is best remembered for selling the rights to his 1949 novel The Trouble with Harry to Alfred Hitchcock for £150; Hitch sold the property to Paramount for $20,000 and pocketed the difference, none of which made it back to the original author. Story died at his typewriter, bankrupt at 74, on December 7, 1991.
Invasion Quartet received limited play in the United States, opening at the Westwood Crest in Los Angeles and at the Carnegie Hall Cinema in New York in December 1961. Although the Herald-Tribune stamped it as "less than mediocre," other critics were more forgiving. "It's one howl on top of another," maintained The Hollywood Citizen News while the Los Angeles Times proclaimed the film "a first-rate English tickler" and Show Business Illustrated praised "an artful slice of whimsy, both improbable and inspired."
Many of the film's principal players enjoyed long and diverse careers. Bill Travers scored an international hit with Born Free (1966) while John Le Mesurier continued to ply his stock-in-trade of doctors, judges and vicars until his death in 1982 . Renaissance man Spike Milligan published a number of memoirs about his wartime experiences, branched off to secondary careers as a poet, playwright and cartoonist, and recurred as a reliably mirthful presence in such films as The Bed Sitting Room (1969), The Three Musketeers (1973), Life of Brian (1979) and History of the World: Part 1 (1981). Look for John Wood as a reedy War Office subaltern; the Derbyshire-born actor later turned up as the reclusive genius John Falken in John Badham's WarGames (1983).
Producer: Ronald Kinnoch
Director: Jay Lewis
Screenplay: Jack Trevor Story, John Briley (writers); Norman Collins (story)
Cinematography: Geoffrey Faithfull, Gerald Moss
Art Direction: Elliot Scott
Music: Ron Goodwin
Film Editing: Ernest Walter
Cast: Bill Travers (Freddie Oppenheimer), Spike Milligan (Godfrey Pringle), Grégoire Aslan (Debrie), John Le Mesurier (Colonel), Thorley Walters (Cummings), Maurice Denham (Dr. Barker), Thelma Ruby (Matron), Millicent Martin (Kay), Cyril Luckham (Col. Harbottle), Bill Mervyn (Naval Officer)
by Richard Harland Smith
Jack Trevor Story obituary, The Independent, December 1991
Jack Trevor Story obituary by Michael McNay, The Guardian, December 9, 1991
"Life on the Installment Plan," an appreciation of Jack Trevor Story by Brian Darwent, The Guardian, December 1991
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan (Regan Books, 2003) "The man who stood up to Orwell: Norman Collins and the middlebrow panorama of capital life" by DJ Taylor, The Sunday Times, April 15, 2009
Opened in London in October 1961.