Dr Mark Davidson (John Neville) runs through the streets of London at night in a panic, perspiring profusely, until he reaches the building where his laboratory and office resides. He rushes up the spiral staircase and into the office where he grabs a tape recorder and begins to relate an account of his recent experiences so they can be listened to by others after he has died. That’s the thing: he believes his life is in danger and as his story begins, he describes how a colleague (Warren Mitchell) had discovered a crucial formula in the field of space travel that could have been a breakthrough. However, just as he was happy to announce this, he suddenly collapsed and died at his desk for no apparent reason...
How do you make a science fiction film without any special effects? That appeared to be the problem facing director John Krish in this low budget effort from some of the team who were having such success on television with eccentric spy series The Avengers, and the way he got around this was rather clever. Though there were not any of those effects in, er, effect, he used a selection of off-kilter camera angles and atmospheric lighting to suggest an air of the uncanny, and while that would have trouble passing muster in a science fiction movie these days, for 1963 it wasn't half bad and at least lent proceedings a distinctive sheen of unease that was brought deeper by the acting of the cast.
Some find the style of those British thespians pre-about 1970 rather difficult to get on with, but in this case the proper delivery and rather staid approach was surprisingly accomplished when the whole mood of the piece, as with many horrors and sci-fi from this country, depended on the cracking of the polite, buttoned down façade from outside forces. You either appreciated that or you didn't, and there was a lot of it about in genre works, including thrillers, for decades, but Unearthly Stranger proved to be one of the better examples even if finally it was pretty daft in its defiantly male perspective, a variation on I Married a Monster from Outer Space only with the man doing the marrying.
It is Davidson who is married to the space alien, and he takes the whole movie to wake up to the fact in spite of us twigging early on that something is not quite right about his missus Julie (Gabriella Licudi). You don't need to see her taking a red hot casserole out of the oven without gloves to know she's strange, though she does that too, although the gimmick that she isn't supposed to be seen blinking is a little sabotaged by the actress's failure to actually stop blinking (and when someone points it out as a character quirk, it's difficult not to notice that she really was doing it). But it was a nice, slightly unbalanced delivery of a too good to be true partner for the stuffy scientist whose research has brought him closer to space travel using the mind than he ever expected since someone - something - has beaten him to it.
Even the manner in which Julie is recalled to enter his life is weird, as it anticipated the alien abduction narrative that would become more prevalent in UFO stories as the years went on: driving alone in the countryside when the car slows, the engine dies, and something inexplicable happens, in this case Julie opening the passenger door and sitting down next to Davidson, whereupon he drives off with her as if this is the most normal thing in the world. There was even a note of sly humour to add texture, with Patrick Newell as the Major stealing scenes by making us wonder if he is part of the problem or the solution as he ingratiates his way into the other officials' jobs, or the occasional item of the bizarre, as when Julie stops in the street to coo at a baby in a pram only for it to start bawling, and shortly after as she looks on benevolently at a playground full of schoolchildren, they suddenly fall quiet and back away. Obviously Unearthly Stranger would have problems competing with the bigger productions, yet its modest charms have won over quite a few down the years. Music by Edward Williams.