#146) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

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#146) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

OR “What If Pod Was One of Us”

Directed by Don Siegel

Written by Daniel Mainwaring. Based on the serial novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney.

Class of 1994

The Plot: Small-town doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns from his vacation to find many of the townspeople acting strangely. Some claim their loved ones are imposters, only to dismiss their own accusations the next day. While attempting a night out with his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter), Miles is called over to the house of his friends Jack & Teddy (King Donovan & Carolyn Jones) to discover a body that looks exactly like Jack. They soon discover that the entire town is being replaced by replicates that emerge from large pods. The mass hysteria that follows can only be the science fiction of Eisenhower’s America!

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “influential and chilling” and praises the direction, writing, and cinematography. There’s also an essay by late film critic Robert Sklar.

But Does It Really?: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is an iconic piece of ‘50s science fiction for sure, but I found it…just okay. There are some exciting scenes and good work being done throughout, but it just never fired on all cylinders for me. A lot of this is because of watered down tampering by Allied Artists Picture (and where are they now?). In addition, the subtext is so subtle and vague even the people who made the film aren’t sure what it is. Perhaps if Don Siegel and company were allowed to make the film they wanted to make I could get behind all of this, but as is, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is an okay film with just enough influence to warrant preservation.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the people involved, including the two leads. Kevin McCarthy was already an Oscar nominee for playing Biff in the film version of “Death of a Salesman”, and Dana Wynter had been in America for less than two years before being cast in this film (and winning the Golden Globe for Most Promising Female Newcomer).

Wow, That’s Dated: Lots of Atomic Age paranoia in this one. Plus the ‘50s were that time when live bands at restaurants were being replaced by jukeboxes.

Seriously, Oscars?: Like many B-pictures of the time, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” got no Oscar love. This adds to my conspiracy theory that at one point in the ‘50s, pod people replaced the Motion Picture Academy. I’m working on a “Room 237”-esque documentary about it. Someone please help me, I am very ill.

Other notes

  • Gotta love the countless widescreen formats that were created in the early ‘50s. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is presented in Superscope!
  • I know the framing device was tacked on by the studio and everyone hated it, but we do get one of my favorite tropes because of it: A flashback dissolve!
  • Surprise appearance by Dr. Mel Cooley (Now that’s a spinoff we should have gotten).
  • The movie was originally scheduled to film in Mill Valley, the Northern California town the original story is set in. Budget cuts prohibited this, but I gotta say that the real Mill Valley isn’t too different from the fictional Santa Mira.
  • Becky enters the scene with her own theme music!
  • Fun Fact: Dana Wynter was born in Germany to a Hungarian mother and a British father. And now you understand why her accent is all over the place in this movie.
  • That’s future film director Sam Peckinpah as the meter reader at the beginning. He got his start as an assistant director and dialect coach for many of Don Siegel’s films.
  • Kevin McCarthy has one hell of a part in his hair. I’m surprised I can’t see his skull.
  • I confess to not recognizing Carolyn Jones without her “Morticia Addams” wig. Who knew she was a blonde?
  • This movie wins no points for backstory/exposition. Everyone refers to each other by their occupation and past experiences.
  • The story goes that this 80-minute film was much longer, but the studio insisted that humor did not belong in a horror film, so the funnier and more humane parts were cut. I would love to have seen the extended cut of this film.
  • Jack kinda looks like young Mr. Roper.
  • I went into this film assuming it was a commentary on Red Scare paranoia. Watching the actual film makes a pretty vague case for that interpretation. Turns out that while director Don Siegel did notice some parallels, none were intentionally inserted into the film.
  • Ladies and gentlemen: The Hot Dog Show!
  • This movie has its flaws, but the ending is not one of them. Some serious chills were happening, I’ll tell you what.

Legacy

  • Several remakes over the years. Many will argue the 1978 version starring Donald Sutherland is superior, while not many will even validate the existence of the 1993 or 2007 versions.
  • Thanks to this movie, the term “pod people” has become synonymous with conformity.
  • Many parodies over the years, including a particularly strange one from Bugs Bunny.

Bonus Clip: Kevin McCarthy’s brief but pivotal cameo in the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

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