Skip navigation

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956.From the DVD case: Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless impostors; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to convince them they’re wrong, but they’re not.Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep. Soon the entire town is overwhelmed by the inhuman horror, but it won’t stop there. In a terrifying race for his life, Dr. Bennell escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people! Remade in both 1978 and 1997, this chilling combination of extraterrestrial terror and anti-conformity paranoia is considered one of the great cult classics of the genre. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: I’d never commit myself to this, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be my all-time favorite sci-fi/horror film of the 1950s. I love the idea of society slowly being invaded by unfeeling creatures that look just like you and me. The story is based on a Collier’s Magazine serial by Jack Finney.

A lot has been said about the cold war symbolism in this movie, with the “pod people” representing either communists or McCarthyists. Because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this aspect, let me quote Director Don Siegel’s take on this interpretation:

I think that the world is populated by pods and I wanted to show them. I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow. I wanted to get it over and I didn’t know of a better way to get it over than in this particular film. I thought I shot it very imaginatively. And I was encouraged all the time by [producer] Wanger. The film was nearly ruined by those in charge at Allied Artists who added a preface and ending that I don’t like.

The political reference to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism was inescapable but I tried not to emphasize it because I feel that motion pictures are primarily to entertain and I did not want to preach.

Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema. London 1975, S. 54

So there you go.

The preface and ending that Siegel mentions are the opening scene where Dr. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is being held as a mental patient, and the final scene where Bennell’s story is corroborated. Allied Artists did not want a negative ending and so the preface and conclusion were tacked on later. Bennell’s narration of the story was also added to help the viewer follow the plot (we are such idiots). Though I am accustomed to the Allied Artists version of the film, I certainly would be interested in a DVD that presents both renditions of this movie.

I’m not going to retell the story, as most of you have seen some version of this film already (if not the original, the 1978 or 1997 remakes). If you haven’t seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers in any of its incarnations, use the DVD description above as a synopsis.

However, I will discuss the talented actors that bring this story to life. Kevin McCarthy (The Howling) is perfect in the role of Dr. Miles Bennell. When playing the part of a human surrounded by pod impostors, it’s important that the human comes off as feeling and vulnerable. Dr. Bennell, as evident in his choice of profession, is a person who genuinely cares for other people. I love how he interacts with his nurse Sally, played by Jean Willes (Abbott and Costello Go to Mars). Their conversation is playful, almost flirty, and they obviously feel a great respect for one another. Dr. Bennell isn’t perfect, though. We learn that he is recently divorced, and perhaps devoted too much time to his work and not enough time at home.

Dr. Bennell’s love interest, Becky Driscoll, is played superbly by the ravishing Dana Wynter. Becky is also recently divorced, and finds herself in a rekindled romance with her high school sweetheart, Miles Bennell. The two actors work wonderfully together, and their fondness for one another is completely convincing. I always chuckle at this line Dr. Bennell uses on Becky as he opens a door for her:

Becky: Is this an example of your bedside manner, doctor?
Dr. Bennell: No, ma’am. That comes later.

The supporting cast is also impressive. King Donovan (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Magnetic Monster) plays writer Jack Belicec, a man who finds himself duplicated on his own pool table. Carolyn Jones (1953’s House of Wax) is Jack’s wife, Theodora, who first notices the similarity between Jack and the body developing in their home. Also, featured in the preface and conclusion of the film, Whit Bissell (Monster on the Campus, I Was a Teenage Werewolf) plays Dr. Hill, a man reluctant to believe the ravings of an obviously disturbed Dr. Bennell.

Of course, Siegel’s direction is what gives Invasion of the Body Snatchers its classy feel. This could have been another 1950’s sci-fi/horror camp schlockfest, but Siegel was wise enough to concentrate on the story and acting rather than throwing money away on special effects. The money that was used for special effects (less than $15,000) was put to good use by production designer, Ted Haworth. Haworth produced some amazing work for such a small budget. The greenhouse scene impresses me to this day.

I would be remiss not to mention how much the music of Carmen Dragon adds to the movie. Right from the outset we are steeped in a sense of foreboding. As seemingly innocent clouds roll by, Dragon’s startling theme alerts us to something sinister afoot. Before the action even begins, the suspenseful tone is set.

The scene everyone remembers is the final sequence (well, it should have been the final sequence) where Dr. Bennell runs out into traffic shouting insanely, “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next! You’re next!” This would have been a fitting ending, and a warning to all of us to beware of becoming “pod people.” After all, there is a certain temptation to submit to the pod way of life. As one of the duplicates explains: “Love, desire, ambition, faith – without them life is so much simpler.”

But don’t be swayed, friends. Those pod folks are dull.

Scene to watch for: Dr. Bennell takes a pitchfork to the body replicas developing in the greenhouse.

Line to listen for: “I never knew fear until I kissed Becky.”

Trivia: Sam Peckinpah (who would later go on to direct the violent classic, The Wild Bunch) has a bit part as a meter reader in this film. He often claimed he was responsible for major script revisions, but when the screenwriter, Daniel Mainwaring, threatened to file an official complaint with the WGA, Peckinpah ceased his claims.

Some personal history: Shortly after high school I was the lead singer for a band called Becky Driscoll and the Pod People. However, audiences were confused because we didn’t have a female in our line up. After shows, especially out of town gigs, people would approach me and ask if I was Becky Driscoll. Depending on my mood, I would either answer in the affirmative, or glumly reply, “No, I’m a Pod Person.” Our signature song was, Uncle Ira Isn’t Uncle Ira, written by me and our lead guitarist, Bryan.

A reference: ChiaroScuro filmGremium presents.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

About these ads

5 Comments

  1. This was one sci-fi film that surprised the daylights out of me. I was in my mid-twenties when I watched this on a late night movie program. I remember hearing the announcer say something like, “Stay tuned for tonight’s sci-fi thriller The Invasion of the Body Snatchers!” For me, up to that time, any sci-fi movie having a title that started out with “The Invasion of…” usually meant a cheap, funny piece of schlock, like “The Invasion of the Sauser Men.” And with the words “Body Snatchers” in it, my thoughts leaned towards a film like “Mars Needs Women.” Boy was I wrong! This was one fantastic “on the edge of your seat” thriller that played in my head days after watching it.

    The most frighting thing about this film, wasn’t the gooey transformation scenes, but rather the idea that your best friends might not be who you think they are. When I was about 6 or 7, I still remember once thinking that maybe my mother was really the big bad wolf in disguise, ready to eat me when I least expected. It sounds silly now, but at the time it was a disturbing thought. This movie brings that idea out, only instead of the big bad wolf, your mother or any of your close friends are actually aliens from outer space, ready to gobble up your identity with the use of some mysterious pods.

    I saw the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland a long time ago and, while it had better special FX and some extremely frightening scenes, I still find the original to be the best. BTW, I have not seen the last two remakes.

  2. I had the same experience, Paul. The title of the film makes it sound campy, but the film itself is really a work of art.

    I like the 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland, too, but it just doesn’t match up to the original for me. Strangely, there has been another version of this movie released (2007) since I wrote this review. It’s simply called The Invasion and stars Nicole Kidman as Dr. Bennell (she’s a psychiatrist).

    What’s funny about it is that I was bored one weekend and went to the theater to watch The Invasion without any idea that it was a remake of one of my all-time favorite films. I chose to watch it primarily because it looked to be science fiction and because I think Nicole Kidman is a breathtaking beauty.

    Anyway, it didn’t take me too long to figure out what was going on and I actually enjoyed the picture on certain levels. The ending was even a little thought-provoking, focusing on how humans are capable of terrorism, wars, etc. while “pod people” would be an answer to those types of problems. Overall, though, it doesn’t compare to the original at all (though I will say Nicole Kidman never looked better!)

    Always good to get your input and stories, Paul. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Jean Willes is a direct descendant of the Mayflower and the Mormon pioneers!

  4. Jean Willes once played with Kenneth MacDonald.

    Both Willes and MacDonald are eligible for the Daughters of the American Colonists and Sons of the American Colonists, respectively.

  5. Jean Willes is the direct descendant of the American Revolution! Her descendant fought for the freedom and won the independence from England!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: