Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Released February 5, 1956. Directed by Don Siegel, based on the story Sleep No More by Jack Finney.

With every visit Kevin McCarthy (as Dr. Miles J. Bennell) makes to his office, the edgy weirdness of director Don Siegel's adaption of the Jack Finney story grows. Bennell's patients are inadvertently giving him reports on some unnameable malady effecting the town of Mira Vista, California*: a little kid claims his mother is not his mother, dogs don't recognize masters, and soon many other people are making the same complaint about family and friends. It looks like a rash of paranoid delusion has hit his town, and the Doctor is getting worried about the phenomenon.

Soon, the Doctor has the answer to what's really happening: people are bing swapped with look alike imitations that are the vanguard of an alien race that is unceremoniously replicating humanity in order to replace it, with the originals discarded and destroyed. Actual identity doesn't go along with the transfer, only the human shell, and this is done simply by just putting a "pod" nearby the sleeping human, and like WiFi, the duplication occurs.

The only thing that holds the involuntary transformations at bay is by staying awake, and soon Dr. Bennell (McCarthy) is gulping pep pills in a losing effort to keep his humanity (and that of co-star Dana Wynter as divorceé Becky Driscoll) alive by not sleeping.

On the run from the town of alien imposters, the two stars become increasingly fatigued, and the more drastic the situation gets the more desperately they must try to stay awake. The alien invaders are not unlike the satanists from Val Lewton's Seventh Victim: instead of killing you outright, which would offend their placid pacifism and vacant unemotional way of accomplishing goals, they let the natural order of events and the pressure to give in to finally bring about the desired result.

Remade too many times, Siegel's 1953 Invasion of the Body Snatchers still has the same primitive power to it that the original Dracula and Frankenstein films from Universal have. Whether it is because there is something special in the original telling of the basic idea (invading aliens use look-alike pods to systematically replace human beings) or because of some other aspect of production, stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter are effective as the holdouts trying to survive a small town that's been "replaced" in a first step toward replacing the entire world.

The movie can be explained as a metaphor about conformity peer-pressure, or is it just director Siegel making a jab against the soullessness of Stalinist communism, the usual interpretation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers from film books? (When asked about the communism angle, director Siegel later stated that he was simply trying to make a good "thriller." Well, he certainly accomplished that.)

The movie is packed with claustrophobic moments and a dread feeling about survival against long odds. Director Siegel moves much of the tale forward with an abundance of shadowy scenes added to the banality of small town architecture and interior rooms, and soon very little is left that is "safe" in Mira Vista.

When the escaped McCarthy tells his tale to the police outside of his home town (they look upon him to be obviously insane), there comes a denouement not unlike the end of that other 1950's paean to paranoia, Suddenly, Last Summer, in which medical authority is confronted by a truth that supersedes the ability of rational science to dismiss it with a satisfying and simple explanation.

*Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed in locations around Los Angeles, primarily Glendale and Sierra Madre.

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Original Page December 2012 | Updated May 2016

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