“Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”

An Olive Signature Film

Amos Lassen

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is sci-fi classic that uses the dangers over an alien invasion by pod-like creatures to steal earthlings’ souls as a parody about the McCarthy craziness that swept America in the 1950s and at the same times take a vigorous anti-Communist stand and make some statements decrying conformity. Don Siegel directed Daniel Mainwaring’s script that was based upon a three-part serial story written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine in 1954, and in 1955 was made into a full-length novel, The Body Snatchers. This B-picture was shot in 19 days for the low budget of about $420,000 and was filmed in glorious black and white. There is minimal use of special effects, and no blood or murders.

General practitioner Dr. Miles Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) is returning to his small hometown of Santa Mira from a medical convention in nearby San Francisco and notices a lot of strange things going on in town. Children do not recognize their parents, and husbands do not know their wives. His nurse, Sally (Jean Willes), complains patients have made appointments yet never appeared. Ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) believes that the man claiming to be her uncle is an impostor. Miles is very concerned by these bizarre occurrences, but temporarily satisfied by reassuring rationalizations from the town psychiatrist (Larry Gates).

But when Miles gets a phone call from friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) to come over and take a look at a strange mannequin-like figure without a humanoid face or fingerprints that suddenly appears on his pool table, he again becomes alarmed. He eventually reasons that this must be an invasion from outer space. He discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space that are colonizing the earth and taking on human forms but without a soul or emotions. Their propagate t to take over the world. The problem is that one can’t tell who’s a person and who’s a pod. At a loss for what to do, paranoia and tension builds, as the enemy is viewed as all of us.

Bennell, at first, thinks his patients are suffering from paranoid delusions that their friends and relatives are impostors. The doppelgängers are entirely credible because they can answer detailed questions about their victim’s lives. But eventually he finds his friends and patients are in fact strangely altered and emotionless. He decides to investigate, but soon he and his girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) are the only humans left in their once idyllic town. Director Siegel keeps the movie taut and dynamic and creates one of the screen’s creepiest, thought-provoking fantasies.

Daniel Mainwaring’s screenplay mixes suspense and scares with a metaphor about the insidious danger within the Hollywood anti-communist witch-hunt of the shameful McCarthy era in America, which landed many liberals and left-wingers in peril, and some in jail, in the last 40s and early 50s.

The film has been remade three times, each time to less than stellar results. This is a sparse film that doesn’t feature a single second of dynamic camera work, cinematography or slyness in the script. It became a classic because of fear. Most people won’t be scared today while watching it and it is not presented as a horror film. There is fear in the allegorical leanings of the story as it relates to the Communist red scare of the 1950’s. But, more than that there is the constant sense of paranoia and the fear of being replaced or losing control of your own body.

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