Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

“There’s something missing. Always when he talked to me there was a certain look in his eyes. Now it’s gone. There’s no emotion. The words are the same, but there’s no feeling.”

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Synopsis:
As patients complain that their loved ones are “lookalike imposters”, a doctor (Kevin McCarthy) in a California town tries to protect himself, his new girlfriend (Dana Wynter), and his married friends (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones) from mysterious pods with human-like figures in them.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this extra-terrestrial invasion flick as “one of the all-time great science-fiction films, one of the few that make the fantastic seem perfectly credible”. He argues that director Don “Siegel’s film outshines Phil Kaufman’s 1978 remake… in pacing”, given that “the excitement just keeps building”, with “several tricks” used “to establish tension: having characters leave their motors running when they get out of their cars; having much activity take place in basements and other dark, shadowy settings; and, most effective of all, establishing that aliens have replaced [McCarthy’s] friends so we’re paranoid about everything ordinary and familiar”. Peary adds that Siegel “used staples of the action film he knew so well: diverse camera angles, penetrating close-ups of characters mixed with mysterious longshots…, and sharp editing”.

I think Peary misses the boat in his comparison of the two films, given that both are creepily effective in their own ways. However, there’s no denying that this earlier version is a true classic of the genre and era. While Peary writes that it’s “controversial because it can be seen as either anti-communist or anti-McCarthy polemic”, at this point in history that doesn’t really matter: the idea of witnessing “your loved ones becoming your enemy”, and “fighting to retain your ability to love” is terrifying no matter what your political leaning. Siegel’s smart direction and Ellsworth Fredericks’ noir-ish cinematography combine to make the visuals consistently impressive, and McCarthy gives an excellent leading performance: he is fully invested in his role as a man determined to resist the lure of sleep and conformity at any cost.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles Bennell
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  • Siegel’s taut, exciting direction
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  • Ellsworth Fredericks’ noir-ish cinematography
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  • Excellent use of on-location shooting in Southern California
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  • Many truly creepy scenes
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Must See?
Yes, as a genuine sci-fi classic. Discussed at length in Peary’s first Cult Movies book.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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2 Responses to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)”

  1. A no-brainer must. To me, it remains one of the most terrifying films ever made. It’s one thing to be killed…it’s quite another to have your body and mind completely absorbed by an alien force.

    I just re-read my thoughts on the 1978 remake. When I wrote those down, I hadn’t read the book. A year and a half ago, I finally did read the book. My feelings about both film versions are now set against a reading of it:

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/127515.Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers

    One of the (many) strengths of Siegel’s version is that it does a great job of helping us suspend our considerable disbelief. When McCarthy, early on, is discussing the immediately-introduced epidemic with psychiatrist Larry Gates, the explanation is too patently absurd to let slide:

    Gates (as Dr. Kauffman): “[It’s] a strange neurosis…an epidemic of mass hysteria…[caused by] worry about what’s going on in the world, probably.”

    Huh?!!

    Gates’ character is cunning personified. He later lays it on thick to McCarthy about how to explain weird incidents: “I know, Miles – this is all hard to believe, but these things happen.” Gates is here talking about possible tricks that our minds can play on us. Yes, that can happen. Thus…disbelief successfully suspended.

    Until McCarthy brings the audience the theme of both the film and novel: “In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away.”

    The novel and both film versions remain contemporary. How can we not see the loss of humanity in 2016 in our daily lives?

    I have a copy of the blu-ray of this film. It’s a terrific upgrade. With blu-ray, some black and white films look better than others. This one is a standout.

    Siegel’s direction could not be better – neither could the cast. McCarthy is a great leading ‘everyman’ here – and Wynter is perfect opposite him. (I think she went on to do lots of television work. I don’t recall her ever being quite as effective in film as she is here.) Donovan and Jones are an intriguing couple – I keep wanting to hang out with the two of them…when they’re not freaking out. (They don’t get nearly enough screen time as ‘real people’.)

    Of particular note as well is the score by Carmen Dragon (who did few films of actual note).

    ‘Invasion…’ is a mere 80 minutes. But a LOT is jam-packed into the short time-frame…and the tension (mild though it is at first) begins in scene one. This movie wastes no time in grabbing you by the throat…and basically every other part of your body. That is…if you have your humanity intact.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A classic; nothing more to say really. Both the 1978 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and 1993 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Body Snatchers) remakes are also well worth seeing.

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