“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.”
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, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Carolyn Jones Films
- Don Siegel Films
- Kevin McCarthy Films
- Living Nightmare
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Science Fiction
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
- Siegel’s taut, exciting direction
- Ellsworth Fredericks’ noir-ish cinematography
- Excellent use of on-location shooting in Southern California
- Many truly creepy scenes
Yes, as a genuine sci-fi classic. Discussed at length in Peary’s first Cult Movies book.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)