Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

scifi-series09

Director: Don Siegel
Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan

Unless you live 107 light-years away on the planet Fattybollox you’ve probably at least heard of this ‘un but I’m guessing you’ve all seen it and there’s no need for me to tell you this movie is ace. May contain a surprise in the greenhouse, we’re not talking mutant hellebore either, and spoilers…

 

Invasion01

Frustrating. I’m adamant (not the bloke who sings Prince Charming) that at some point in the past I have seen Invasion Of The Body Snatchers without the pat on the head, ‘there, there, diddums, did Uncle Don scare woo, awww…’ – that is, the prologue and epilogue. Naturally, I was most displeased at receiving this version from Lovefilm, a disc which helpfully offers one the option of watching a ‘colourized’ print rather than the standard b/w. No, ta. Would it not have been more commonsensical to include the two different beginning/ ending versions instead? So incensed, I scrambled around the attic for half an hour searching for a Scotch tape I was sure contained Invasion taped many lunar perambulations ago off Alex Cox’s excellent Moviedrome series and, having found it, stoutly guarded by an incredulous looking spider (and I’m telling you, it’s almost impossible for a spider to look incredulous – that’s how incredulous it was), discovered that it was the same ‘diddums’ version of the flick. Alex, you’ve let me down, mate…

"Erm... this isn't how it looks..."

“Erm… this isn’t how it looks…”

Anyway, you know what I’m on about, a demented Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) in the hospital, getting a sit-down chat with a fellow physician (and a wibbly transition)… I understand it was shot some time after the movie wrapped, the studio insisting on a degree of hope for the audience (and thereby unconsciously, fittingly, becoming the pods depicted in Siegel’s film). You can nearly see their point though; Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a remorseless piece of work. The early scenes are deceptively nonchalant, flippant. Even when old flame Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) encourages Doc Bennell to go and see her cousin, Wilma (Virginia Christine), there’s no particular urgency or serious worry. Wilma is deadly insistent that Uncle Ira isn’t Uncle Ira anymore. He clearly is, in every way… except for one thing; “There’s something missing… there’s no emotion!” After telling her she isn’t going crazy, Bennell mentally orders the rubber wallpaper and packs her off to the resident shrink. And again, even he, Dr. Dan Kauffman (Larry Gates) waxes cheerfully offhand about the psychosis sweeping Santa Mira, affecting adults and children alike. Then again, maybe he’s already…

Miles lifts the lid - but Pandora's already out of the box...

Miles lifts the lid – but Pandora’s already out of the box…

The tone takes a turn for the uncanny at the Belicec residence, home of Jack and Teddy. Jack (King Donovan), all studious pipe and cardie, has interrupted Miles and Becky’s hot date for apparently no reason; nobody is sick or in need of medical attention. What’s Jack’s game, eh, doesn’t he realise Miles is itching to demonstrate his ‘bedside manner’ on Becky? But there is one thing… a body on the pool table (top Carmen Dragon music cue on reveal). It’s a curious kind of body, featureless, no fingerprints, blank… in many ways a genetic facsimile awaiting only a stamp of identity to be complete. Teddy (Carolyn Jones – Morticia!) remarks on the height/ weight of the body and how it pretty much matches her husband’s overall physique. Wow, where’s she off to on that train? Needless to say, Jack isn’t keen on the destination, particularly sans caboose. Here, the lack of urgency will probably have you screaming at the telly, as Bennell wonders idly if there’s a link between this and the ‘mass hysteria’ swallowing Santa Mira whole but hey, y’know, it can wait till morning. Back home in her hallway he tries to snog an understandably distracted Becky (who appears to be taking things more seriously than he) but what’s this… her father emerging from the cellar. What’s he doing down there at such a late hour, huh?

"I know it's called 'Miracle Grow'... but THAT'S ridiculous!"

“I know it’s called ‘Miracle Grow’… but THAT’S ridiculous!”

Part Sci-Fi, part chase movie, part film noir, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers effortlessly holds the viewer in a grip of pure paranoia. It’s a chilling thing to behold as all hope is blow torched away from the dwindling number of bona fide humans while the pod versions of their friends and neighbours set up shop in the civic square, intercepting out of town visitors off the bus and loading fresh pods into trucks for distribution around the locale, and from there… well, Momma d’int raise no fools in dis house, hoss. Lensman Ellsworth Fredericks turns up the tension, a pod-POV in the greenhouse, of the humans preparing for a barbecue (and how nasty is it when the pods start to bubble and burst – blech!), Miles and Becky cowering in the shallow pit of a mine shaft as the feet of a massed search party thunder on the loose planks just inches above their faces and best of all, cramped in the doc’s anteroom as the light spills through a small window and onto the frightened upturned faces of the hiding duo. And then there’s ‘the kiss’…

"Forgive us, Father, for we were just about to sin."

“Forgive us, Father, for we were just about to sin.”

‘The kiss’ has already been foreshadowed midway through outside the restaurant, “I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you…” I’ve seen it labelled clumsy elsewhere but I think it pitches well enough (we see a similar bit of presaging with the walk from Bennell’s office to the street near the start – carefree the first time, second time it’s life or pod). Now, I’ve had numerous tidal exchanges about ‘the kiss’, some drunkenly screwball, some monstrously heated but I’ve never been satisfied with the eventual judgment in either scenario. The genesis of a pod has been clearly defined to us, right, yet there in the mine – and in the unlikely event you haven’t seen the film STOP READING NOW – we watch in horror as lovely Becky turns into an alien before our very eyes. I mean, she’s definitely the Becky he left in the mine after he goes to scope out a pod-farm because when he returns she’s initially babbling about needing to sleep at which point he bundles her toward the exit. Is this a case of pod-humour, her/ its request to sleep? But what pod where? It’s scruffy, mucky, messed up, sweaty Becky! Is it me or we going in reverse here? Somewhere on that alien allotment a pod has sucked out Becky’s humanity and Wi-Fi’d the pod-ness in? Down there rests a pod now containing the real Becky? My head hurts… But I think that’s part of Invasion’s greatness, the ambiguity of the transference.

Becky wonders why they got out of the cockadoodie car in the first place

Becky wonders why they got out of the cockadoodie car in the first place

Tell you what, though, for a bloke so intent on leaving town, why does Bennell ditch the car? Would it not have been more prudent to leave the pods in the trunk, sunshine? In all likelihood, the aliens expected you and Becky to tootle over the town boundary and then pull over for a snooze before presenting yourselves to the authorities fresh as spring snowdrops. But no, you opt for a public veg cremation… He even wastes time and incurs serious risk by detouring to nurse Sally’s gaff. Why, oh why, oh why? Mind you, tis here the winning chill-factor line occurs:

“Shall I put this (pod) in with the baby?”
“Yes. Then there will be no more crying.”

Eeeech! (Wolf shivers). There’s something clinical about Don Siegel’s direction and I’m sure it’s deliberate, a kind of dispassionate, documentary feel; it’s the tone that scares me, that ‘hey, maybe it ain’t so bad…’ Like when a voice out of the chasing pack in the mine shaft hollers “We’re not gonna hurt you…” – no, they just want them to go to sleep, so what’s so bad about that? It’s like Ant & feckin Dec, they ain’t gonna hurt you either but they’ve got a nation sleepwalking through their show. And you better watch the show coz, come work Monday morning, if you haven’t tuned in then you’ll not be part of the conversation – you’ll be ostracised by the pods. Siegel sings us a lethargy-lullaby ‘come on, it’s not so bad you’ll see, all you have to do is go to sleep (or watch Ant & Dec)…’ and then ‘the kiss’ goes boom and wakes us up. But by then maybe it’s too late.

Games of 'Twister' often turned into a grudge match

Games of ‘Twister’ often turned into a grudge match

Wrongly, I think, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is often aligned with the ‘Reds under the beds’ paranoia Sci-Fi of the era, although I’ll concede it can easily be read that way. But for me, the scene between Miles and Becky at his office after they evade the pursuing poddies tells you everything you need to know about where director Don Siegel is coming from:

“Only when we fight to stay human we realise how precious it is…”

Siegel is more fearful of apathy than Commies subjugating from within – indifference, creeping and insidious, hardening our hearts to the woes of the modern world, the loss of warmth and of love… the loss of what makes us human. It’s still pertinent today, maybe more so. Some days, I feel like Doc Bennell in that iconic moment at the finale, the proper finale, wild-eyed, spinning from bumper to bumper shrieking “You’re next!” at the unconcerned occupants of the tin can traffic, in fact screaming directly at us. We live in a world where a newborn baby girl is dumped in a plastic carrier bag to die. No gentle cuddle to send her on a journey she’s no right taking at only hours old, just a cold carrier bag. What’s it come to when the biggest gift granted to this species is discarded like left-over’s from a kitchen bin? I rip myself up inside watching the news some nights. It’s all I can hope for that she’s lapping it up in Elysium right now…

Yeh, the chicks look like that after I snog 'em as well, Kev...

Yeh, the chicks look like that after I snog ’em as well, Kev…

Anyway, before I go too far off on one… Kevin McCarthy sells the whole shebang, exhibiting a casual manner, then a dawning realisation reduced to doubt by Kauffman’s misdirection, – “You win. Pick up the marbles.” – to panic and finally crazed. He is immense. Of course he’s not without help ably assisted as he is by Wynter, Donovan and Jones, together they form a convincing little group. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is that rare beast – it spawned a remake that is actually on a par with, if not better than the original (Alex Cox thinks it’s better; I’m not so sure but it’s eons since I’ve seen the remake). There’s certainly no ‘diddums’ waiting at the very end of the 1978 flick is there! And neither should there be.

 

Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/c77dtn

 

I’ll give it 4 Screeching Donalds out of 5

Invasion-score
Cheers, folk.
ThereWolf, March 2014

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About ThereWolf

I only come out at night... mostly...

23 responses to “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I don’t think I’ve seen this version, strike that, yes I have but its been so long I barely remember it. Unfortunately i did see the one with Screaming Sutherland and wished some alien took over my body and wiped any memory of that version from my brain

    Good review.

  2. kloipy says :

    Great review as always Wolf! I like the Sutherland version too. Have you seen the one with Nicole Kidman? If not, don’t bother with it. I also like the one from the 90’s, I think it was just called ‘Body Snatchers’. I remember as a kid just the title of this movie creeped me out

    • ThereWolf says :

      Cheers, Kloips.

      I have seen Invasion; not got outright hatred of it, but no it’s not great. Body Snatchers is decent.

      The whole concept gave me the willies – people you know not being people anymore. They look like real people but… Eeech!

  3. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Good review Wolf. McCarthy totally makes this one. I think the Sutherland one is actually the better movie, but part of that is down to the techniques, fx available. Odd that Sutherland was later Heinlein’s Puppet Masters adaptation which was essentially the same kind of story, released the same year as the third Body Snatchers movie, which was lame if I recall.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Thank you, Mr Bunnyface.

      Agreed on McCarthy – he puts in a shift. Body Snatchers isn’t too bad – not seen it in ages though so the mists of time may have scrambled my judgement. If I’ve seen Puppet Masters I’ve forgotten it!

  4. Continentalop says :

    Great review Wolf, but I am going to disagree with you on a small point – I think this film is firmly a Red Scare film. One of the fears of the commies was that they were going to make us “emotionless zealots for communism”, that they wanted to eliminate free thought and get rid of things like love and compassion. We saw them as enemies of individuality. Sure it was an absurd fear at times but it was the same one we had with the fascist and Nazis and we just expected it with the Reds as well. We dehumanized them and thought they wanted to dehumanize the rest of humanity.

    On a completely separate note, Don Siegel is a criminally neglected director. The guy put out a shit load of great movies, many of them NOT starring Clint Eastwood.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Cheers, Conti.

      I agree, the Red Scare thing is there but I don’t think Siegel was preoccupied with that. I wouldn’t put this in the same box as Invaders From Mars – which definitely is a ‘Commie’ warning. I just think Siegel put that little Doc’s office scene in to put some distance between his film & the ‘reds/beds’ angle. I’m not an authority on the politics of the time, it’s just a gut feeling when comparing it to other sci-fi films of the 50’s.

      Siegel’s got a solid body of work behind him, no doubt about that.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    On another note; it was really weird posting this up in the day time…

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      thats becaudse wolfs cme out at night! you fucking scared all the kideies and old ones and rabboitese and made people pee theyselves too bad wlfie wolfie

  6. Toadkillerdog says :

    Great review wolfie, funny as always! Diddums! Ha!
    I love this flick. love it. And it did not hurt that I really liked dana Wynter, she was a fixture in 70’s cop dramas and so forth. Amd craolyn jones was smokin as Morticia.
    But yeah this was a great flick, i have had a few southern toer stouts so my typing aint up topar but i gitta retuen to mahah drinkin

    • ThereWolf says :

      Thank you, TKD.

      Heh-heh… ‘kideies and rabboitese…’

      On that form, I definitely wouldn’t want to keep a ‘killerdawg from his ‘mahma’ drinkin…

  7. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Good review Wolfie. I haven’t seen this in a really long time, so I can’t say if it’s better than the Spock version, which I quite like. Body Snatchers is okay, a much better attempt than Kidman’s to say the least.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Thanks, Pillow.

      I’m gonna have to rewatch the ’78 one – I don’t recall any adverse reaction to it but Xi’s got me worried now… Body Snatchers I will also have to return to at some point. I just sort of watched Invasion, didn’t experience any highs or lows and when it was over I forgot about it.

  8. tombando says :

    Edmond Obrien, Morticia and co….whats not to like? Certainly worthy.

  9. Judge Droid says :

    Nice one, Wolf. I’ve never seen this or the remake. I’ve seen The Faculty though. Does that count?

    • ThereWolf says :

      Cheers, Judge.

      Wow, was 100% certain everyone would’ve seen one or both – should’ve reined in the spoilers.

      I reckon The Faculty counts – funkier, the ‘aliens’ aren’t as subtle but it’s in the same box.

  10. tombando says :

    O’brien’s one of those guys who was everywheres back in the 40’s-50’s, White Heat, 1984, etc. Pretty fine if stolid lead guy. But he was NOT in this. My bad.

    • Continentalop says :

      But he was in DOA, SHIELD FOR MURDER, and THE WILD BUNCH! To name just a few. He was also the voice of Johnny Dollar.

      (yes, I am a huge Edmund O’Brien fan).

    • ThereWolf says :

      Ah, I should’ve read down a bit first… correction duly noted.

      Love him in DOA. And Wild Bunch for that matter.

      • Jarv says :

        I was going to say that Bodysnatchers is unique in that every version had something to recommend it. Then I’ve been reminded of the piss poor latest one.

        The faculty counts, in the same way scream is a slasher. They take great care to point out that Bodysnatchers was based on Heinlen’s book in part.

        Fucking stunning film, this.

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