Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


(director: Don Siegel; screenwriters: from the book The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney/ Daniel Mainwaring/Sam Peckinpah (uncredited); cinematographer: Ellsworth Fredericks; editor: Robert S. Eisen; music: Carmen Dragon; cast: Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Miles J. Bennell), Dana Wynter (Becky Driscoll), Larry Gates (Dr. Dan ‘Danny’ Kauffman), Carolyn Jones (Theodora ‘Teddy’ Belicec), King Donovan (Jack Belicec), Virginia Christine (Wilma Lentz), Tom Fadden (Uncle Ira Lentz), Jean Willes (Sally), Sam Peckinpah (Meter Reader-cameo); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; Criterion Collection; 1956)

“Don Siegel directs this chilling sci-fi allegory with economy, speed and efficiency.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An honest to goodness sci-fi classic that uses the dangers over an alien invasion by pod-like creatures to steal earthlings’ souls to indirectly get in its licks about the McCarthy histrionics sweeping America in the 1950s and at the same time take a vigorous anti-Communist stand and make some statements decrying conformity. Don Siegel directs this chilling sci-fi allegory with economy, speed and efficiency, something Phil Kaufman’s 1978 and Abel Ferrara’s 1993 clever remakes couldn’t match. It is scripted by Daniel Mainwaring, 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. Siegel kept things simple by including minimal use of special effects, and no blood or murders. It is arguably his best film, in a long and distinguished career making mostly low budget B-pictures.

General practitioner Dr Miles Binnell (Kevin McCarthy) while returning to his small hometown of Santa Mira (filmed in Sierra Madre) from a medical convention in nearby San Francisco, notices a lot of strange things going on in town. Children fail to recognize their parents, and husbands 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 concerned by these bizarre occurrences, though temporarily satisfied by reassuring rationalizations about an “epidemic of mass hysteria” from the lips of the respected 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–a corpse with an unfinished, half-formed, and without a humanoid face or fingerprints–suddenly appearing on his pool table, he becomes alarmed again. He eventually reasons after the film’s famous greenhouse scene, where two giant seed pods burst and explode open with a milky fluid bubbling out in a mock birth scene, that this must be an invasion from outer space (Hey, what else can you think!). He discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space who are colonizing the earth and taking on a human form, but without a soul or human emotions. Their thing is in propagating themselves to take over the world. The problem is you can’t tell who’s a person and who’s a pod.At a loss for what to do the paranoia and tension builds, as the enemy is viewed as all of us–whereas who’s a friend and who’s a foe is not possible to tell. This was a brilliant plotline, the best of any of the previous sci-fi films that always made the enemy a monster. But the studio, Allied Artists (I wonder how they got the name artists!), interfered and the unnerving paranoid conclusion intended by Siegel was softened by adding a weak framing device and voice-over to comfort the audience that there was a way out of this mess. But even that monkey wrench thrown in, couldn’t ruin the intelligence and subtlety that went into this film.