Director: Don Siegel
Writer: Daniel Mainwaring
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Jean Willes, Ralph Dumke, Virginia Christine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson, Guy Way, Eileen Stevens, Beatrice Maude, Jean Andren, Bobby Clark, Everett Glass, Dabbs Greer, Pat O’Malley, Guy Rennie, Marie Selland, Sam Peckinpah, and Harry J. Vejar
Composer: Carmen Dragon
Release Date: 2/5/1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Noticing that several of his patients appear to suffer from Capgras delusion, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) determines that alien imposters—later revealed to grow in giant seed pods—are replacing members of the local community. With the help of Jack and Theodora Belicec (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones), Dr. Dan Kauffman (Larry Gates), and love interest Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), Miles attempts to share his discovery with the rest of the world.
Complementing sci-fi/horror tropes with social and political commentary, Invasion of the Body Snatchers deserves praise for exploring themes of mass hysteria, anti-communism, and the importance of maintaining one’s identity when placed under tremendous pressure to conform. For the above reasons, this production earns its reputation as one of the greatest alien invasion films of the 1950s.
By retaining the small-town setting of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers succeeds in generating a creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere from start to finish. Upon learning of the eponymous invasion, for example, the main characters lack a means of communicating with, let alone escaping to, the outside world given the isolated community in which they reside—a contrast to the metropolitan location of the 1978 remake.
Also worthy of commendation are the mystery elements that enhance the first half of this film, leaving ambiguous whether “body snatchers” are responsible for the idiosyncratic behavior displayed by Uncle Ira (Tom Fadden), Jimmy’s mother, and other townsfolk; or if each character could instead be suffering from extreme paranoia—similar to what the neighborhood residents in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (a classic episode of The Twilight Zone) experience when rationalizing the bizarre, inexplicable phenomena occurring all around them.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains a minor inconsistency in depicting how the aliens, said to create duplicates of others while they sleep, assimilate the bodies of human hosts.
Though possibly inspired by the Second Red Scare, Invasion of the Body Snatchers can likewise be interpreted as a condemnation of totalitarian systems that, often by means of coercion, work to replace complex, freethinking individuals with complacent drones devoid of logic and emotion. Note also that in one scene, the clones of Jack and Danny attempt to entice Becky and Miles into relinquishing their independence, claiming that life can be simple without love, desire, ambition, faith, and other attributes unique to the human condition—likely a statement on those who give up freedom in exchange for comfort or security.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic, thought-provoking science fiction film. Especially haunting is the subtlety with which the imposters (known colloquially as “pod people”) assume control of a small community and potentially the entire planet—a then original twist on the alien invasion genre.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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