Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Director: Don Siegel
“Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom. There is no pain. Suddenly, while you’re asleep, they’ll absorb your minds, your memories and you’re reborn into an untroubled world.”
A classic of 1950s science fiction horror, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is based on Jack Finney’s three-part serialized novel simply entitled The Body Snatchers (published in Collier’s in 1955). The film rights were acquired by veteran Hollywood producer Walter Wanger, who had just been released from prison following an attempted murder incident (he suspected his wife was having an affair). The incident actually later became part of the inspiration behind Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). Starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is about an alien invasion experienced in a small fictional California town known as Santa Mira. Alien spores have been dropped all over town and as they hatch, the egg “plant pods” spawn doppelgängers of already existing people on earth. It is a “quiet” invasion in which the aliens intend to replace humans in pursuit of a more homogenous world, though interestingly not via a hostile, military takeover a la H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Instead, the aliens attempt a benevolent approach. These bubbling, oozing pods hatch and grow into human duplicates –in a way, the alien hatching foreshadows Ridley Scott’s Alien. If people fall asleep, they run the risk of being “snatched” by these emotionless aliens. The unsettling fear of falling asleep will be revisited time and again in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and classic shows like The Twilight Zone.
Who can be trusted? Which people are authentically human? The film is told in a flashback by Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) as he recounts his escape from the body snatchers alongside Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) until she falls asleep momentarily while hiding out in an abandoned mineshaft and Dr. Bennell is left to escape alone. In the end, we return to Dr. Bennell who has recently been picked up from the highway after banging on cars, screaming about an alien invasion. In his testimony to a psychiatrist, he is nearly declared insane, until a truck driver is wheeled into the hospital corroborating the pod invasion. Dr. Bennell breathes a sigh of relief while the hospital flies into a frenzy. Ironically, while desperate to escape the encroaching hive mind of the aliens, Dr. Bennell finally finds relief and validation within his own group, fellow humans sharing the same view. Safety in numbers. Perhaps this is a slightly more cynical movie than initially meets the eye.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers withstands the test of time as a sci-fi cloaked message about forces that try to violate us into conformity. Thank you for including this classic in your reviews.
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