INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
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Stop it! Don’t say it! I know you want to! You want to sound all “intellectual” by pointing out the symbolic references to McCarthyism and fear of Communism in this movie. Wrong!
Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so worked up. Allow me to explain.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was directed by Don Siegel (TELEFON), written by Richard Collins (THE ADVENTURES OF HAJI BABA, CULT OF THE COBRA), Daniel Mainwaring (SPACE MASTER X-7, WALK LIKE A DRAGON), Sam Peckinpah (STRAW DOGS) and based on the story by Jack Finney, as serialized in Collier’s Magazine. The story opens with the arrival of psychiatrist Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell: CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE TIME MACHINE) at a big city hospital emergency room. ER Attending Dr. Bassett (Richard Deacon: THEM, THIS ISLAND EARTH) tells Dr. Hill about a patient that’s just been brought in. The wild-eyed patient, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy: TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, THE HOWLING, EVE OF DESTRUCTION), is screaming about how everyone is in grave danger and the FBI must be called at once. Dr. Hill manages to calm the crazed man down enough to tell his story.
We now flashback to the arrival of Miles in the California town of Santa Mira. He’s the town doctor but has been away at a medical convention. His nurse Sally (Jean Willes: HELL ON DEVIL'S ISLAND, ELMER GANTRY) meets him at the train station and we learn he’s come back early because Sally called and told him his patients were frantically asking for him. However when they return to his office they find the waiting room empty. Most people who Sally swears were desperate to talk to him just a few days ago have cancelled their appointments and now claim to be feeling fine.
The confused but mellow Miles is pleased to discover that while he was gone his old college girlfriend has moved back to town. A romance blooms with the lovely Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter: SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, THE QUESTOR TAPES [TV]) as soon as she and Miles mention that they've "been to Reno", a 50's movie euphemism for divorce.
No one seems to need a doctor, although a few people have an odd delusion: that some close friend or relative is in fact an impostor. Becky's cousin Wilma believes that her Uncle Ira… well… isn't. She says Ira has no real emotions anymore – just the pretense of emotion. But Miles has known Ira his whole life and a short conversation convinces Miles that it is Ira and that Wilma needs professional help.
That professional is Miles' friend Dr. Dan Kaufmann (Larry Gates), who Miles and Becky run into when they go out to dinner that night. Before Miles can describe Wilma’s case Dan finishes the description for him. Apparently he's had plenty of patients like that lately. He believes there's some kind of mass hallucination going around.
The dinner is cut short (in the completely empty restaurant – which has been that way for weeks according to the manager) by an emergency call from another friend of Miles. Miles and Becky rush over to the house of Jack (King Donovan: THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) and Teddy Belicec (Carolyn Jones: EATEN ALIVE, COLOR ME DEAD). Jack has found what appears to be a corpse. But the face is. . . vague. It has all the features but no detail. And Miles discovers the corpse has no fingerprints. Jack’s wife Teddy is the first to point out that the corpse bears a striking resemblance to Jack himself, causing Jack to drop a glass and cut himself. A few hours later the "corpse" has a cut on his hand too. This movie builds the paranoia and creepiness in a natural, believable way. I especially enjoyed how Miles' supremely rational friend Dan manages to talk everyone out of the strange things they've witnessed, only to have the truth about the pods drop in their laps shortly afterwards. And when the truth becomes obvious it's also clear that Miles, Becky, Jack and Teddy may be the only humans left. Is it too late to escape?
Maybe. But it's never too late for a
The DVD includes an interview with Kevin McCarthy where he reveals tidbits like the briefly glimpsed character of Charlie the Gas Man ("Just checkin’ the meter, 'doc!") is a cameo appearance of famed director Sam Peckinpah. He also reveals that the original version of the film began with Miles’ arrival in Santa Mira and ended with the famous "screaming on the highway" scene as he tells uninterested motorists "They’re coming! You’re Next!" But the studio felt the movie was too downbeat so the scenes in the hospital at the beginning and end were added to create the impression that the authorities were reacting to the alien invasion. When I heard about this I immediately checked to see if the DVD included this "original" version, but it doesn't, damn it. Cutting out the narration / flashback and ending with the highway scene would make it a starker, scarier movie as far as I'm concerned.
McCarthy also mentions something to that I alluded to at the beginning: that no one involved in this movie was trying to make any kind of political commentary. It's easy to read all kinds of 50's communism paranoia into it but that's coincidental. All this movie was meant to be was a good sci-fi story. And that's what it is. I give it four shriek girls.
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