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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/16/05 14:17:38

"A solid B-plus movie"
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON SCIENCE-FICTION FILM FESTIVAL: Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a good little film that, by being among the first to tap into a certain basic idea, became regarded as a classic. Some will say that it's an allegory for the fear of communism in the fifties, and maybe there's a little something to that. When watched in a crowded theater at midnight, however, it is still an inexpensive B-movie.

That basic idea, of course, is ones friends and neighbors being replaced by alien doppelgangers, alike in every way except for a lack of emotion. I find myself wondering what these duplicates would do if they succeeded in converting the entire world, as they apparently plan to. Are they programmed for a greater purpose? Would they cycle through endless identical days in an imitation of human life? Would they take their true forms, once they had the planet to themselves? We'll never know; the movie ends well before that can happen.

The story is one we all know, even if we don't know names or specific details. A local doctor (Kevin McCarthy) has a few patients tell him that someone close to them isn't who they appear to be. He scoffs, at first, but it's an odd thing for that many people to start saying all at once, and investigating lets him spend a little time with a recently-returned girl he knew when he was younger (Dana Wynter). Soon, they find an oddly featureless body, and the plant-like pod from which it grew, but by the time they're ready to act, there's more than a few "pod people" running around.

I'm not sure if people were calling this a metaphor for 1950s paranoia when it came out, because that seems to be giving it a little too much credit. The script, after all, is filled with stilted dialog and far-fetched coincidences and plot holes - why should we assume that the writer could be so smart metaphor-wise but so stupid sounding-like-something-people-would-actually-say-wise? Well, okay, maybe "stupid" is a bit harsh, but there's something very stagy and "not what I would do" about a lot of the movie.

It's still a good deal of fun, though. Director Don Siegel knows what he's doing and makes the lack of any sort of effects budget work for him - that we don't see much that's really otherworldly makes the invasion even more insidious. The quietly synchronized motions of the converted town is good and eerie, while the escape often feels hopeless (although that's in large part because it's the fifties and, well, a girl, she just can't hope to keep up with a man!). While a certain amount of time is spent patiently explaining what's going on, at least the pod people seem like they would actually do this.

The print shown at the festival was the SuperScope version with the prologue and epilogue involving the mental hospital and FBI agent. It's one of those studio-mandated changes, and kind of goofy. I'm not sure a gigantic coincidence makes things less dark; isn't "wow, we'd be screwed if not for that mammoth stroke of luck!" just as scary as "we're screwed"? It cheapens the movie a little, but not that much.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers has all the basic ingredients for B-movie goodness: A confident hero, a pretty girl, and a dangerous but inexpensive villain. At eighty minutes, there's no fat on it, so it's over before it starts to seem really silly.

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