Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Incredible! Invisible! Insatiable!
Year of Release: 1956
Genre: Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 80 minutes (1:20)
Director: Don Siegel
Kevin McCarthy ... Dr. Miles J. Bennell
Dana Wynter ... Becky Driscoll
Larry Gates ... Dr. Dan 'Danny' Kauffman
King Donovan ... Jack Belicec
Carolyn Jones ... Theodora 'Teddy' Belicec
Jean Willes ... Nurse Sally Withers
Ralph Dumke ... Police Chief Nick Grivett
Virginia Christine ... Wilma Lentz
Sam Peckinpah ... Charlie
Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless imposters; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell tries to convince them they're wrong... but they're not. Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed "pods" and taking possession of their souls while they sleep. Soon the entire town is overwhelmed by the inhuman horror, but it won't stop there. In a terrifying race for his life, Dr. Bennell escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the movie that brings a new meanin' to the term "organic veggies." Seriously, if we could just get a handle on raisin' these pods without fallin' asleep like Texas Ranger fans at the opera, we could probably solve world hunger. It's not like they're *really* people, there's no reason to get offended an start reachin' for the vomit bags an... see, this kinda closed mindedness is what's holdin' us back as a country. Sometimes I don't know why I bother with you people. I've got half a mind not to tell you who don't like this one too, only you'd probably enjoy that so you can forget it. Private sector. Scares the bejezus outta 'em. Think about it, once everybody goes to sleep an wakes up Commie, they got no reason to try to outdo everybody else with their flashy cars, Italian sunglasses an enough gold chains around their necks to cause permanent damage to the spinal column, cause nobody else'd give a flyin' frappuccino anymore. Which means they don't go out spendin' money like Donald Trump's wife the day after his funeral anymore, an that causes their profit margin' to shrivel up like an Eskimo's wang. Business really only survives on the premise that consumers spend all their money tryin' to impress other people, an once you lose that everything goes to hell. So the next time somebody tells you you don't need that 114" big screen attached to the wall of your double wide, you look them straight in the eye an tell 'em McCarthy warned you about them. Alrighty, well, this idea's been done more times than the guy on the other side of the glory hole that you keep tellin' yourself is a woman so you won't have to spend the next 15 years in therapy, but because it's the original, I think it's earned the right to have its wisdom exposed. Besides, things were different back in the '50s. For one thing, everybody saw in black an white an could never be sure if it was socially acceptable to be attracted to the actors on the screen if they were somewhere in the grey area. It was a serious problem that led to a whole lotta confusion, which generally lead to anger, an then to riots in the streets that lasted til everyone got all their pent up frustration out destroyin' public property an couldn't remember why they were mad anymore. It was a different time, an that's why we've gotta look into it. First, in the '50s, you didn't need to tell anybody where you were when you called 'em up an told 'em you had a serious crisis goin' on an that you needed 'em to get their hiney over there yesterday. They just KNEW where you were. I'm afraid that with the advent of caller ID, we've permanently lost the ability to deduce where the person on the other end of the line is without it, because we've become utterly dependent upon it. It's a depressin' step in our evolution as a species, kinda like when we lost our tails.
Second, in the 1950s, if you picked up a woman, her biology was set up to lose consciousness the moment her feet left the ground. It was built into her brain that if a man was taking her somewhere that she could trust 'im implicitly an that even if he'd busted into her house at 2 in the AM an slung her over his shoulder like a deer carcass, he had her best interests at heart. As far as I can tell this evolutionary condition lasted until the late 60s when Jane Fonda realized she was real pretty an could pretty much get away with anything. Once women saw that, they started thinkin' on their own an the automatic faintin' response seemed to switch off completely and became lost forever. Try that these days an the woman's probably gonna impale that little space between your gonads with a spiked heel or take her nails to your back til you look like Marshall Bell in the shower scene from Nightmare on Elm Street 2. An lastly, in the 1950s nobody seemed to realize that a man dartin' through traffic on the highway without gettin' stuck in the grille of somebody's Studebaker was probably not just under the medical observation of Dr. Jack Daniels. But the thing that always makes me giggle when it comes to the McCarthy hearing bullshit is the fact that the country was so deep in denial at the time, and too butt blind to see anything but what the news outlets told us. If that sounds off tangent, many people speculate that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was meant to represent the dehumanizing effects of Communism. Anyway, we were just fine allyin' with Communist Russia back in WWII cause there was a bigger problem that needed dealin' with. So we're willin' to put all that sentiment aside until we can sit Hitler down an give 'im a stern talkin' to about this whole world domination thing, but once the war's over we remember we hate 'em again. It's like when you go home with the really nasty girl at the party an roll around on the floor with 'er makin' noises like a dyin' wildebeest til the ceilin' fan jostles loose on the floor below an crashes through the kitchen table. That's perfectly alright til people start TALKIN' about it. An even though she gave you somethin' so bad that now it feels like you're pissin' deep fryer grease, you still had a pretty good time with her. Only now people start lookin' down on you an pretty quick you can't get nothin' BUT the girls that look like a hippo that just just escaped from the meth rehabilitation center. So you start tellin' everybody she's a liar. That you just took 'er home so she wouldn't drive drunk, cause you're a *nice* guy that way. An that SHE came onto YOU but you smacked 'er on the nose with a rolled up newspaper an sent her packin'. Same thing, really. The U.S. had to deal with Hitler, an you had to deal with a ragin' boner. Okay, you an the U.S. both had to deal with ragin' boners, the point remains.
The movie begins with some cops rushin' to the hospital so they can listen to Kevin McCarthy's crazy story about nekkid human clones crawlin' outta giant green bean pods an takin' over everybody's bodies to they can erect monuments to Stalin. Kev's doc is the guy that played the TV producer/insult sponge on The Dick Van Dyke Show so you can see why he's too jaded to believe this kinda thing. So Kev says the whole thing started last week when he came home early from some conference cause everybody in town's got some kinda problem that they can't discuss with his nurse. Kev figures that it's probably just another herpes outbreak since the town's so small an everybody goes to the same hooker, but while he's headin' to the office some pint sized squirt that's even uglier than Ron Howard was in The Andy Griffith Show runs out in front of his car without a moment's concern about anti-lock breaks not bein' invented yet. Kev manages to avoid havin' to spend the next two days toothbrushin' the kid outta his grille but all the kid'll say is that he don't wanna go to school. Been there, some days the grille of a car just looks a whole lot better. Then Kev goes back to his office an his nurse tells 'im that girl he always had a hard-on for came back from England an that she's comin' in cause she's got a problem she needs his help with. It's not the nymphomania problem he'd hoped for though, seems her (Becky) cousin's (Wilma) gotten it into her head that her uncle ain't really her uncle. The place is a little inbred to begin with, so Kev just figures she's havin' problems understandin' how the guy can be her uncle and her brother simultaneously so he assembles his visual aids, flow chart an hand puppets so he'll be able to get through to her; only before he gets a chance to head to Wilma's house the kid he nearly ground into the tread on his white walls comes in with his grandmother screamin' about how his Mom ain't his Mom. She is his Mom, but she's also his sister. See how this kinda thing gets started? So Kev goes to talk to the kid an gives 'im some Ritalin so he can get the ringin' in his ears to quit long enough to hear what the grandmother has to say about it. By the time Gramma's done talkin' Kev figures the kid probably just busted a window playin' ball in the house an don't wanna face the music, so he tells 'im to get the heck outta his office so he can go have this same exact same discussion with Wilma. So Kev gives Wilma a free chest exam an determines that she's not insane in the membrane but Wilma can't tell 'im why she thinks her uncle's not really her uncle. It's just a feelin' she's got, so realizin' there's no cure for woman's intuition, he dumps her off on the shrink an takes Becky to dinner cause he figures he's got a long road ahead on account of it bein' the '50s an them not bein' allowed to have sex til he can convince 'er to marry 'im.
Once they get to the restaurant they run into the shrink. After they swap insurance info, Kev tells 'im he's got another loose screw that needs 'er brain tightened an the shrink (Danny) tells 'im that's fine an to send 'er over an he'll drill a few holes into her head an let the evil spirits out an not to worry cause he's gotten pretty good at it what with all the practice he's gotten lately. Once inside, they realize they're practically alone in the restaurant, but on the plus side, business has taken such a nose dive that the proprietor had to can the doo-wop band. But Kev doesn't even get a chance to get Becky drunk enough to do somethin' she'll regret before the phone rings an some guy wants Kev to get his hind end over to his house pronto an lookit what he found. When Kev an Becky arrive the guy (Jack) has a buck nekkid body layin' on a table an Kev starts wonderin' if maybe Jack didn't just catch this guy with his wife an go all Lizzy Borden on his ass, but closer examination reveals the body ain't got a scratch on it an Kev gets this look on his face like he should've just stayed at the conference. What's really weird is the body's only about half developed as far as havin' any well defined facial features an looks like a pasty white version of a Ken doll. Jack's wife (Teddy) asks Kev about how big he thinks the body is, an Kev says it's about Jack's size just without all the stress wrinkles she's caused over the years an... uh oh. So Kev says to keep an eye on it an call 'im if it sits up an starts doin' the bossa nova or anything strange while he takes Becky home. When Kev arrives at Becky's house, her Dad emerges from the basement to greet them, which isn't too weird cause he spends a lotta time down there workin' on his plan to overthrow the government. While this is goin' on, Jack's double opens up its eyes an his wife starts freakin' out like she just saw a woman wearin' pants an they head over to Kev's place so Teddy'll quit blubberin' an blowin' snot all over Jack's shirt. After they tell Kev about the nekkid body's eyes openin' he calls Danny over cause he's got a PHD, but once he does he gets this look on his face like he just remembered he left his Zippo inside somebody durin' his last surgery an has to run off an check on Becky. Upon arrival he busts out the basement window an starts rootin' around til he finds a Becky double inside a big crate. Not thinkin' clearly, he runs upstairs an wakes Becky up before she gets duplicated, deprivin' himself of a permanent threesome arrangement, only Becky just groans an keeps repeatin' "just five more minutes" an "I don't wanna go, all the other girls make fun of my boobs" til Kev ends up havin' to carry her back to his house. Then everybody goes back to Jack's place to see the body, an 'cause all the liquor stores are closed til morning.
Unfortunately, the body's gone out for some air an Danny keeps makin' excuses like "mass hysteria" and "severe intoxication" to explain the situation. So Kev hauls everybody over to Becky's house to show 'em her double only it's gone too an Becky's Dad comes down with a scattergun an tells 'em if they wanna see the belt sander he's got for sale to come back at a more reasonable hour, but then the cops show up an Danny tells 'em that Kev an Jack had two bodies but they lost 'em an Kev an Jack look at each other like they're already formulatin' a plan to take the squealer out into the yard an shank 'im with sharpened toothbrushes as soon as the guard's gone. After the cop tells Kev how disappointed he is in 'im he takes off an everybody but Danny go sleep at Kev's house in case their nekkid friend comes back. The next morning, Becky makes breakfast for everybody an Kev's real plan is revealed. All this just to get somebody to cook for 'im, pathetic. Elsewhere, Wilma's just fine now an she don't need any more help from Kev or Danny or even somebody that knows what they're doin', an once Kev's convinced she turns around an starts plottin' with Becky's Dad about how Becky's hangin' out with Kev an that she's never gonna go Commie til they can get her away from him an that she might end up "in trouble" if they don't act fast. Then Kev goes to work an the kid with Momophobia's gotten over his problems too so he decides to knock off for the day since he's pretty much obsolete at this point. That evenin', Kev an his new roommates're out back on the patio barbecuein' til somebody goes inside the greenhouse an spots a buncha dead Aubrey 2s that're regurgitatin' out nekkid bodies covered in bubble bath suds. Two incidents like this they could shake off, but this tears it, so Kev goes inside to call the F.B.I., only budget cuts have forced 'em to lay off their one secretary so they can keep the 327 vice directors they've got an nobody's answerin'. Everybody at the Sacramento branch is in the bath, so the phone's just off the ringer entirely there, but the operator'll call 'im back if somebody decides to get back on the clock. So Kev sends Jack an Teddy to drive for help while he sits around waitin' vainly by the phone like a plain Jane that got banged by the quarterback the night before til he gets so mad he has to go pitchfork all the nekkid bodies so he can get a grip on himself. About that time the operator calls back an checks with Becky to see if Kev's still there an to tell 'im she has nothin' new to report but that he should stay right where he is an not run off somewhere where it'd be hard to find 'im an stash a moldy head of lettuce under his bed.
Kev's onto this Commie plot now though, an he an Becky peel outta there towards the nearest 76 station so he can gas up an see if the pay phone still works usin' a quarter on a string. Still nobody pickin' up anyplace, an what's worse, Kev just remembered that this guy waters down his gas an includes a pair of rotten cabbages with every purchase, so once he's outta sight he has to pull over an dump the cabbages an roast 'em like an illegal pot growin' operation. Kev's real bummed by now an he's startin' to think maybe they're the only Capitalists left in this burg, so in a last ditch effort to find sanity he goes to check on his nurse, but she's hostin' a meetin' for the cult of leafy salads in her living room an Kev has to rearrange the face of a cop that tries to bust 'im for peepin' tomfoolery an then make a run for the car while the cult chases 'em yellin' about how broccoli Jesus saves. Then the cops put out an APB on 'em an they have to go hide at Kev's office an hope they'll respect doctor/Becky confidentiality. Once they're in the office they hide in the closet an Becky has to swat Kev cause he thinks it'd be a good time to play 7 Minutes in Heaven an before long the light kicks on, but I guess nobody thought it'd be worth searchin' the most obvious place the doctor could possibly run to an the search posse leaves. The following morning, the phone starts ringin', only Kev's so used to havin' somebody answer it for 'im he doesn't bother pickin' it up an starts lookin' out the window at a mass gathering in the town square. Seems the farmers have brought in their watermelon crops an the police're givin' everybody directions on which truck to get in so they can take a housewarmin' gift to all their relatives in other cities. Things're lookin' pretty bad by this point when the doorknob starts turnin' an Jack comes in, only Jack's gone Jerk an he an Danny try to review the positives of Communism that President Eisenhower doesn't want 'em to know about an explain to 'em that everything is hunky dory now that they've shaken off that pesky individuality. Then they tell 'em about how the seeds came to Earth on a meteor an took root in some farmer's field an set up shop an Kev tells 'em they may as well go back to Russia cause when the rest of the country gets wind of this the McCarthy hearings're gonna seem like Judge Wapner's Animal Court. So Jack an Danny just kinda shake their heads an take their leave an tell 'em if they don't nap pretty quick they're gonna force 'em to watch Invasion of the Neptune Men til they crack. But Kev's got a plan. He loads up two syringes with sleepy serum an starts kickin' the shit outta the office furniture til Jack an Danny come to investigate an he an Becky stick 'em like snitches in San Quentin. Then Kev tells her to be cool, be calm, be Communist as they walk out the front door towards freedom. But Becky makes the police officer they encounter suspicious when she shrieks at a dog almost gettin' mashed into the street an it's not long before the cop runs off an discovers the sleepin' sentries an sounds the red alert. Seems like a good cutoff location.
Alrighty, I know I've mentioned before I have trouble with these oldies, but Invasion classic is unquestionably one of the best of the black and white era of cinema. That's in spite of the fact that its major appeal is entirely plot based, because in reality, the special effects are confined solely to the seed pods. So Invasion is gonna be fairly off putting to gorehounds and even people that prefer action sequences, because for the most part they're nonexistant. The tension is decent, although a bit tired and predictable when watched nearly 60 years after the original release date. It's also the kinda movie that doesn't sustain a lot of rewatch value. The first time is significantly more enjoyable than subsequent viewings, and the reason for that is due to the lack of special effects or action sequences in general. The movie is completely cerebral, which is great the first time out. But once you know what's going to happen and when, it bogs down. In my opinion, both the remakes from 1978 and 1993 are vastly superior. The '78 version being the best of the three. They remade it again in 2007 but it stars Nicole Kidman, which renders it pretty much unwatchable, unfortunately. The concept, however, is one that's been copied time and again in cinema and is still being copied long after Invasion's initial release. Certainly others have done the total paranoia angle better since it came out back in 1956, but Invasion did it first, and that counts for something. By first, I mean total paranoia, not just "someone's out to get me" paranoia, cause that's been happening since the dawn of the movie era. I'm talkin' EVERYONE is out to get you, not just a single person or a group of people. Interestingly, Sam Peckinpah, who's got a minor role that doesn't really matter, made claims of major rewrites on the screenplay after the movie was released, but backed off when Mainwaring complained to the Writers Guild. Hard to say if he was telling the truth or not, cause I get the feeling he's the kinda guy that once it had gotten that far, he didn't really care enough to continue with the claim whether he'd actually done the work or not. Equally interesting is that, at least among the first 3 versions to be put to film, it's the only one to offer a "happy" ending. And one that goes completely against the ending of the book and frankly, just doesn't fit the overall tone of the movie. When it was remade the next two times, those versions featured a less pleasant, yet more realistic ending. Both of which I personally prefer. An that really bolsters the idea that the whole plot is centered around the Communist menace. Afterall, we don't want anyone to think we can't win against Communism, right?
Okay, well, lets banzai drop onto one of these seed pods an see what squirts out. The plot is great, if a little labored due to the fact that it's having to carry the entire prospect for success on its shoulders. Really could have used some special effects to help bail it out, but under the circumstances, it performs heroically in attempting to deliver a good movie with no help from areas which generally lend a helping hand. Very well written, interesting, enjoyable plot. The acting is well executed, and is what you expect a well acted movie from the 1950s to be. Although, acting execution has come a long way since the 1950s; this is one of the two major areas that I find a bit dull, when comparing a movie from the 50s to say, one from the 80s. World of difference. But acting has, and will continue to evolve as time goes by, and for that reason it's foolish to call any of the acting in the movie bad simply because it's representative of the era in which it was made. Though I do find it a bit dull, I don't imagine that if I'd been watching the movie in the 1950s, I would think that way, because I'd have no modern basis of comparison. Anyhow, here's who matters and why: Kevin McCarthy (Ghoulies III, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Howling, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978, Piranha), King Donovan (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Magnetic Monster), Carolyn Jones (Eaten Alive 1977, The War of the Worlds 1953, House of Wax 1953), Ralph Dumke (The War of the Worlds 1953), Virginia Christine (The Mummy's Curse), Tom Fadden (Empire of the Ants), Eileen Stevens (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958), Everett Glass (The Thing from Another World), Dabbs Greer (House IV, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Vampire, House of Wax 1953), Pat O'Malley (The Phantom Creeps, Myster of the Wax Museum), Sam Peckinpah (The Visitor. Also, big deal writer/director later on), Harry Vejar (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Whit Bissell (The Time Machine 1960 & 1978, Psycho Killer, Soylent Green, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, City Beneath the Sea, I was a Teenage Werewolf, Target Earth, Lost Continent), Richard Deacon (Piranha, The Birds, Them!, Invaders from Mars 1953), Frank Hagney (Zombies of Mara Tau, The Son of Dr. Jekyll, Atom Man vs. Superman, Superman 1948, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man Returns), Robert Osterloh (Rosemary's Baby, I Bury the Living, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Decent genre history for some of these guys as well.
The special effects... they're okay. The seed pods, I mean, cause that's all there is in the way of special effects. The seed pods look good. Would have been nice to have some other things to comment on, but there aren't. The shooting locations are alright. For the majority of the movie you're talkin' just cityscapes. Homes, office buildings, restaurants, by an large not much that contributes to the atmosphere. But then with the plot already dedicated to almost single handedly carrying the atmosphere aspect of the movie, it's not terribly critical that the shooting locations be all that interesting. It's just the way the movie was written, without many interesting shooting locations, as they're not intended to be at all integral to the plot. The one location that is somewhat more interesting than the others is the cave, which is a good location that's been used in many other movies due to its close proximity to where everybody seems to wanna make their movies. So the shooting locations are adequate but really don't add anything at all to the movie's overall enjoyability. The soundtrack is effective, and is essentially the single additional element to lend a hand to the plot in terms of creating atmosphere and suspense. It's a really unobtrusive soundtrack for the most part. It's there, working as intended to generate tension, but you don't notice it all that much unless you're listening specifically for it. Though not particularly spectacular in terms of something the average person is going to want to get a copy of and listen to without the watching the movie, it succeeds in giving the movie a positive boost towards its goal. Bottom line, a little old and stuffy for me, but as I've said in the past, if it comes from a decade prior to the 1970s and I generally have positive things to say about it, it's a keeper. And as usual for movies of this age, if you're someone that isn't bothered by the age of a movie and can enjoy anything from any decade equally, consider adding 10% - 15% to my score to get a better idea of how much you personally are likely to enjoy it.