Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)
A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.
In the 1950’s there were many Sci-Fi films released with low budgets and many others were B-movies. A lot like many Films Noir of the time, this industry left many little gems that are now cherished by cinephiles. Amongst them, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most interesting Sci-Fi meets Horror movies made.
Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is the doctor of a fictitious Californian town called Santa Mira and he is called in urgency to come back earlier from a conference. There was an accumulation of cases and work for him at the office. Strange signs of paranoia are showing and many people came to tell him that some members of their families have been acting differently. But the person he wants to save the most is Becky Discoll (Dana Wynter); recently divorced she was Miles’ love interest. When Miles is called by his friend Jack (King Donovan) and discovers the body of a man looking a lot like Jack they suspect that something is going wrong.
Later, the story explains that pods are placed to take the appearance of the people of the community and substitute them in their sleep. The replacements are emotionless versions of originals. They are set to think the same and suppress any kind of personality. It is easy to read this as the fear of Communism that characterized many Sci-Fi movies of the 1950’s. It was read as the menace from the left and also the right that the treat was Communism and also because the Americans were eager to change their minds together and participate without questioning to the Witch Hunt of the McCarthy era. What is the most fascinating aspect of this movie is the fact that we can assimilate anything that we fear as the treat of dehumanization. Because, it is what the movie is about, without really explaining where the pods come from, the sky, or how they substitute themselves and get rid of the body of the humans. We are in the presence of Horror themes that go further than actually a menace to get killed but that can doom the entire human race and enslave it. Sometimes, when every elements of a plot aren’t all chewed and explained it lets the viewer a bigger range for imagination and interpretation. Not knowing what is going on can be very frightening. Invasion of the Body Snatchers plays well on this note without being unintelligible.
On the other hand, Don Siegel’s frantic directing creates a perfect visual of atmospheres, long takes and a great use of shadows and light. Using the aesthetics of Film Noir give a very dark and eerie feeling to the whole film. Siegel puts his mark in a very subterranean way. His subtle mise en scène isn’t much palpable, but the use of the super wide technique (Superscope) is efficient and helps his long takes that characterized almost his entire career.
Finally, having postponed my viewing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for many years have been making me wonder why I haven’t watched the thing a long time ago. A classic that didn’t aged and that inspired three remakes. Highly recommended.