Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, January 7, 2008

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

Dana Wynter, Kevin McCarthy and King Donovan
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). Director: Don Siegel.
Miles, a young doctor (Kevin McCarthy) returns from a trip to his home town of Santa Mira and discovers that many of the residents – his patients – are convinced that their loved ones – mothers, uncles, husbands and the like -- are not really their loved ones anymore. He and his one true love Becky (Dana Wynter) discover that the townspeople are slowly being replaced by unemotional, alien doppelgängers, This low-budget terror-by-daylight masterpiece manages to be creepy by slowly inserting the outrĂ©, such as a half-formed “corpse” slowly taking on the features of one victim, into the ordinary. Although this is as much a horror film as science fiction, it generally avoids the usual horror conventions, and there are no monsters in the sense that the monsters are alternate versions of us. [The film's detractors complain about this very prosaic, matter-of-fact element, which seems deliberate and not just due to budgetary restrictions.] In the fifties this was seen as having a subtext of anti-communism although today it can just as easily be seen (and usually is) as a comment on McCarthyism and the fear of non-conformity. Hell, mainly it works because it's just a good, scary movie that is very disquieting and even poignant: remember -- the townspeople are not just turned into drones, they are killed and replaced, their feelings, aspirations, and personalities [except when “performing” for the unconverted] simply eradicated. If there's a general flaw to the film it is that despite its intelligence, it at times fails to rise above a certain “schlock” level. Although Wynter and especially McCarthy are quite good in the film, neither of them really gets across the raw, terrified desperation – in fact, the utter despair -- they should be feeling. But the film is very well photographed, interestingly scored by Carmen Dragon (although the opening theme is forgettable), and for the most part works -- and chills – beautifully. One scene that always gives one pause is when Becky falls asleep and is replaced while Miles checks out the source of some music in the distance. One has to assume that a pod was somehow left near where she was sleeping, and that the duplicate put on her clothes and assumed the same position as the now-dead Becky. [The 1978 remake pretty much shows this happening, but despite some good sequences, it doesn't really compare to the original, being at times campy and a bit slow.]
Verdict: Great scary science fiction. ***1/2.

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