Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Upon returning home from a trip, small town doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) begins to suspect something is wrong. Whilst he was away, his nurse/receptionist informs Miles that he had a waiting room full of patients who all refused to tell her what was wrong, but now all these people are suddenly fine and well. Others complain that people they know aren’t whom they seem to be. On the outside everything looks fine, but there’s a feeling that something is missing. Then, one night whilst catching up with Becky (Dana Winter), an old flame back in town for the first time in 5 years, Miles is called out to an emergency. Friends of his, Jack and Teddy (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones), have found a body that seems to be in the process of forming an exact copy of Jack’s. Dun dun-duuuuuuuuun!
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This film was selected for me to watch by Will Slater from Exploding Helicopter, despite the utter lack of any helicopters actually exploding in it. It’s one of those great low budget science fiction movies that parallels the events taking place in the world at the time, and perfectly encapsulates the fears of the people. In this case, it was the possible fear of McCarthyism and the chance of your friends and neighbours, who looked the same and appeared to act the same, suddenly becoming Communists. Heaven forbid. It seems ridiculous now, but back then it was a very real fear, and the notion that seemingly overnight someone could change without you knowing it is a terrifying thought, which this film takes to the limits.
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I was hooked from the start of this movie. I hadn’t seen any of the remakes, but from the title and general pop culture I’d picked up on the general plot that this involved an alien invasion taking over a community via exact replicas of its members, and that’s pretty much correct. I’d expected it to follow more along an Animorphs thread, with alien slugs that wrap around peoples’ brains or something, but the notion of growing exact replicas of people seems somehow more far-fetched, but is well done and fits the story. It also allowed it all to be done on a much lower budget, with the only kind of special effects or custom props required being the giant pods within which the bodies are created.
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The film starts out with Miles raving to a psychiatrist or some such figure about the invasion, with the bulk of the film (which is gloriously only 80 minutes long in total!) being told in flashback, starting with this classic B-movie set-up: “For me it all started last Thursday. At first glance, everything looked the same. But it wasn’t. Something evil had taken over the town.” I’m pretty sure every sci-fi film from the 50s and 60s started out with that exact quote, and if they didn’t they bloody well should have. The script and pacing is very tight, with almost everything after the initial set-up being used to further the plot. It would have been very easy to pad the plot by deepening the romantic connection between Miles and Becky, which is something that bothers me in a lot of films, but here it’s all about that paranoia. Every time a character disappears from the screen I’m already questioning whether they’ve turned, and automatically mistrust them immediately upon their return.
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If I have any issues, firstly I hate when characters are given names to make them sound like an every-man. Miles Bennell seems fine, but his surname is pronounced “banal,” meaning boring or ordinary. Whether this was intentional or not I cannot say, but it annoyed me regardless. Also, the ending was far more upbeat than expected, which apparently was the result of additional footage being added after initial reactions proved poor. The majority of the film played out like an ever-steepening downward spiral, which the final moments just kind of killed. I didn’t hate it, it just wasn’t how I felt the story should have gone. Either way, the film was mostly great, and at such a short run-time it’s well worth anyone’s time.

Choose Film 8/10

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6 thoughts on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

  1. Here are a couple of things worth noting:

    1) Miles Bennell is the name of the character in the book.
    2) The book has an unbelievably happy ending compared with the film.
    3) The original ending of the film was the “You’re next!” shot. I agree it should’ve ended there.

    • As soon as I posted this I did think about whether the name came from the book, so thanks for clearing that up. I loved that “You’re next!” bit. That would have made for a great ending.

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  4. I agree. Invasion of the Body Snatchers “perfectly encapsulates the fears of the people.” It is not only a sci fi film, but it is shot like a film noir. The film reveals the 1950s fear fear that America might turn into a Communist country like the Soviet Union. The extra scene at the end gives the viewer hope that the forces of communism can be defeated. I wrote a post on the film called “Individualism vs. Collectivism.” If you would like to read it, here is the link: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers/

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