Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) USA / 80 min / Horror Sci-fi / B/W
Written by Roger MalcolmSet in a small California town, one doctor discovers a plot to overtake the human race in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, adapted for the screen by Daniel Mainwaring and directed by Don Siegel. Filmed in beautiful black and white photography, Siegel would go on to direct A-list stars such as Steve McQueen in Hell is for Heores (1962), Clint Eastwood in Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), Escape From Alcatraz (1979) and The Shootist (1976) starring John Wayne in his last performance.
The doctor is Miles Bennell, played by Kevin McCarthy, who is under police custody. Dr. Bennell, struggles to be free as two officers restrain him, while he attempts to convince a psychiatrist from the state mental hospital that he’s not insane. The psychiatrist agrees to hear his story and asks the police to let him go. Dr. Bennell says it starts when he came back into town recently. His nurse had sent him an urgent message for his return from a medical convention. “At first glance everything looked the same. It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.”
Dr. Bennell leaves the train station with his nurse Sally Withers, played by Jean Willes. She informs him about the strange behaviour from the town’s residents as of late. Several of his patients have insisted on seeing him yet refuse to give any details as to why. He contemplates this bit of information while driving when he almost hits a child that runs out in front of him. He’s told by the child’s mother Mrs. Grimaldi that Jimmy just doesn’t want to attend school. He also notices the Grimaldi’s vegetable stand has been closed down which had been the cleanest and busiest stand on the road less than a month ago. However, only in retrospect does he realize the significance.
Back at his office, he’s had 6 cancelled appointments and doubts the necessity of returning when Becky Driscoll enters. Becky, played by Dana Wynter, is an old friend that’s recently return from England. She informs the doctor her cousin Wilma swears there is something wrong with her uncle. As in he isn’t her uncle but an imposter of some sort. Clearly concerned for the mental health of her cousin Wilma, Becky just wants the doc to pay her a visit.
Becky’s story isn’t the only report of the sort. Jimmy Grimaldi is brought in by his grandmother to see Dr. Bennell. Jimmy struggles to get free as he shouts. Dr. Bennell reassures Jimmy that school isn’t as bad as all that. Though it’s not school that’s bothering him, his grandmother informs the doctor. “It’s my daughter-in-law. He’s got this crazy idea she’s isn’t his mother.” This causes the doctor to decide to visit Becky’s cousin Wilma immediately.
Convinced by his own interaction, Dr. Bennell comes to the conclusion that Wilma’s uncle Ira is the same person that he’s always known. Uncle Ira still has all his physical features and memories, yet Wilma claims he lacks something emotionally. Dr. Bennell, while taking Becky to dinner, comes across the town’s psychiatrist Dr. Kauffman. Dr. Kauffman already aware of the issues affecting the townspeople informs Dr. Bennell it’s some sort of “strange neurosis, evidently contagious, an epidemic of mass hysteria. In two weeks it’s spread all over town.” Dr. Kauffman says of the cause “worry about what’s going on in the world.”
Becky insists she’s worried regardless of Dr. Kauffman’s lack of concern. Dr. Bennell receives an urgent call to visit Jack Belicac. What Jack, played by King Donovan, has discovered he doesn’t want to inform the police of and asks Dr. Bennell to agree he won’t either. It’s a body of a man, motionless but not dead with blank features and no finger prints. Jack’s wife Teddy, played by Carolyn Jones best remembered as the original Morticia Addams, deduces the body as being the same height and weight as her husband, which spooks Jack causing him to cut himself. Later Teddy examines the body again and discovers to her great horror that it has developed into a exact replication of Jack all the way down to the cut he suffered on his hand.
Dr. Bennell, Becky, Jack and Teddy now together attempt to figure everything out as they realize they are alone against a town of imposters. Who are they? Where did they come from? How do they take over? More importantly what happens to the original person?! All telephone calls for help are blocked by the telephone operator saying all lines are busy out of town. Scared, paranoid, cut-off, outnumbered and on the run they attempt to get help but by what possible means?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers with its kind and humourous Dr. Bennell is a classic tale of the loss of individuality due to societies pressures of conformism. It would spawn 3 remakes starting with the first in 1978, then 1993 and finally the latest in 2007. Other films have been produced that are derivative of the story such as I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) and The Faculty (1998). Director Don Siegel believed the political references to McCarthyism and totalitarianism are inescapable. Indeed a product of its time, yet timeless with its theme. I give it a 4 out of 5 for a rating of great.