“It started…for me, it started…last Thursday, in response to an urgent message from my nurse, I hurried home from a medical convention I’d been attending. At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.…”
Dr. Miles Bennell is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Released in the United States on February 5th, 1956, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the first of (at least) four legit film adaptations of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, a science fiction story originally serialized in Colliers Magazine during 1954 it was released as a novel the following year.
Even if you’ve never actually seen the film (or read the novel), you likely are at least familiar with the basic setup: Doctor Miles Bennell has been taken into custody at a hospital after being found running through the streets raving like a madman. When asked what he was doing, he starts to tell his story which unfolds as a flashback for the bulk of the film: He’s comes to realize that people, beginning with all the citizens of his town but spreading rapidly everwhere, are surreptitiously yet systematically being replaced with exact duplicates created by alien “seed pods” capable of mimicking any life form. The only difference is the replacements lack any emotion. It’s learned the pods repeat this process from planet to planet, taking over entire populations and using up all the natural resources before moving on to the next world.
Bennell, with the help of his former girlfriend, Becky Driscoll, and a few other trusted friends, tries in vain to warn people, but one by one his friends are replaced by the pods until it’s just Miles and Becky. Then, finally, Becky succumbs to the pods, leaving only Miles to run into the streets, futiley shouting at passersby by: “Look, you fools, you’re in danger! Can’t you see? They’re after you! They’re after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone! THEY’RE HERE, ALREADY! YOU’RE NEXT!“
End flashback. Though at first unwilling to believe Miles, doctors at the hospital come to realize he’s telling the truth and start scrambling.
End movie. End human race? Guess we’ll never know.
Celebrating its 65th birthday today, the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is usually listed alongside The Day the Earth Stood Still, The War of the Worlds, Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, and When Worlds Collide as among the best science fiction films of the 1950s. I also tend to add Creature from the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth, and the oft-overlooked It! The Terror From Beyond Space as personal favorites. When I was a kid, it along with these other titles were among regular offerings on Saturday afternoons from one of the TV stations that ran such movies as part of a local program, Creature Feature.
Perhaps even more so than The Day the Earth Stood Still, the film has come to be viewed as a sly political allegory of early 1950s post-war life, including “McCarthyism” and the apparent need for everyone to conform so as to make it easier to detect outsiders and those with nefarious agendas. It’s worth noting that no one involved with the film nor even Jack Finney himself ever professed to putting forth any such political message, at least publicly. Still, viewing it so many years removed from its production and removed from the era in which it was made, it’s hard not to see subtle messaging at work.
With a film and television career spanning more than sixty years and featuring guest and supporting terms on dozens of films and television series , Miles Bennell is perhaps actor Kevin McCarthy’s best remembered role; certainly among genre fans, though I also fondly remember him from Twilight Zone: The Movie and Innerspace and even a guest appearance on an episode or two of China Beach.
The 1978 remake, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright, and Jeff Goldblum is perhaps better remembered to genre fans, and is arguably a better telling of Jack Finney’s tale. it also features McCarthy in a cameo, recreating Miles Bennell’s final “crazy guy yelling in the streets” moment from the original film. Plus, that last scene with an alien-ized Sutherland screeching and pointing at a distressed, not-yet alienized Cartwright has more than pulled its weight in the modern memosphere.
1993’s Body Snatchers changes up the premise a bit, shifting the action from a small town to a military base while keeping the basic storyline intact. 2007’s The Invasion tried to be clever and change things just enough to avoid being called a third remake, but we all saw what it did and the less said about it, the better. Elsewhere, 1998’s The Faculty is definitely inspired by Finney’s story if not being an outright adaptation, and perhaps with a healthy dose of John Carpenter’s The Thing mixed in for flavor.
Still, I’m a sucker for 1950s science fiction films, so of course the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers ranks up there among my favorite movies of the era. I’ve actually been planning a rewatch of such films once I get done with the novel-in-progress, and you can bet this one will be on the list.