Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - You're next!
Dr. Miles Bennell: “I never knew the real meaning of fear... until I kissed Becky.”
Based on the novel, The Body Snatchers (1955) by Jack Finney, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is one of the best known science fiction movies of all time. A horrifying study in paranoia and what it is to be human, Don Siegel directed and it stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter,
Dr. Miles Bennell (McCarthy) returns to his hometown of Santa Mira in California to find that people are behaving strangely. He comes to realize that aliens have taken over the town, replacing each member of society with an imitation devoid of a soul. He encounters the mysterious pod plants that the aliens use to grow replica bodies of the townsfolk when they are asleep. To his horror he finds bodies growing in the greenhouse that look like him and girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Wynter). He soon realizes that everyone on Earth was in jeopardy and if taken over by the alien invaders, humanity will be lost in all but form.
One of the most memorable scenes of the film is near the end when Bennell is standing in the road shouting at passing cars. Nobody will stop and listen. He looks in the back of one truck and sees it packed with alien seed pods heading out of town.
Kevin McCarthy portrays with real depth the frustrations of a man being slowly driven insane by the realization that as soon as he closes his eyes he will die. Yet, every moment he grows more and more tired, and people refuse to listen to him.
Becky: They're like huge seed pods!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a groundbreaking film that encapsulates all the hopes, fears and distrust of a nation in the throes of the Cold War. Whether the film reflects right-wing paranoia about a secret takeover by communists or left-wing paranoia about the increasing power of the McCarthyists has been much argued; either way, the theme is loss of individual identity and of human feeling. The aliens are not bug-eyed mutants or blobs of gelatinous soup, but our friends and neighbours.
In order to make the film more positive and hopeful a prologue and epilogue were added. These alterations, however, don’t diminish the power of Siegel’s original downbeat ending, McCarthy staring wild-eyed into the camera shouting “You’re next!” as the cars and trucks with blank-faced drivers pass him by, taking no notice of his warning.
Director Sam Peckinpah appears in the film as Charlie the meter reader.
In 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
There have been more adaptations of Finney’s novel, the best being Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake also called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy. The themes of the movie are similar, but updated to consider the more extreme consumer-based society of the 1970s.
Along with John Carpenter's The Thing it is one of the few remakes as good and as effective as the original. There is a clever cameo featuring Kevin McCarthy still on the run and shouting “You’re next!”. Don Siegel also makes an appearance as a cab driver.
Kaufman's film contains one of the most memorably bleak endings in movie history. The last 'real' person in San Francisco wanders a city where everyone is going about their business in a cool and eerily subdued and efficient manner, and 'life' continues in almost exactly the same way that it did before the invasion. With only one difference - humanity is nowhere to be seen.
Abel Ferrara directed Body Snatchers in 1993, this time the story was set in an army base and it had a more hopeful ending. The film starred Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly and Gabrielle Anwar.
The most recent adaptation The Invasion (2007) starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. The tagline was - Do not trust anyone. Do not show emotion. Do not fall asleep.
The Critics Wrote (1956 version) –
“Occasionally difficult to follow due to the strangeness of its scientific premise, action nevertheless is increasingly exciting.” (Variety)
"Persuasive, thoroughly satisfying low budget science fiction, put across with subtelty and intelligence in every department." (Halliwell)
“An expert and off-beat science fiction thriller... strongly sustained narrative style, accurate observation of behaviour and a high technical efficiency... In the main, this is a persuasive thriller, with excellent atmospheric lighting in the night scenes and a commendably concessionless ending.” (MFB)
“Seminal genre movie burdened with a catchpenny title, which excels in every department and is Siegel's best film. Its impact belies its low budget and, while analogies can be - and frequently are - drawn with Cold War hysteria and McCarthyism... the movie succeeds as as near-perfect piece of sheer science fiction entertainment. “ (Alan Frank)
“A beautifully controlled work of hysteria.” (Scheuer)