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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Entry updated 7 November 2020. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1956). Allied Artists. Produced by Walter Wanger. Directed by Don Siegel. Written by Daniel Mainwaring, Sam Peckinpah (uncredited), based on The Body Snatchers (10-24 December 1954 Collier's Weekly; 1955; vt Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1973; rev 1978) by Jack Finney. Cast includes King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. 80 minutes. Black and white.

Paranoia was the dominant theme running through much sf cinema of the 1950s. Nowhere was it better realized than in this subtle and sophisticated movie, directed by the already experienced Siegel, about vegetable pods from outer space that turn into emotionless replicas of human beings, in the process replacing the usually sleeping originals. 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 original downbeat ending, in which the pods are victorious, was diluted by the addition of a prologue and epilogue set in hospital, the latter showing the authorities finally believing in the existence of the pods. These scenes are often cut in modern prints. The film has been very highly praised, and was the first of many 1950s sf films to be remade.

2. Film (1978). Solofilm/United Artists. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Written by W D Richter, based on the Finney novel. Cast includes Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy and Donald Sutherland. 115 minutes. Colour.

This unusually interesting remake shifts the emphasis from political to sociological, from cohesive small town to the alienating big City of San Francisco (see California), where it is more difficult at the best of times to tell who is a pod and who isn't, a point made by the psychiatrist (Nimoy). The script is witty, making satirical points about Californian society in the late 1970s, so intent upon development and change that becoming a pod is almost a logical next step. Kaufman's direction is confident, and its darkness has increasingly been seen as marching in step with the storyline. The shock ending – in which highly sympathetic Matthew Bennell (Sutherland) turns out also to have been replaced by a pod – has become famous. [PN]

3. A second remake was Body Snatchers (1993) (which see).

see also: Cinema; Invasion; Monster Movies.


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