Allied Artists stunning INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is arguably the finest Sci-Fi movie ever made. Produced in 1956 by Walter Wanger it was perfectly written for the screen by Daniel Mainwaring (who also wrote “Out Of The Past”) which derived originally from the Colliers magazine story and then a novel by Jack Finney. Beautifully photographed in black & white and in the short lived widescreen process Superscope by Ellsworth Fredericks the picture is a triumph on all fronts with bracing cinematic nous and expertise from all departments thanks to the committed and adroit direction by Don Siegel. This movie came from early in the great director’s career. He had started off at Warner Bros. doing special effects on such things as “Casablanca”(1942) and “Edge of Darkness” (1943) before he started directing. His first feature to direct was the Sidney Greenstreet classic “The Verdict” in 1946 and then garnered great praise in 1954 when he directed Walter Wanger’s tough and gritty prison drama “Riot In Cell Block 11”. Latterly Siegel is better known for his association with Clint Eastwood for whom he directed some of the actor’s most memorable films. In 1976 he directed John Wayne in his final film “The Shootist” and Siegel’s own final film was the best forgotten Bette Midler vehicle “Jinxed” in 1983. Don Siegel died in 1991 but of all his films he will probably be best remembered for Wanger’s two classics “Riot In Cell Block 11” and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
On his return home after attending a medical conference in the city a young small town doctor (Kevin McCarthy) finds some of his patients acting somewhat strangely. It is not too long before he discovers much to his horror that their very bodies have been taken over by an alien life form. Further investigation establishes the strange life form germinated in giant seed pods that were placed near their victims as they slept. Without any noticeable difference in their physical appearance the aliens perfectly replicated the human form with one exception the “new” beings have no human feelings or emotions. Soon everyone in the town is affected including the police and all of the doctor’s friends. Now, together with his girlfriend (Dana Wynter), he must endeavour to escape from the town – get to the capital and warn the authorities. But in order to survive and make the journey they not only have to evade the now alien townspeople who are pursuing them en masse but ensure at all costs that they don’t fall asleep.
Although the cast is made up mostly of minor players the performances throughout are uniformly excellent. Kevin McCarthy – he of the chiseled-jaw – a fine character actor in anything he did is good here as the main protagonist imbuing his role with just about the right degree of fear and trepidation. The lovely Dana Wynter – she of the cute little upturned nose – is as attractive as ever in what must be her most memorable role. Also interesting are well measured portrayals from such minor actors as King Donovan, Carolyn Jones (in one of her early films), Virginia Christine, Larry Gates and Ralph Dumke as the police chief. And watch out for the unknown Sam Peckinpah in a tiny part as a meter reading gas-man and later towards the end – when an exhausted McCarthy finally reaches the busy freeway – Pechinpah leading the pursuers shouts “Let him go……they’ll never believe him”.
There are also some lovely moments of pure film noir! Ellsworth Frederick’s monochrome camera makes ingenious use of light and shadow, up and down narrow office corridors, McCarthy and Wynter hiding from the police in an office closet and particularly brilliant is the clip when the pair are silhouetted against the dimly lit wet streets and alleyways at night as they race hand in hand to escape their incredible nightmare. And holding the whole thing together is the splendid score – if perhaps a tad over emphatic – from composer conductor Carmen Dragon.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is not only a superb Sci-Fi adventure but more significantly it is an imaginative, intense and suspenseful thriller of a motion picture. The brilliance with which it steadfastly maintains to this day.