Dr Miles Bennell returns his small town practice to find several of his patients suffering the paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors. He is initially skeptical, especially when the alleged dopplegängers are able to answer detailed questions about their victim's lives, but he is eventually persuaded that something odd has happened and determines to find out what is causing this phenomenon. This film can be seen as a paranoid 1950s warning against those Damn Commies or, conversely, as a metaphor for the tyranny of McCarthyism (or the totalitarian system of Your Choice) and has a pro- and epilogue that was forced upon Siegel by the studio to lighten the tone. Written by
Mark Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is called back to his small California home early from a conference because a number of his patients have been frantically asking to see him. But oddly, when he returns home, most forget about their unspecified needs. At the same time, it seems that a mass hysteria is building where residents believe that friends and loved ones are "not themselves", literally. Just what is going on? As of this writing, it has been more than twenty years since I have seen the 1978 remake of this film, so I can't compare the two at the moment. However, it would have to be flawless to top this, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The sole factor that caused me to give the film less than a ten was the pacing during portions of the first half hour or so. While it's not bad, exactly, director Don Siegel does not build atmosphere and tension as effectively as he might have while the viewer is being filled in on the necessary exposition. Admittedly, this section is directed in a standard way for its era, but "standard" here is enough to subtract a point.
However, once we reach Miles' friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) discovering a body on his billiard table, the suspense and tension gradually increase, and the remainder of the film is a very solid ten.
The literal "weapon" of the film's horror could have easily come across as cheesy, but it doesn't. Don Post and Milt Rice's special make-up effects and props are threateningly eerie. The transformation sequences involving the props are beautifully shot and edited--showing just enough to make them effective, but not so much that the mystery is gone.
It was ingenious to create a story where a whole town gradually turns into a villain, and even natural, unavoidable biological functions threaten our heroes' destruction. In conjunction, it all creates an intense sense of claustrophobia and paranoia for the audience.
McCarthy and Dana Wynter, as Miles' girlfriend Becky Driscoll, expertly convey a gradual transformation from common citizens to panic-stricken, desperate victims on the run. The film is also notable for slightly ahead-of-its time portrayals of relationships and divorce.
Much has been said about the parallels between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the "communist paranoia" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially as it was directed against Hollywood by the House of Un-American Activities Committee. (And how ironic that the star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is named McCarthy?) However, there is another very interesting subtext present that isn't so often mentioned. The film can also be looked at as a philosophical exploration of personal identity. Just what does it take for people to be themselves? Is it how they look, act, the things they say? Is it not the case that people are constantly transformed into something they weren't just hours ago, or even moments ago? Among the many ways that these kinds of ideas are worked into the script is that sleep is a metaphor for unconscious physical change over time. It would be easy to analyze each scene in the film in this manner, going into detail about the various implications each plot development has on the matter of personal identity.
Despite the slight pacing/atmosphere flaw in the beginning, this is a gem of a film, not just for sci-fi and horror fans, and not just for its era. It's worth seeing by anyone with a serious interest in film, and can be enjoyed either on its suspenseful surface level, or more in-depth by those who want to look at the film as more metaphorical material for societal and philosophical concerns.
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