Don Siegel was very against the optimistic outcome of the movie, but the decision to give hope to the audience was forced upon him by the studio. Most people dislike the ending, agreeing with Siegel's original intention to end the film with Miles trying to warn people of the alien invaders, in vain.
Kevin McCarthy and author Jack Finney have always denied the belief that the story is a metaphor against McCarthyism and Communism. They just saw it as a thriller. Don Siegel however believes the political references to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism are inescapable, even though he tried not to emphasize them.
In 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by The Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
During its original cinema release, paper-mache pods were on display in the lobbies, as well as black & white cutouts of Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter running frantically away from a crowd of pod-people.
The film was almost called The Body Snatchers after Jack Finney's serial, but it sounded too similar to the Val Lewton film The Body Snatcher (1945). After several titles like They Come from Another World, Better Off Dead, Sleep No More, Evil in the Night and World in Danger, the studio finally settled on Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Producer Walter Wanger wanted a Winston Churchill quotation as a preface, with Orson Welles doing the narration. When they couldn't persuade him, Wanger tried to enlist science-fiction author Ray Bradbury. He declined as well.
Throughout the years, Sam Peckinpah (who appears briefly in the film as the meter reader) claimed that he had done work on the script ranging from modifications to major overhauls. Those who worked on the film claimed that if Peckinpah had made any changes to the script, it was limited to a few lines of dialog. Peckinpah's claims became so inflated that the actual writer, Daniel Mainwaring, threatened to file an official complaint with the Writers Guild of America, so Peckinpah backed down. When Peckinpah died in 1984, many of his obituaries still carried the claim that he had rewritten the screenplay for this film.
During test screenings, much of the film's original humour and humanity was cut when the audience found the film difficult to follow and laughed at all the wrong moments. The studio insisted on edits because it wasn't policy to mix humour with horror.
Screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring had brushes with Hollywood witch-hunts, which lends credence to the theory that the film is an unconscious metaphor against McCarthyism. Something Dana Wynter agreed with, although she didn't recall the mention of any political statements on-set. Kevin McCarthy believed the film to be an attack on "Madison Avenue" attitudes. Siegel joked that the pods represented the front office.
Universal's UK DVD (824 346 1.11) comes with a choice of the original black and white or a colorized version. The black & white's running time is 1hr and 20 mins while the color version has an added five minutes to its running time.
Even though the film was "Produced in Superscope" according to the opening credits and released in the 2.00:1 aspect ratio, the film was actually shot with the spherical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in mind. The scope prints were created in the lab in post-production by cutting off the top and bottom of the image. Director Don Siegel protested the reformatting to no avail.
Becky and Miles paraphrase Shakespeare twice. "I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows" is from A Midsummer Night's Dream. "That way madness lies" is from King Lear.
Filming was supposed to commence in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, but the budget couldn't allow it. In fact, several locations made up the town of Santa Mira, including Sierra Madre, Chatsworth, Glendale, Los Feliz, Bronson and Beachwood Canyon. As well as the Allied Artists studio lot on the east side of Hollywood.
A few scenes, such as the interior of Miles Bennell's office, were done at Sunset Studios. The greenhouse scene was also done in the studio because there were so many technical elements to be controlled when the pods burst open and bubbled, revealing the replicas of the characters.
Bronson Canyon was also the location for the tunnel where Miles and Becky hide. A trench was dug for them to lie in with planks placed over them for the scene in which the pod people run through the tunnel looking for them.
The last sequence was shot, not on the actual Hollywood Freeway, but on a little used cross-bridge. The cars were driven by stunt drivers. Don Siegel said later that Kevin McCarthy was in real danger of getting hit, because the sequence was shot at dawn and he was near complete exhaustion.
The scene in which Miles and Becky are pursued up a long, steep outdoor staircase was shot in Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. The head grip came up with the idea to build a small dolly with wheels that rode the top of the staircase's iron rails ahead of the actors.
Dana Wynter genuinely enjoyed the shoot and noted that everyone in the cast and crew was extremely nice to her as a newcomer - except Carolyn Jones. She said the more experienced Jones was "strangely unfriendly and unhelpful," yet she still managed to hone her style by observing her.
The pace of the shooting meant there was little time for the actors to rest between takes of the exhausting chase sequences. And there was no time to discuss scenes. Dana Wynter said the actors were always responsible for mentally rehearsing their characters and actions before jumping in front of the cameras.
Kevin McCarthy didn't particularly like the script because he felt that, in streamlining the novel for the screen, depth of character was lost. McCarthy thought it was a mistake that these fairly sophisticated, educated characters had such bland dialogue and manner of relating to one another, "lacking the curves and nuances that you often hear in the conversation of ordinary, mature men and women."
Ted Haworth came up with a fairly simple and inexpensive (about $30,000 total) idea for creating the pods. The most difficult part was when the pods burst open, revealing the likenesses of the actors. The actors had to have naked impressions of themselves made out of thin, skin-tight latex. Making the casts, which involved being submerged in the very hot casting material with only a straw in their mouths to breathe through, was gruelling for the actors, especially Carolyn Jones, who was claustrophobic. Dana Wynter recalled, "I was in this thing while it hardened, and of course it got rather warm! I was breathing through straws or something quite bizarre, and the rest of me was encased, it was like a sarcophagus. The guys who were making it tapped on the back of the thing and said, 'Dana, listen, we won't be long, we're just off for lunch [laughs]!' In the end, we had to be covered except for just the nostrils and I think a little aperture for the mouth."
Ted Haworth was probably the most livid about the studio's tampering. He wrote a letter to Steve Broidy telling him Allied Artists was destroying the picture. Haworth had been Alfred Hitchcock's art director on Strangers on a Train (1951) and I Confess (1953), and he told Broidy that Hitchcock would have given his eyeteeth to have made a picture that frightening.
Ted Haworth was worried that studio executives would object to the "nudity" of the pod likenesses. Don Siegel reminded him that Hollywood executives were all pods and, as such, had no real feeling about anything, including nudity. One executive, however, voiced strong objections and ordered Siegel to eliminate any nudity from the picture. Siegel returned to Haworth and told him to continue as planned. "I was sure that before the impressions were made, this executive would have become a pod, too," he said in his autobiography. At any rate, the issue was fairly moot; the pod replicas are revealed under foaming soap bubbles that manage to keep any overt nudity concealed.
Don Siegel later claimed that during filming he crept into Dana Wynter's house and slipped a pod under her bed, causing her to become hysterical when she found it. "That is a bit far-out," Wynter replied when she heard Siegel's account. "Actually, he left it on my doorstep. He had a girlfriend who lived next door to me...and he would pass my cottage all the time. And one night he just left it on the doorstep!"
The urbane, genial Walter Wanger was liked and respected by everyone involved. But Kevin McCarthy later said he had the impression during production that Don Siegel, despite the glowing words he had for his producer in later years, thought Wanger was more diplomatic than effective in his dealings with the front office on such issues as the humour, the title, and the additional scenes. "I think he might have called Wanger a pod, if the two of them hadn't been partners," McCarthy said.
The biggest problem Siegel and company had with the studio was over the use of humor. Don Siegel, Daniel Mainwaring and Walter Wanger had scripted scenes with humour in them, and Kevin McCarthy said the actors improvised some during shooting. When the film was still in the work print stage, Siegel and Wanger decided to try it out in front of a preview audience behind the studio's back. Much of the humour was still in the film at that point, and the audience response went from shrieks to screams to laughter and back again. Siegel had sneaked a tape recorder into the theatre so they could prove to the studio just how great the reception was to their rough cut. But studio head Steve Broidy hit the roof when he found out and wanted to know why the audience was laughing in places. He ordered any trace of humour removed.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film originally ended with Miles J. Binnell on the highway shouting to the people driving by, "You're next, you're next!" However, the studio wanted a happier ending that would assure the audience that the hero's efforts were not in vain, so scenes were added to the opening to show Miles in a hospital recounting his story to two other doctors and to the end when the other doctors find out about the pods and one of them contacts the FBI.