De stjålne kroppe
The fifties was a great decade for science fiction and horror. It was not big business like it is today, but a low budget bonanza where everything was possible as long as it was cheap and could make a buck. And the variety is truly great. As my good friend Bea will know (do visit her site at http://flickersintime.com/ ) there are lots of amazing stuff from this period. However because of the low budget nature of this flood of film only few on them found their way to the 1001 list. Rightly so you might say considering the quality of the majority of them, but I miss them nonetheless. They are hilarious, inventive, outrageous or just inadvertently funny and I love them.
Those that do make the list are probably the crème de la crème, the stand-out examples and that is certainly the case with today’s entry, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Yes, it has a lot of the hallmarks of B, but how many of you can say that you never heard of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”? It is legend. I myself know it primarily from the ’78 version, which was truly chilling, but on this viewing of the original ’56 I realize that I have seen plenty of clips from this one as well over time.
This, the ‘56 version, is told as a film noir in black and white with plenty of shadows and a flashback narrator who early on let us know that thing have fallen pretty much apart. That is a great way to go about it, combining noir, horror and sci-fi. The narrator is Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), practitioner in the small town of Santa Mira. He is pretty upset, possibly raving mad as he is held in custody in a hospital, but eventually he calms down and tells the chilling story of how Santa Mira was taken over by aliens from outer space.
It is one of those stories where everything is seemingly perfectly normal, but for small hints now and then that they are not altogether normal. Bennell is called back to town because a larger number of townspeople need his help urgently, only now that he is back they are perfectly fine. Those who do come in complain that they do not recognize their loved ones, but they just seem overwrought, except there are too many of those cases. What is going on?
Dr. Bennell meets up with old love interest Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), who is worried for her cousin Wilma, and his friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan) who has made a scary discovery in his basement: A body with blurred features, but not unlike Jack’s. At this point Miles, Becky and Jack are seriously worried, but they have not seen half of it yet. The town is being taken over by seedpods from outer space who grows copies of people and replace the originals with them. The pod-people are unrecognizable from the originals except that they are unable to show or feel emotion. And they are totally devoted to their cause of taking over the world.
As Miles slowly learns the truth, his becomes a constant run from the pod-people. Who is friend and who is foe? Miles is quickly running out of the former while there is no lack of the latter until eventually he is all alone.
There are essentially two parts to the movie: the slow building up of the mystery with anxiety creeping into the story and then a frantic escape that never really succeeds. I am sitting here sixty years later and still feel both the creepiness and the adrenalin of the two parts. That is not a small achievement considering this is a genre that has evolved immensely on both accounts in the intervening years.
It is true that the actors are not top notch, but they are also not so bad that the movie falls flat on their account. Most of the regular people are just that and that is probably why they work so well. It is exactly because all these aliens are so normal and recognizable that they are freaky. For me the most horrifying scenes are those with the little boy who is scared of his mother and does not want to go home, yet later we see him perfectly at peace with his mother. Obviously the little boy has succumbed as well. It is not what we see, but what we know has happened.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was supposed to end with Miles standing on the highway trying in vain to warn people, but the studio was concerned about ending on such a downbeat. Instead a prologue and an epilogue were pasted on to tell us that in the end the warning did get out, hopefully in time. It would have been a great ending with Miles on the highway and it would have made it a true Noir, but although the addition feels artificial I suppose it was the best they could do. The world it not saved, far from, but at least it got a chance. Also I quite liked the flashback narrator. That gave it a good Noir feel.
I read that the movie has been considered a response to the McCarthy hearings, but I am not convinced of that. So many movies at this time were concerned with the invasion and subversion theme that this simply follows that track. It plays on a paranoia that was very much mid-fifties and just does a better job at that than most movies.
Needless to say I loved this movie and I knew I would. It is deservedly a classic and a must-see for any fan of the genre. And if you see something strange growing in your basement or greenhouse then get rid of it and be quick about it! And do not under any circumstances fall asleep!!!