Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by Don Siegel.

A small town doctor gradually suspects something uncanny: people report their loved ones are "changing", although they appear to be the same. We don't encounter the first alien seed pod until the half-way point, then it's a race to escape and expose the unearthly menace which threatens to take over the world and, no small thing, disrupt the doctor's renewed chances with an old girlfriend.

A dandy classic efficiently told in 80 minutes, one of those little films ignored by critics at the time and only later appreciated. The locations help the realism of the story and the 1950s cars, clothes and nightclubs give a pleasant period ambience. I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) (a better movie than its title) is also good in this respect.

Kevin McCarthy is a likeable everyman hero and Dana Wynter is always lovely and smart. In a great bit, before either actually believes anything strange is happening, they talk about how each would know if the other had "changed". Why, a kiss would prove it. In the end, a kiss does indeed reveal the awful truth.

The director and cast deserve great credit for showing the "changed" as just ordinary people, more or less themselves without higher emotions, but not as leering or menacing monsters. No musical cues to their alienness, either.

This often gets a political interpretation; people argue that it is an allegory of communism or McCarthyism or both combined. Most of the original crew say no allegory was intended. The prologue and epilogue with the doctor in the psych ward was added after initial filming and this alters the interpretation somewhat. The original ending left the doctor on the highway with the trucks full of pods. That would have been something!

It raises other questions:

The aspect ratio is the relatively rare 2:1 Superscope. It seems like a roomy frame, probably an illusion caused by viewing on a 16:9 screen: the image is wide but taller than the more common 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio. (Later: I have been told that the aspect ratio was the more usual 1.85, but that distributors cropped the image).

I have reviewed the Philip Kaufman remake: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. The content is only 15GB, no subtitles. Image detail is variable, rather good in some scenes, just fair in others. ClassicFlix has it for rent.