Saturday, August 25, 2012

DVD Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

(Released: 2002  by Republic Entertainment, Inc.) 

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you!”

…Well, that would all depend on WHO you were talking about, wouldn’t it? 

But, in the mother of all terrible segues, I’d sure hate to wake up some morning and find out that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was a romantic comedy! 

The core concept of this classic is so well known, I don’t have to spend much time setting it up. Do I? 

Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns from a medical conference, to his hometown of Santa Mira, to find an increasing number of residents declaring that their friends and/or relatives are somehow “different”. 

With girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) he unravels a startling mystery of “seed pods” from outer space “creating duplicate bodies” for the townspeople, and those “bodies” completely assuming the identities of their intended victims.

…But, somehow, I’ll bet you all knew this!  So, we’ll just go with some choice QUOTES from the film, for your reading pleasure: 

The first “Pod Person” to be discovered in its early formation begins to take shape: 

It’s FACE, Miles, it’s VAGUE!”

It’s like the first impression that’s stamped on a coin!  It isn’t FINISHED!” 

You’re right!  It has all the FEATURES, but no DETAILS!  No character!  No Lines!”

Miles attempts to offer an explanation to the unexplainable:

So much has been discovered these past few years [ JOE’S NOTE: I’ll assume he means “These past few years of ‘50s Sci-Fi films – where, admittedly, quite a lot of bizarre and fantastic ground has been covered! ] that anything is possible!  Maybe the result of atomic radiation on plant life, or animal life!  Some weird alien organism, a mutation of some kind!

Whatever intelligence or instinct it is that can govern the forming of HUMAN FLASH AND BLOOD – out of thin air – well, it’s fantastically powerful!  Beyond all comprehension!” 

The “explanation” (such as it is) is later offered to Miles by one of the Pod victims:

Miles, you and I are scientific men.  You can understand the wonder of what’s happened.  Just think, less than a month ago, Santa Mira was like any other town – people with nothing but problems.

Then, out of the sky, came a SOLUTION!  SEEDS, drifting through space for years, took root in a farmer’s field.  From the seeds came PODS, which had the power to reproduce themselves in the EXACT LIKENESS of any form of life. 

Your NEW BODIES are growing in there.  They’re taking you over, cell for cell – atom for atom.  There’s no pain.  Suddenly, while you’re asleep, they’ll absorb your minds, your memories, and you’re reborn into an untroubled world!”

…You know, there are days I’d actually consider signing up for that! 

But, just before I do, I recall Miles giving us the “message” of the picture: 

“In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away!  Only, it happens SLOWLY, instead of all at once!  They didn’t seem to mind!

But, just SOME people, Miles!”, adds Becky.

All of us – a little bit!”, counters Miles.  We harden our hearts and grow callous! Only when we have to FIGHT to stay human, do we realize how precious it is to us!”

YEAH, MILES!  Take it to those “Sons of Switchers”! 

And so, we have 01:20:08 of superbly paranoid action and thrills.  Our two solid leads (McCarthy and Wynter) uphold my unofficial observation is that ‘50s Sci-Fi films needed no real "stars" – just a good premise, a good monster, or both.  (…And “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” clearly had BOTH!) 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


A Disappointing Non-Array of Extra Features:  Not quite a nearly complete lacking of Extra Features, as has been found on other ‘50s Sci-Fi DVD packages like THIS ONE.  But, nearly so. 

My standard for a movie DVD’s Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and “making-of” or background featurette.  Neither a commentary track nor a featurette is included with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, giving it a major CON in this area.

Given the decades-long popularity of this film, and its entry into our very lexicon, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” deserved more!  “Pod Person” has become a part of our language, and its INFLUENCE on future artifacts of popular culture is unquestioned.

From VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (“The Wax Men”, “The Deadly Dolls” – both 1967), LOST IN SPACE (“The Phantom Family” – 1967, “Target Earth” – 1968) to SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES (“Unity” – 2000), and even “The Strange World of Gregory Gopher” in issue # 127 of the MICKEY MOUSE comic book series (1970) where important citizens were being replaced by duplicates made of living vegetable matter, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has left its mark on more than I can possibly list in this space – making the lack of such features regrettable indeed.

BELOW: "Influence of the Body Snatchers"!
Oh, to control Judy!

That's a LOT of influences!
I’m willing to concede, though, that its 2002 release was still a bit “early in the game” for the generally-held standards for a DVD production and give it the benefit of a doubt.  At least the set offered far more than would a standard VHS tape of then-recent vintage.


It’s ‘50s Sci-Fi:  That means you’re in for a wild ride (often – but not always – in Black and White), with stalwart heroes facing down monsters, aliens, bizarre mutations, and any other strange phenomena the screenwriters could come up with.  The general feeling is not unlike that freewheeling Sci-Fi / Adventure period for television during the early to mid-sixties.  The rules, such as they were, were being made up before your eyes - -and what a glorious sight it was. 

Full Screen vs. Letterbox:  The viewer is offered a choice of “Full Screen” (as you would have seen the film on television (before the “flat-screen era”) or “Letterbox”, though  they call it “Widescreen” (simulating the widescreen theatrical experience – but within a small RECTANGLE, leaving far too much “blank space” around all four sides of the image).

It’s NOT widescreen!  Widescreen would fill up the entire image area of my widescreen TV.  But, since such TVs were not in common use (if they existed at all) in 2002, I’ll commend Republic for offering a “Letterbox”, image, no matter what they CALL it. 

For the record, the letterbox image was so small within the overall area of my TV screen, that I actually preferred the “Full Screen” version. 

Oddly, the choice between “Full Screen” and “Letterbox” is presented on TWO DIFFERENT SIDES of the disc.  Side A is “Letterbox”,  while Side B is “Full Screen”.  Beyond that, the two sides are identical – offering all of the same options and features. 

The Film:  One of the most famous films of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre.  Creepy and exciting, in a ‘50s-sort-of way you won’t soon forget. 

The Cast:

Kevin McCarthy as “Dr. Miles Bennell”.

Dana Wynter as “Becky Driscoll”.

King Donovan as “Jack Belicec”.

Carolyn Jones as “Theodora (Teddy) Belicec”.

Larry Gates as “Dr. Dan Kaufman”.

Whit Bissell as “Psychiatrist” (Uncredited.  In framing sequence only.)

Richard Deacon as “Doctor” (Uncredited.  In framing sequence only.)

And there’s even a small part for Sam Peckinpah as “Charlie the Meter Reader”!

RUN!  It’s Sam Peckinpah!

Extra Features (Such as they are):

Theatrical Trailer for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: (02:02)

VOICEOVER:  They come from ANOTHER WORLD, spawned in the light years of space, to TAKE OVER THE BODIES AND SOULS of the people of our planet – bringing a new dimension of TERROR to the giant ‘SUPERSCOPE' screen!”

A cursed, dreadful MALEVOLENT THING was happening to those he loved!”

HUGE ON-SCREEN TEXT: "Walter Wanger brings you the ULTIMATE in Science Fiction – INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS!”

RUN!  It’s Walter Wanger and his Superscope!
Walter Wanger sure covered a lot of cinematic ground, considering he also produced THIS classic of another genre! 

TV Interview with Kevin McCarthy: (07:24)

Hosted by Los Angeles television personality Tom Hatten, a familiar face who presented Popeye cartoons and classic movies.  The interview dates from 1985, and Hatten is quite energetic and enthusiastic in his participation.  Among the tidbits revealed:

Kevin McCarthy was a New York stage actor, who came west for the film. 

Exteriors were shot in Sierra Madre and (everyone’s favorite outdoor location) Bronson Canyon. 

Despite many assertions to the contrary by film critics and historians, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was not created as a reflection of the real-life “McCarthy (no relation) Era” – at least in the opinion of KEVIN McCarthy. 

Run!  It’s a lot of OLD CARS! 

The most revealing item was that McCarthy was called back to film a wrap-around framing sequence to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that featured familiar actors Whit Bissell (THE TIME TUNNEL) as a psychiatrist and Richard Deacon (THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW) as a doctor. 

Whit Bissell
The original ending left McCarthy’s Dr. Miles Bennell running crazed along the highway, trying to warn anyone who might listen about the Pod People.  That was considered by the studio as too much of a downer and the wrap-around, where Bissell – as a credible authority figure – comes to believe Miles’ wild tale, leaving the audience feeling that SOMETHING may be done about the threat after all. 
...Ya Gotta Believe me!

…Of course, maybe NOTHING was done, and we’ve all been Pod People since 1956 – as if we’d notice the difference!  (…That sure would explain modern politics!  ...And "reality" TV!)

As evidence of the last minute nature of the add-on, Bissell and Deacon are not credited as part of the film’s cast. 

In terms of information on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, Kevin McCarthy’s brief interview may not adequately replace the Commentary Track and Making-Of features “that might have been”, but he DOES supply some choice info in the available time. 


Invasion of the Body Snatchers” remains an icon of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre. 

It’s one of those films that everyone should see at least once.  It merited not one, but two, modern remakes.  At its core is a frightening concept that was well-executed, even back in 1956.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers” did not need an overabundance of CGI effects, excessive violence, blood or gore to tell its story.  Its story was – and IS – chilling enough, just the way it is! 

Despite being light in the features department, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is recommended for fans of fifties Sci-Fi and all the entertainment products directly or indirectly influenced by the imaginative core concept, eerie small towns… and especially for those like me who DON’T enjoy gardening!  We can use this film to warn our spouses of the evils that plant life can bring!  …BURN ‘EM ALL!


Chris Barat said...


Corollary to the famous (?) claim that "You can explain anything with magic": In the 1950's, you could explain anything as a result of RADIATION! How many sci-fi movies were spun off of that conceit!

I've heard conflicting stories about the "hidden message" behind this movie. The "Joe McCarthy" argument has been made on several occasions, but Don Siegel later claimed that the movie was meant to bring to mind the "Red menace" of Communist infiltration (and given that Siegel later went on to direct the decidedly right-wing DIRTY HARRY, that latter interpretation may hold at least SOME water). I suppose that the manner in which one interprets the film depends in large part on the ideological mindset that one brings to the table.

That's a very impressive list of productions/creations influenced by the original IOTBS. It's amusing to note that "The Strange World of Gregory Gopher" was flagged on the cover as "a new fun adventure." "Fun" isn't the first thing that I think of when I consider this concept!


Joe Torcivia said...

Great comments, Chris! Let’s address some of ‘em…

CB: “In the 1950's, you could explain anything as a result of RADIATION! How many sci-fi movies were spun off of that conceit!”

MANY of them, Chris! …And, how many SILVER AGE COMICS?!

The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and even The Amazing Spider-Man! At DC, we had The Atom – and later Firestorm. THE SIMPSONS sent up the whole thing with “Radioactive Man”!

CB: “Don Siegel later claimed that the movie was meant to bring to mind the "Red menace" of Communist infiltration”

If I HAD to attach some political ideology to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, I’d probably go with the “Communist infiltration” thing too – having “achieved general awareness” in the sixties, rather than the fifties.

…But, to me, it’s really JUST a cracker-jack Sci-Fi thriller concept! Witness its many “children”!

CB: “It's amusing to note that "The Strange World of Gregory Gopher" was flagged on the cover as "a new fun adventure." "Fun" isn't the first thing that I think of when I consider this concept!”

Well… Gregory DID have fun ruling things for a while, I suppose. …And I *MUST* have had fun reading it, given my fondness for it has lasted 42 years (…this month, actually!)

One more thing, among the “influenced entities” listed; Superman’s “Unity” is slightly out of step. The Seaview crew, the Robinsons, and the citizens of Mouseton were all REPLACED by duplicates of various kinds, while their “real” selves were asleep, entranced, or imprisoned in freezing tubes or prison cells. That covered the “replacing people” aspect of the film.

In “Unity”, the Kents and the other inhabitants of Smallville are THEMSELVES possessed by the creature – but it’s still a legitimate influence in that it does the “creepy small town where everyone seems somewhat… different” riff to a “T”.


Anonymous said...

Movies are like a Rorschach test, and interpretations do depend on the mindset that one brings to the table. I've heard theories that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a warning against communist subversion and that it was a statement against the (Joseph) McCarthy witch hunts. Of course, according to film critics and historians, every good movie or play in the 1950's was an allegory against McCarthyism: The Crucible, Bad Day at Black Rock, High Noon, IOTBS, Kiss Me Deadly, Mister Magoo cartoons. As for Don Siegel, I haven't been able to find any indication of his politics. My impression is he was probably a moderate centrist, but I don't know.

Anonymous said...

...and Daredevil, Doctor Solar, and Captain Atom. In SA comics, getting a dose of radiation could be a great career move. I seem to remember Stan Lee saying in an interview that he was influenced by "a lot of sci-fi movies about radiation exposure causing mutations." Or something to that effect.

Joe Torcivia said...


“High Noon”? Really? McCarthyism and the reactions to it must have been far more rampant that even I realized. Makes me glad I just missed it at birth!

When I heard that John Wayne made “Rio Bravo” as a response to his objections to “High Noon”, that takes on a whole additional meaning now.

Anonymous said...

The Seaview's officers were sometimes replaced by duplicates, and sometimes Nelson or Crane would be hypnotized themselves. "Mind control by enemy agents or alien invaders" may have been the most often used plot device in the later seasons.

Joe Torcivia said...

Yes, indeed on VOYAGE, Anon! All that sure saved money on “guest-villains”! That’s why I only chose to showcase the two episodes where they were REPLACED by “Snatcher-type” entities, rather than merely possessed, brainwashed, impersonated, or otherwise controlled!

Bringing our discussion all the way back around: Oddly, I recall reading that the first “mind control by an alien invader” episode, William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter’s (aptly titled, if uninspired in its wording) “The Monster from Outer Space” (1965) was intended by its writers to reflect the infiltration of Communism into our society – and, instead, had the unintended consequence of charting the course for Seasons Three and Four!

Anonymous said...

"Monster from Outer Space" was, AFAIK, the first Voyage episode with mind control by an alien from space. The first episode with a character brainwashed by agents of a foreign country was probably the first season's "The Saboteur." That one was mentioned not too long ago in TIAH, in a post on the late Warren Stevens. (The first season often had evil plots by "the People's Republic." Somehow, I doubt they meant Ireland.)

Anonymous said...

I've heard that Wayne and Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo as a rebuttal to High Noon. That seems to be the official party line, anyway. So I'll go along with it.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, to control Judy!" I had almost forgotten how cute Marta Kristen was. Unfortunately, she and most of the cast got shoved into the background when LiS evolved into "The Will, Dr. Smith, and Robot Show."

Joe Torcivia said...


I think that “High Noon” and “Rio Bravo” both stand very well as two different sides of a particular western story! The political implications, though, (if true) make for an interesting side story!

Though I’d still like to think that… sometimes a great Sci-Fi story is just a great Sci-Fi story – and sometimes a great Western is just a great Western!

And, always glad to share a Comments Section with someone who “knows their Irwin Allen”!

Lastly, Marta Kristen, Yvonne Craig, and Grace Lee Whitney were my “big three”, growing up! …Anyone who needs to ask “Big three what?” is banned from my Blog for a month! :-)

Anonymous said...

Correction: if I had really known my Irwin Allen, I would have said that "The Blizzard Makers" was probably the first VTTBOTS episode with the villains hypnotizing someone to sabotage Seaview. But the brainwashing victim in that one was a guest star. So "The Saboteur" may be still be the first in which Crane or Nelson got brainwashed by an unnamed "hostile foreign power," and "The Monster from Outer Space" was the first with mind control by a space alien. And now I feel like Dr. Raj Koothrappali. "Holy crap! Are WE ever nerdy!" :)

Joe Torcivia said...

…And, I might add, Anon… are we ever PROUD OF IT! And this is the place to let it all hang out!

Yes, believe it or not, I had the same thought about “The Blizzard Makers”, and set it aside for the same reason! And “knowing your Irwin Allen” is what allowed you to consider and discard “The Blizzard Makers” as an alternate. So fear not… your Junior Woodchuck Merit Badge in “Irwin Allen-ology” is in no jeopardy of revocation.

I also recalled “The Blizzard Makers” as being exceptionally slow (especially at its beginning), compared to what would follow –AND, like the later “Man of Many Faces”, set up a hugely interesting premise (Snow in the Gulf, or tidal chaos caused by the Moon drawing nearer) and doing nothing with it beyond using it as a backdrop for the saboteur infiltration plot.

Yep… Be PROUD OF IT, my friend! Always be PROUD OF IT!