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"!
BELOW: "Influence of the Body Snatchers"!
|Oh, to control Judy!|
|That's a LOT of influences!|
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.
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!
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.
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!