Director – Don Siegel – 1956 – US – Cert. PG – 80m
The classic, paranoid SF outing about the residents of a small, American town being replaced by conformist, emotionless duplicates – on BFI Blu-ray from Monday, October 25th
This is an incomplete review, currently in progress…
Made in the middle of Hollywood’s 1950s B-movie Sci-Fi boom, this movie was made by Don Siegel who previously made hard-boiled crime thrillers after cutting his teeth as an editor of montage sequences in, among other things, Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) with a striking script and a strong cast headed by Kevin McCarthy and, in her first starring role, Dana Wynter, which also includes Carolyn Jones who would later achieve fame playing Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series (creator David Levy, 1964).
Based on a Colliers Magazine serial by Jack Finney, it’s built around the highly potent idea of human beings being replaced by emotionless duplicates who operate as a communal whole rather than individual people. It’s often been read as a metaphor for the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts of the period, but as noted in the fascinating documentary Sleep No More, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Revisited (2006), the left thought it was a satire on the right while the right thought it was a satire on the left. Fundamentally, it’s about people not conforming to a prevailing view, and as such has much to say about numerous situations.
The emotionless duplicates are known as the Pod People, since they grow duplicate human bodies based on specific individuals in order to later replace people. These days, the term is a label for conformity. One might even apply to to elements within the movie business who want to play it safe to maximise profits rather than take creative or artistic risks which might jeopardise box office returns. Which brings us to one of the many fascinating extras on the disc, several of which were made by Paramount in 2006 to capitalise on the fiftieth anniversary of the film’s release.
Return To Santa Mira (2006) is not the 13-minute film stated, but rather a series of two- or three-minute shorts run back to back detailing various aspects of the film’s location work in and around L.A. The small town of Santa Mira, it turns out, is a fiction. Many of the locations which combined to bring it to life on the screen are still there today, if you know where to look (and these shorts provide a most helpful starting point).
What’s particularly interesting is that the friendly voice-over and homely, jocular background music could all be read as an attempt to sell the idea of IOTBS as a much loved film (which is now is) when it’s actually a terrifying essay on witch hunting and paranoia, the hopeless struggle of the individual against the all-subsuming, monolithic social group. Were Pod People behind these extremely likeable promotional shorts?
(More to come…)
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, October 25th.