Movie poster: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The 1950s were well known for sci­ence fic­tion films.  Many of those films focused on the theme of the impact of atom­ic radi­a­tion on inhab­i­tants of our world.  Thus we saw giant insects and rep­tiles in films such as Them, Godzilla, and Giant Gila Monster.  Others told of invaders from out­er space, includ­ing The Day The Earth Stood Still, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,  and War of The Worlds.  Today’s Reel Classic selec­tion is tak­en from that genre and has been described as a sci­ence fic­tion clas­sic—Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

Mysterious seeds fall from out­er space and take root in the farm­land out­side the fic­tion­al California town of Santa Mira.  Kevin McCarthy is the local doc­tor, Miles Bennell.  He is puz­zled by the com­plaint of many of his patients that their friends and loved ones appear to have been replaced by emo­tion­less dou­bles. On first take he sees no changes—the indi­vid­u­als look, speak, and behave as those he knew.  He ini­tial­ly sus­pects some sort of mass psy­chosis and con­sults with a psy­chi­a­trist friend of his.  Shortly, how­ev­er, he begins to see the dif­fer­ences as described to him in folks.  His friend, Jack Belicec (King Donovan), con­tacts him to come see what he has found—a body with a blank face and no fin­ger­prints.  The body favors that of his friend, Jack. This dis­cov­ery has unnerved Jack and his wife, “Teddy” (Carolyn Jones). 

Dr. Miles Bennell’s lady friend and con­fi­dant is Becky Driscoll (played by Dana Wynter).  Any doubts he had of the humans being replaced are dashed when he finds a like­ness of Becky grow­ing from a pod in her base­ment.  It is quick­ly becom­ing appar­ent that the towns­peo­ple are being replaced by the “pod peo­ple.”  He and his friends (Becky, Jack, and “Teddy”) are bound and deter­mined to alert author­i­ties of the danger. 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was based on the nov­el The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney and pub­lished in 1955.  The sto­ry had pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in ser­i­al form in Colliers Magazine in 1954.  The pod focus­es on an indi­vid­ual and slow­ly begins to take on the shape and appear­ance of that indi­vid­ual.  While the per­son is sleep­ing the trans­for­ma­tion is com­plet­ed as the pod takes the mind and mem­o­ries.  It can­not take on the emo­tions of a human and there­fore the “new” indi­vid­ual lacks any abil­i­ty to feel any emotions—including love, hope, and grief.

The film was released in 1956 and was per­ceived as a “B” movie.  Production costs were low and film­ing was com­plet­ed in a lit­tle over three weeks.  Kevin McCarthy had been nom­i­nat­ed for an Academy Award for his role in the 1951 film Death of a Salesman.  He was good friends with Montgomery Clift at the time and acknowl­edged being jeal­ous as Montgomery Clift was work­ing on a big-bud­get film at MGM (Raintree County) with Elizabeth Taylor, and he was work­ing on this low-bud­get, black and white sci-fi  “B” movie.  Today many crit­ics rarely talk of Raintree County but view Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a classic.

Those ini­tial­ly con­sid­ered for the role of Dr. Bennell includ­ed Gig Young, Dick Powell, and Joseph Cotten.  For the role of Becky, oth­ers con­sid­ered includ­ed Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, and Vera Miles.  Dana Wynter, who played Becky, had lit­tle expe­ri­ence in movies but had a num­ber of roles in var­i­ous tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions.  Carolyn Jones (“Teddy”) is prob­a­bly best known for her tele­vi­sion role of Morticia Addams in The Addams Family.  However, she appeared in a num­ber of films includ­ing The House Of Wax (with Vincent Price), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and with Elvis Presley in King Creole.  One oth­er impor­tant fact is that she was nom­i­nat­ed for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in The Bachelor Party. 

Other actors in the film will be very famil­iar to those who are fans of “B” movies and 50s/60s television–King Donovan (Jack Belicec),  Tom Fadden (Uncle Ira), and Ralph Dumke (Police Chief Grivett).  You may not know the names but I am sure you will rec­og­nize the faces.  The pro­tégé of Don Siegel (direc­tor) had a small role as a meter read­er but went on to make a name for him­self as a famous director—Sam Peckinpah. 

One of the inter­est­ing notes regard­ing the spe­cial effects is how the body dou­bles were cre­at­ed when shown com­ing from the pod.  The actors were sub­merged in a plas­tic-like cast­ing mate­r­i­al that was heat­ed and clung to their bod­ies.  While doing this they had to breathe through a straw until the mate­r­i­al hard­ened.  Reportedly Carolyn Jones had the most dif­fi­cult time with this as she was claustrophobic.

When the movie was released to the­aters there was a dis­play of paper-mache pods in the lob­by with a card­board cut-out of Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter run­ning from the “pod people.” 

Movie frame from Invasion of the Body Snatchers

One oth­er inter­est­ing note about the film.  Many peo­ple believe it was a com­men­tary on the state of America dur­ing the House Unamerican Activities Committee hear­ings led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  Others believed it to be a state­ment regard­ing the fear of  Communism.  However, Kevin McCarthy and the author of the book, Jack Finney, denied any such intent.  They stat­ed the film was a thriller and work of sci­ence fic­tion.  However, direc­tor Don Siegel report­ed­ly stat­ed that the polit­i­cal ref­er­ences to Senator McCarthy and total­i­tar­i­an­ism are “inescapable.”  

In 1994 Invasion of the Body Snatchers was select­ed by the Library Of Congress for preser­va­tion in the U.S. National Film Registry.  After its release in February 1956, it earned over $1 mil­lion in the first month and over $2.5 mil­lion for the year.  The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) has it rat­ed at 7.7 out of 10.  Rotten Tomatoes has a crit­ics’ review score of 98% and an audi­ence score of 85%. 

The movie has been remade mul­ti­ple times—perhaps the best known being in 1978.  That ver­sion starred Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.  Other remakes include Body Snatchers (with Forest Whitaker and Meg Tilly,1993) and The Invasion (with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, 2007).

In my search, I found the movie avail­able on the ROKU Channel for free.  Others had it but for a fee.  The Clark County Public Library has a copy of the DVD on the shelf.  Check it out.  If you like 1950s sci-fi you will love this one.  And, if you are not famil­iar with 1950s sci-fi, this is a good place to start.

One final note before I leave you.  After read­ing the Reel Classics review of the Laurel & Hardy film Sons Of The Desert, John Maruskin at the Clark County Public Library informed me that he had ordered two col­lec­tions of Laurel & Hardy films—a col­lec­tion of fea­ture films and a col­lec­tion of shorts.  Thank you, John.  They should be on the shelf soon so please check them out.

Keep watch­ing for the next edi­tion of Reel Classics and check out the trail­er below.

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).