Nov 5, 2010

24FPS Top 100 Films: No. 70

DIR: Don Seigel

Why is it on the list?
Films about alien invasions are very seldom actually about extra terrestrials coming to Earth. Beneath that surface there is almost always something else, and entirely Earthbound concern which the film is commenting on through its story. This was seldom more true than in the 1950’s when a fascination with ‘the bomb’ and the fear of communism ‘reds under the bed’ led to an explosion in what has come to be called paranoid sci-fi.

Among these films the original adaptation of INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS stands head and shoulders above the herd. It’s nakedly about communism, and about McCarthyism. The film documents events in a small town when local doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy, who frequently parodied and referenced this role in other films, right up until his death this year, aged 94). The thing that is really scary about this story, and this telling of it, is that the monster isn’t some 7 foot alien with acid for blood… it’s your wife, or your teacher, or your kid. The alien seed pods that arrive in town early in the film replicate the townspeople one by one, turning them into emotionless husks (or communists, if you’re tracking the metaphor here).

Don Seigel (one of Hollywood’s great journeyman directors, able to turn his hand to many genres) keeps a vice like grip on the film, cutting the narrative right to the bone so that every moment adds to either character (developing, for example, McCarthy’s relationship with local beauty Dana Wynter) or to the ever increasing tension. The square jawed McCarthy makes for a strong hero, but what’s really great is that the film doesn’t feel that it has to show him saving the day, in fact this is perhaps the bleakest of the paranoid sci-fi films, with its ending suggesting not that we will prevail but that what we’ve seen is just the first stage of what will become global domination by the pods.

It’s still a relevant work (especially at the moment actually, with the more extreme right wing elements of the US media accusing its president of being a commie) and the story has been remade three times (and that’s not even counting unofficial adaptations like THE FACULTY), but none has ever recaptured the bottled lightning of this first take.

Standout Scenes
The greenhouse
The glimpse of a pod person in mid transformation is one of the film’s most memorable shots.

From the chilling scene in which Miles wakes in the cave to find that Becky has been assimilated, to the justly famous (and much parodied) final frames of Miles running down the highway screaming “You’re next” at the passing traffic, the sense of doom this film closes with is one of its greatest assets

Memorable Lines
Stanley Driscoll: Is the baby asleep yet, Sally?
Nurse Sally Withers: No, but she will be soon. And there'll be no more tears.
Stanley Driscoll: Shall I put this in her room?
[referring to the alien seed pod he is carrying]
Nurse Sally Withers: Yes, in her playpen.

Wilma Lentz: There's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling.

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: I never knew fear until I kissed Becky.

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: They're here already! You're next! You're next, You're next...!

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