Friday, April 17, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) ****

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is my favorite movie from the 1950s.  With elements of sci-fi, horror, and satire, Invasion improves with each viewing.  At 80 minutes, the film moves along at an amazing pace.  Also, Invasion is full of great shots, a creepy score, great acting, and first rate direction from Don Siegel.

The film is set in a small California town where everything runs like clockwork.  Dr. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), the kindly local doctor, has just arrived back in town from a conference and notices his patients are acting odd. They talk about their loved ones not acting like themselves.  He rekindles a relationship with an old flame Becky (Dana Wynter) and together they try to figure out the strange behavior spreading in their community.

Eventually Miles and Becky discover the terrifying truth: people are being replaced by emotionless doubles who emerge from pods planted by aliens.  They attack when you sleep.

Interpretations of the film help explain the political climate of the 1950s:

1) McCarthyism - Many critics viewed the film as a parody of McCarthyism. America in the 50s embraced conformity and anyone outside the mainstream could be a communist - or worse.  Were the pods a portrait of Americans obsessed with conformity?

2) Anti-Communism - Or were the pods a sobering portrait of a communist society?  Emotionless, free of competition, and no religion too?

3) Anti-Fascist - Or did the pod people's groupthink and disavowal of individuality recall Nazi Germany?

Whatever one's interpretation, the political subtext adds a fascinating element.  

Humanism is also a key theme.  At one point Miles says to Becky:

All of us - a little bit - we harden our hearts, grow callous.  Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is. . .

I see the humanism as the pivotal theme:  If humanity is ever threatened with extinction, in whatever form it should arise, even the most cynical will cringe at the thought of losing their humanity.  

I plan on reviewing the remakes - all of which put their unique spin on the story.

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