A comedic romance film written by Charlie Kaufman, directed …
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1956 horror science fiction film based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (originally serialized in Colliers Magazine in 1954). It stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones. The screenplay was adapted from Finney's novel by Daniel Mainwaring, along with an uncredited Richard Collins, and was directed by Don Siegel.
In 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten" — the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the science fiction genre.
The film has been remade three times.
Set in the fictional town of Santa Mira, California (actually shot in Sierra Madre), the plot centers on Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), a local doctor, who finds a rash of patients accusing their loved ones of being impostors. Another patient is a former sweetheart of his; recent divorcée Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), who tells him that her cousin, Wilma, has this same strange fear about Uncle Ira.
Assured at first by the town psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Kaufman (Larry Gates), that the cases are nothing but "epidemic mass hysteria," Bennell soon discovers, with the help of his friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan), that the townspeople are in fact being replaced by perfect physical duplicates, simulations grown from plantlike pods. The Pod People are indistinguishable from normal people, except for their utter lack of emotion. The Pod People work together to secretly spread more pods — which grew from "seeds drifting through space for years" — in order to replace the entire human race.
The film climaxes with Bennell and Driscoll attempting to escape the pod people, intending to warn the rest of humanity. They hide; Driscoll falls asleep and is subverted. With the Pod People close behind, a seemingly crazed Bennell runs onto the highway frantically screaming about the alien force which has overrun Santa Mira to the passing motorists and (in a moment that is considered a breaking of the Fourth Wall) looks into the camera and yells, "They're here already! You're next! You're next!"
Finally, Bennell is picked up by the police and questioned in a clinic. The policemen in charge do not believe his account-until they receive news of an accident in which a truck carrying strange giant beanpods is upended. The police are quick to alert the authorities; the message has been received, but the actual end of the story is left open.
Originally, producer Walter Wanger and director Don Siegel wanted to shoot Invasion of the Body Snatchers on location in Jack Finney's model for Santa Mira, Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco. In the first week of January 1955, Siegel, Wanger, and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring visited Finney to talk about the film version and to take a look at Mill Valley. The location proved to be too expensive and Siegel and some Allied Artists executives found locations resembling Mill Valley in Sierra Madre, Chatsworth, Glendale, the Los Feliz neighborhood and in Bronson and Beachwood Canyons. However, much of the film was shot in the Allied Artists studio on the east side of Hollywood. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was originally budgeted for a 24-day schedule at USD $454,864 and the studio asked Wanger to cut the budget significantly. The producer proposed a shooting schedule of 20 days and a budget of $350,000.
Initially, Wanger considered Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotten and several others for the role of Miles. For Becky, he thought of casting Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, Vera Miles and others. With the lower budget, Wanger had to abandon these choices and cast Richard Kiley, who had just starred in Phoenix City Story for Allied Artists. Kiley turned the role down and Wanger cast two relative newcomers in the lead roles: Kevin McCarthy, who had just starred in Siegel's Annapolis Story, and Dana Wynter, who had done several major dramatic roles on television but had not done a film.
The film was shot in 23 days between March 23, 1955 and April 18, 1955. The cast and crew worked a six-day week with only Sundays off. The production went over schedule by three days because of night-for-night shooting that Siegel wanted. The final budget was $382,190. When released in 1956, the movie made over $1 million in its first month. In 1956 alone, the movie made over $2.5 million in the USA. When the British issue took place in late 1956, the film made over a half million dollars in ticket sales.
The project was originally called The Body Snatchers after the Finney serial. However, Wanger wanted to avoid confusion with the Val Lewton 1945 horror film with a very similar title. The producer was unable to come up with a title and accepted the studio's choice, They Come from Another World that was assigned in summer 1955. Siegel protested this title and suggest two alternatives: Better Off Dead and Sleep No More, while Wanger offered Evil in the Night and World in Danger. None of these were chosen as the studio finally settled on Invasion of the Body Snatchers in late 1955.
Wanger saw the final cut in December 1955 and protested the use of the Superscope format. Its use had been a part of the early plans for the film, but the first print was not made until December. Wanger felt that the film lost sharpness and detail. Siegel had originally shot Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Superscope was a post-production lab process designed to create an anamorphic print that would be projected at an aspect ratio of 2.00:1.
The studio scheduled three previews for the film on the last days of June and the first day of July 1955. According to Wanger's memos at the time, the previews were successful. However, later reports by Mainwaring and Siegel contradict this, claiming that audiences could not follow the film and laughed in the wrong places. In response, the studio removed much of the film's humor, "humanity" and "quality," according to Wanger. He scheduled another preview in mid-August that did not go well. The studio decided to change the film's title to a more conventional science fiction one. In later interviews, Siegel pointed out that it was studio policy not to mix humor with horror.
When the film was released nationally in early 1956, many theatres displayed several of the pods (made of paper) at theatre lobbies and entrances along with large lifelike black and white cutouts of McCarthy and Wynter running frantically away from a crowd.
Both Siegel and Mainwaring were satisfied with the film as shot. It was originally intended to end with Miles screaming hysterically as truckloads of pods pass him by. The studio, wary of such a pessimistic conclusion, insisted on adding a prologue and epilogue to the movie that suggested a more optimistic outcome to the story which is thus told mainly in flashback. In this version the movie begins with Bennell in a hospital emergency room where he might be sent to an insane asylum. He then tells a doctor (Whit Bissell) his story. In the closing scene, pods are discovered at a highway accident, thus confirming his warning. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is notified, though it is left ambiguous whether they intervene in time to save the Earth. Mainwaring scripted this framing story and Siegel shot it on September 16, 1955 at Allied Artists.
Wanger wanted to add a variety of speeches and prefaces. He suggested a voice-over introduction for Miles. While the film was being shot, Wanger tried to get permission in England to use a Winston Churchill quotation as a preface to the film. The producer also tried to get Orson Welles to voice the preface and a trailer for the film. He wrote speeches for Welles' opening on June 15, 1955 and spent considerable time trying to convince Welles to do it, but was unsuccessful. Wanger considered science fiction author Ray Bradbury instead but this did not happen, either. Mainwaring eventually wrote the voice-over narration himself. The shorter version of the film was often rerun late at night on TV stations and one PBS showing in 1988. The full theatrical version was not widely released until 1978 when a remake was produced starring Donald Sutherland.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers holds a 100 percent "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. In recent years, critics have hailed the film as a "genuine SF classic" and one of the "most resonant" and "one of the simplest" of the genre. The BBC wrote, "The sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia is acute, as is the temptation to view the film as a metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era."
In 1993, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the science fiction genre. Time included Invasion of the Body Snatchers on their list of 100 all-time best films, the top 10 1950s Sci-Fi Movies, and Top 25 Horror Films.
The film has been read as both an allegory for the loss of personal autonomy in the Soviet Union, as an allegory of Cold War paranoia, and as an indictment of the damage to the human personality caused by reductionist modern ideologies of Right and Left. It has also been read, however, as a metaphor of alienation in modern mass civilization, or a covert indictment of McCarthyism.
Despite the general agreement among film critics regarding these political connotations of the film, lead actor Kevin McCarthy said in an interview included on the 1998 DVD release that he felt no political allegory was intended. The interviewer stated that he had spoken with the author of the original novel, Jack Finney, who also professed to have intended no specific political allegory in the work.
In his autobiography, "I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History," Walter Mirisch writes: "People began to read meanings into pictures that were never intended. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an example of that. I remember reading a magazine article arguing that the picture was intended as an allegory about the communist infiltration of America. From personal knowledge, neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor the original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple."
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