You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more seminal and iconic film of 1950s sci-fi than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Don Siegel’s short but sweet B-movie paranoia mindtrip. Admittedly, I thought little of this one before now, ranking it in the scores of 1950-60 schlock cinema that the term “B-movie” generally applies to. Well, Siegel and his film were more than happy to shut me up; this is a damn fine flick, as effective as it is well made. You wouldn’t think it to look at the film; you would think this would have cheesy effects and generally sub-par acting and production value, but it doesn’t.
Miles Bennell is a doctor in the small town of Santa Mira, California, who’s just come back from holiday to find a large number of the people of the town apparently consumed with some form of mass hysteria, believing the people around them to not really be those people, but impostors of some kind. He dismisses it as paranoia, until one of his patients calls him to his house and shows Miles a body on his pool table that looks just like the man. After finding a similar body in the cellar of his girlfriend’s house, one that looks just like her, Miles begins to believe that someone or something is making copies of all the people in the town, and using those copies to take over those people’s lives. Of course, if you’ve been born at all in the past and are even moderately aware of pop culture, you know his suspicions are far from unfounded. Really, aside from a sequence in Bennell’s greenhouse featuring a few of the eponymous pods, there is almost no special effect wizardry or science-fiction elements to this one. Instead, it’s all contained in the acting, which was quite believable across the board (though Dana Wynter’s job was mostly to run around looking demure and pretty), and the production value, which was extremely well-utilized, particularly in a sequence in the middle of the film that features the town square eerily empty until the replicated humans walk rank and file into the square and gather in the center. The score was rather overly bombastic, but I was able to forgive the film for wanting to be a little sensationalistic in this regard.
So, what is really at play here? A critique of the supposed Communist takeover of the times? A statement on the overbearing reaches of McCarthyism? Frankly, who the hell cares? I’d rather go by the director, actors, producers, and writers’ own words that no political allegory was intended; that this was just supposed to be a science-fiction thriller, and nothing more. Which it is, and it’s a damn good one. This was a very enjoyable film, fueled by a hearty display of paranoia and powered by an underlying engine firing on all cylinders. Don’t dismiss this as just another low-grade B-movie like all the rest; this is one B-movie that is certainly worth your time.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10