Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Sci-Fi Noir

irected by Don Siegel. Siegel was known for his work in the early and mid-'50s a series of economical, expertly crafted, memorable "B" pictures  (The Big Steal, Riot in Cell Block 11, Private Hell 36, Crime in the Streets, The LineupThe Killers,). He also directed episodes of The Twilight Zone TV Series, and later Eastwood's Coogan's Bluff, and Dirty Harry. 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was written by Daniel Mainwaring and Jack Finney and based on the Collier's magazine serial by Richard Collins.

Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks (Sudden Danger, Mister Buddwing) and Music was by Carmen Dragon.

The film  stars Academy Award nominee Kevin McCarthy (Death of A Salesman, Drive a Crooked Road, Nightmare, The Misfits) as Dr. Miles Bennell, Dana Wynter as Becky Driscoll, the ubiquitous King Donovan (Shockproof, Alias Nick Beal, All the Kings Men, Side Street, One Way Street, Mystery Street, Lady Without a Passport, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Storm Warning, The Enforcer, The Scarf, His Kind of Women) as Jack Belicec, Carolyn Jones (The Big Heat, Shield For Murder, Baby Face Nelson) as Theodora "Teddy" Belicec, With Larry Gates (In The Heat Of The Night, Some Came Running, Underworld USA) as Dr. Dan Kauffman, Virginia Christine (The Killers, The Killer Is Loose, Nightmare) as Wilma Lentz, Ralph Dumke as Police Chief Nick Grivett, Whit Bissell (uncredited) (Somewhere in the Night, Brute Force, Raw Deal, He Walked By Night, Side Street, The Killer That Stalked New York, The Sellout, Shack Out on 101) as Dr. Hill, Richard Deacon (uncredited) (Shield For Murder, Rouge Cop, Private Hell 36, Cry Vengeance, Blackboard Jungle) as Dr. Bassett, Bobby Clark as Jimmy Grimaldi, Dabbs Greer as Mac Lomax and Sam Peckinpah (director Route 66 TV Series, The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia) as Charlie, the Gas Meter Reader.

Night. Los Angeles. A police cruiser pulls down a side street and slips up to a City Emergency Hospital  entrance. 

Dr Hill hops out and heads quickly into the entrance. Inside he meets Dr. Bassett. 

Dr Hill hops out and heads quickly into the entrance. Inside he meets Dr. Bassett. 

Dr. Harvey Bassett: Oh, Doctor Hill.

Dr. Hill: Dr. Bassett. Well, where's the patient?

Dr. Harvey Bassett:  I hated to drag you out of bed at this time of night.

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: [screaming from behind door] Will you let me go while there's still time?

Dr. Harvey Bassett:  [to Dr. Hill] You'll soon see why I did.

The door flings open Doc Miles in a wild agitated state is being restrained by two cops. 

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: [cautiously] Who are you?

Dr. Hill: I'm Dr. Hill, from the state mental hospita...

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: I AM NOT INSANE!

[the cops are still restraining him]

Dr. Hill: Let him go!

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: Listen, Doctor, now you must listen to me, you must understand me, I'm a doctor too, I am not insane! I am NOT insane!

So Doc Miles relates that he is a doctor from Santa Mira who just got off the Southern Pacific's "Golden State" after some sort of a two doctors convention. 

Dr. Miles J. Bennell V.O.: Well, it started, for me it started last Thursday. In response to an urgent message from my nurse I'd hurried home from a medical convention I'd been attending. At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn't. Something evil had taken possession of the town.

His very first notion of there being any problems is while driving back from the station after getting picked up by his nurse Sally Withers. 

Jimmy Grimaldi runs yelling out of his house in a panic and without looking runs out right in front of him. Doc hits the hooks and chases after him followed by his mother Ann Grimaldi. 

He runs off into the brush. Ann tells the Doc that he doesn't want to go to school. The Doc tells Ann Grimaldi she'd better talk to his teachers. Then looking back towards the car and at Joe Grimaldi's farm stand he noticed that it looks abandoned and he asks Ann if Joe's been sick. She tells him that no, they just gave it up.

Sally tells Doc that got patients who have been insisting on seeing him and he's booked up for the day,  but they find when they get back to the office he's had six cancellations. While just finishing looking over some x-rays and about to go for lunch, he gets a visit from Becky Driscoll. She's been out of the country for the last five years and has just gotten back after her divorce. 

She is concerned because her cousin thinks her Uncle isn't really him. 

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: Have you seen him?

Becky Driscoll: I just came from there.

Dr. Miles J. Bennell:  Well, is he Uncle Ira or isn't he Uncle Ira?

Becky Driscoll: Of course he is, I told Wilma that but it was no use.

Then at the end Doc's work day Jimmy Grimaldi is dragged into the office by his grandmother. 

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: Isn't this Jimmy Grimaldi?

Grandma Grimaldi: Yes, Doctor, can I talk to you a moment?

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: Sure.

[to Jimmy]

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: You know I almost ran you down this morning? You've got to be more careful.

[Jimmy breaks away and runs, Sally catches him]

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: Hey! Hey hey hey hey hey, slow down now, school isn't as bad as all that.

Grandma Grimaldi: School isn't what upsets him, it's my daughter-in-law. He's got the craziest idea she isn't his mother.

Jimmy Grimaldi: [in hysterics] She isn't! She isn't! Don't let her get me!

Nurse Sally Withers: No one's going to get you, Jimmy.

[Jimmy sobs hysterically]

Dr. Miles J. Bennell: How long has this been going on?

Grandma Grimaldi: An hour ago I found him hiding in the cellar having hysterics, he wouldn't tell me anything until I started to phone his mother. That's when he said Anna wasn't his mother.

Later Doc and Becky go to visit her cousin and she is adamant that Uncle Ira is not Uncle Ira. They come up with this theory that there is something causing and epidemic of Capgras delusion, the belief that their relatives have been replaced with identical-looking impostors. 

It all goes Noirsville when Doc's good friends Jack and Teddy Belicec show him a strange body laying on Jacks billiard table. 

It resembles Jack but the body looks smooth and has no definition. When Jack accidently cuts his hand the body on the billiard table also develops a cut in exactly the same place on it's hand. The body also begins to develop further into a replica of Jack. When it finally opens it's eyes Teddy freaks out.

When Doc finds a similar body in Becky's basement he runs up to her room and awakes her and they leave the house. 

Later in Jack & Teddy's greenhouse they watch to their horror as more giant seed pods blooming out replicas of themselves, Doc and Jack pitchfork the bodies and decide they'd better split up and leave town.


Don Siegel just continually ratchets up the alienation and obsession both Visually and Thematically. This is probably Kevin McCarthy's signature role and he goes from cool, calm, professional, and confident to wildly hysterical. He's a hoot. the rest of the cast is perfect. Bravo! 10/10