Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Directed by Don Siegel
In 1956, director Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) released the highly influential science fiction film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” based on the magazine serial by Jack Finney. Unlike so many 60-year-old films, “Invasion” had what it took to stand the test of time. Two charismatic leading actors (Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter) and a clever, witty, and—dare I say—modern-sounding script let “Invasion” seamlessly appeal to audiences decades later…almost as if it was…an imposter!
After spending a week at a conference out of town, family physician Miles Bennell (McCarthy) returned to his quaint California town to find that many of his patients had sought his help while he was gone. His nurse reports dozens of patients who claimed they needed a doctor but wouldn’t say what for. Along with an old flame, Becky Driscoll (Wynter), Bennell begins making house calls to several patients who report that a relative has been acting strange, as if they weren’t themselves at all. Bennell, of course, thinks they’re delusional, until he sees the effects in someone he knows. As the city around them becomes less and less trustworthy, Bennell and Driscol will have to hunt for the truth while they’re still themselves.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” managed to create an effective sci-fi film without using phony-looking special effects, the kind of effects that—whether you like it or not—tend to ruin other movies from that era, especially from that genre. This helps the suspension of disbelief and lets you sink into one of the most psychologically disturbing stories of the time. It’s “Pleasantville” meets “The Matrix,” or a three-times-as-long “Twilight Zone” episode. Whatever you want to compare it to, it’s its own thing. And it’s wonderful. The young McCarthy and Wynter could star in movies today, if they were still around. Their charismatic appeal is timeless. And the film’s intelligent message about what truly makes us all human is universally understandable, now as well as then. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is so much more than just an exciting sci-fi classic…but it is certainly also that.