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Posts Tagged ‘Dana Wynter’

Most of the famous SF movies of the 50s cast long shadows in various ways, and some of them have even earned a remake. More influential than most, however, is Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which seems to have entered the cultural landscape on an almost unconscious level. Or perhaps it was there already. It certainly seems to be a story to which film-makers are repeatedly drawn back, as demonstrated by the three remakes this film has received to date.

It’s also received no end of critical acclaim, and a good deal of hyperbole too: ‘a chilling sci-fi movie with one of the greatest endings ever filmed’ proclaims the back of the DVD cover. Space appears to have prevented the end of this sentence being included, which runs something like ‘…and then moved to another point in the film’, for this is what actually happened. The original cut of the movie was deemed to be too downbeat, which is why the generally-available version is told using the device of a frame story.

Small-town doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin Carthy) has turned up at a Los Angeles hospital in a hysterical condition, telling a tale that leads everyone to doubt his sanity. Arriving back home after a holiday, Bennell found a strange psychological malaise spreading through the community – a peculiar neurosis whereby people, seemingly at random, believe their friends and family have been replaced by identical duplicates. Bennell doesn’t know what to make of it, and in any case is slightly more interested in romancing recently-divorced old flame Becky (Dana Wynter, who died only recently).

Then, things escalate: a friend discovers what seems to be a dead body, but one whose features appear only half-formed – though as time passes the thing assumes his appearance exactly. Other, similar duplicates turn up elsewhere. Eventually the source of the phenomenon is revealed: giant alien seed-pods have infested the town, and the replicas they have spawned are taking over. Lacking in human emotion or any feeling beyond the desire to spread, the replicas are determined that everyone should become like them…

As a serious thriller, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has two aces up its sleeve: a plot which demands no special effects or monster props beyond a few pods, and Don Siegel as the director. The slow build in tension throughout the story is masterfully done, with the tension mounting almost imperceptibly until it finally becomes clear just what a grim situation Bennell and his associates are in.

The story has some similarities with that of It Came From Outer Space – small-town American infiltrated by alien duplicates – but while that was a thoughtful and somewhat sombre take on the story, Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn’t afraid to go for thrills, and fairly visceral ones at that. It’s certainly one of the greatest exercises in paranoia in all of cinema. Does it work better than the 1979 remake, which reframes the story in terms of urban alienation? I don’t know. But it certainly works well, even with its teeth pulled by the happy ending provided by the frame story (and even so, given what we’ve seen in the movie I’d give the human race a fifty-fifty chance of survival at best).

It is traditional for Kevin not to be the only McCarthy under discussion when Invasion of the Body Snatchers is written about. Rather interestingly (and perhaps indicatively) the movie lends itself equally well to interpretations as either a Red-menace jeremiad or a satire on McCarthyism itself. If you ask me, of the two it’s the former – but by all accounts it wasn’t made with any particular subtext in mind. It picks up on deeper concerns about society and paranoia and identity.

Like most films of this ilk, the performances are competent rather than anything special, and some of the dialogue is a little bit hokey – particularly some of the romance between McCarthy and Wynter. There is also a fairly major issue with the climax and the fate of one of the characters, which flatly contradicts everything that’s previously been said. But by this point the film’s achieved enough to earn a little latitude, at least.

I saw The Invasion, which really isn’t a very good film, in 2007, and when asked what I thought of it said it was the third-best version of that story I’d seen. Someone said that wasn’t saying much, which is true, but then The Invasion could have been massively better in every single department and that would still have been the case. Nevertheless, it’s a story we seem drawn back to, time after time – whether that’s a tribute to the strength of the concept or the quality of this particular film, I don’t know. I suspect it may be the former – but it would be silly to deny the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers any of the credit.

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