Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
★★★ / ★★★★
Dr. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) had been out of town for quite some time but his nurse (Jean Willes) advised he returned early because something strange was going on in their town. Patients insisted that there was something wrong with their health only to be perfectly fine the next day. When Dr. Bennell returned, he was approached by various individuals who claimed that their loved ones were not really their loved ones. They believed that a family member had been replaced by some thing: a perfect look-alike with memories intact but devoid of complex emotions. Based on Jack Finney’s magazine serial, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” directed by Don Siegel, was an expert hybrid of science fiction and horror. The science was rooted in the concept of people who suffered from Capgras Syndrome, the fiction stemmed from the strange alien pods, and the horror seeped from the characters’ (and well as our) realization that no one could, or should, be trusted. The film wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that it was a product of its time. There was mention of the effects of radiation due to atomic bomb testing, suspicions of communism, and even spies hidden in shadows. But such elements were not the only source of entertainment. Dr. Bennell was one of the most amusing doctors I’ve seen on screen because he didn’t behave like a typical man in his profession. While people came up to him for help and he did the best he could to ameliorate their anxieties, he seemed surprised most of the time. When something shocking happened, I found it interesting that he wasn’t able to maintain his composure. His open-mouthed expression gave everything away. However, I didn’t consider McCarthy’s interpretation of his character as a negative. It was cheeky and with all the weird happenings in the picture, having a rather obvious but root-worthy character worked. What didn’t work for me was the narration by Dr. Bennell after he had escaped Santa Mira. He was held by the authorities and a psychiatrist wished to evaluate his psychological state. The narration occasionally took me out of the moment especially during the most critical rising actions. It told us what was going to happen instead of just showing and surprising us. If the narration was completely excised from the picture, the final product would have been a bit stronger in terms of establishing its pace and maintaining its texture. The movie wasn’t free of plot holes. For instance, the goo in the alien pods had the capacity to become whatever life form was near as long as the target was asleep. What triggered the goo to start reconstructing itself? More importantly, what happened to the body after the person had been replaced? Were they obliterated by a laser beam? Kept in a closet? I kept waiting for answers but those issues were never acknowledged. The aliens’ end game was irrelevant and I was glad the material left that out of the equation. Sometimes not knowing the “why” could add to the story’s creepiness as it did here.