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Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956)

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

SYNOPSIS

Dr. Miles Bennell returns to his hometown, Santa Mira, California, to find that many of his patients are suffering from a mysterious but similar malady. They are coming to him insisting that family members and loved ones are impersonators, devoid of emotion, and not the people they used to know. Miles at first tends to believe a fellow psychiatrist's diagnosis that it's all a case of mass hysteria. But after discovering a half-formed replica of his friend Jack, and later giant seed pods in his greenhouse, Miles and his girlfriend Becky confront their worst fears - that these mysterious pods are in fact replacing the humans of the town when they sleep. In the midst of the invasion, Miles and Becky try to escape and warn the authorities.

Director: Don Siegel
Producer: Walter Wanger
Writer: Daniel Mainwaring, from the novel "The Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing: Robert S. Eisen
Production Design: Ted Haworth
Original Music: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy (Miles Bennell), Dana Wynter (Becky Driscoll), King Donovan (Jack Belicec), Carolyn Jones (Teddy Belicec), Larry Gates (Dr. Dan Kauffman).
BW-80m.

Why INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is Essential

A debate has raged for years over the meaning and subtext of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Very much a product of its era, the Cold-War 1950s, analysts have seen in it a metaphor for the creeping threat of Communism, portrayed at this point in U.S. history as soulless, without feeling or sense of beauty - an attempt to make all its citizens lockstep into a sameness of purpose and behavior. Certainly that notion was reinforced by reports around this time of the brainwashing' of captured American troops by the Chinese Communists during the Korean War. Still others have seen the movie as a depiction of the era's conformity and the dangerous path of McCarthyism, forcing everyone to think and believe the same and leaving no room for eccentricity or individual expression. And the strong-arm attempts to silence dissent in this period, as well as the incarceration and blacklisting of talented film artists on the pretext of "dangerous" political beliefs, lent extra weight to that notion. As for the director, Don Siegel, he was mostly evasive on this question, while conceding one couldn't help but read those messages into the picture. For him, however, "pod people" were everywhere, especially in the film industry which was teeming with individuals with their eye on the lowest common denominator; producers simply to make a quick buck to the detriment of a filmmaker's creativity. And for producer Walter Wanger, the appeal of Jack Finney's story may have been in its echoes of the regimented prison life Wanger had only recently experienced (he had served time for shooting and wounding the agent (Jennings Lang) of his wife, actress Joan Bennett).

Whatever subtext - if any - may have been intended, it's clear the appeal of Invasion of the Body Snatchers goes beyond Cold War politics into an anxiety more deeply rooted in human consciousness - the fear of loss of identity, dehumanization, and of not knowing who can be trusted in an increasingly complex world. Possession of ordinary people by alien entities, whether gods or demons, figures in the oldest myths. When the homogenization and mechanization of the modern world is added to that, the fear is compounded. A lot of movies have been made on this theme in dozens of variations. What makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers so memorable is that, even in its own low-budget, B-picture context, it taps into a believable paranoia.

Siegel grounds the picture by shooting on location in familiar surroundings, then infuses them with a relentlessly building sense of unease. There are very few special effects. Other than brief glimpses of the pods and a couple of violent outbreaks, nothing is much stranger than we would encounter on any day except that the everyday has been transformed into something threatening.

Siegel keeps the film moving and tension building through a number of devices he perfected in the tightly structured action films by which he made his mark as a director: characters constantly in motion, scenes played out in claustrophobic tight quarters or in near darkness, the point of view staying tightly focused on the main protagonist (Miles), cutting between chilling close-ups and mysterious long shots.

The movie was not released the way the director intended; all of the humor had been cut out by the studio, and a tacked-on beginning and ending with narration was forced on Siegel to keep the story from being so bleak and hopeless. But even that interference can't dull the essential power and appeal. Siegel's "little picture" has outlasted some of the bigger ones of its time, thanks to the combination of a director working at top form and a story that plays on our deepest human fears.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot on location in the small town of Sierra Madre, California and in and around Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. It took nineteen days to shoot at a cost of approximately $300,000. For the casting, Vera Miles was considered for the role of Becky Driscoll, Miles' girlfriend, but producer Walter Wanger decided he wanted to use Dana Wynter, a young actress who was under contract to Fox. Kevin McCarthy had already worked with Siegel on a previous film, An Annapolis Story (1955), so they had a good working rapport; McCarthy even suggested a less sensational title for the film, "Sleep No More" but the studio brass rejected it as too high brow. In addition to Carolyn Jones and King Donovan, the film's second leads, the rest of the cast was comprised of first rate character actors such as Whit Bissell, Richard Deacon and, in a bit part, future director Sam Peckinpah as the meter reader (he also served as the dialogue director on the film).

Of course, the real stars of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are the pods. Siegel recalled in his autobiography, that "My brilliant art director, Ted Haworth, figured out a way of creating the pods that was simple and relatively inexpensive (around $30,000). The most difficult part was when the pods burst open, revealing exact likenesses of our leading actors. Naturally, they had to have naked impressions of their bodies made out of thin, skin-tight latex. Foaming soap bubbles would gradually disappear, revealing, yet still concealing, their entire bodies." This process required body casts of the lead actors.

One aspect of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that continues to arouse controversy and divide viewers even today is the fact that the film exists in two different versions, one with a downbeat ending, the other with a more hopeful one. Siegel also revealed that he had originally included several humorous touches in his final cut which the studio, Allied Artists, later edited out without his approval. "In their hallowed words, 'horror films are horror films and there's no room for humor,' Siegel recalled. I translated it to mean that in their pod brains there was no room for humor. The studio also insisted on a prologue and an epilogue. Wanger was very much against this, as was I. However, he begged me to shoot it to protect the film, and I reluctantly consented...Oddly enough, in Europe and in the 'underground' in America, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shown with the prologue and epilogue edited out. Like this, it was known as 'the Siegel version.'" Most viewers, however, are probably more familiar with the official Allied Artists cut, which ends with McCarthy convincing a psychiatrist and hospital doctor to contact the FBI. In Siegel's more pessimistic climax, McCarthy spots a truckload of pods on its way to the next town while passing motorists ignore his frantic attempts to warn them.

by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Pop Culture 101 - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Although at first Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was distributed with little fanfare, it began to generate enthusiastic word of mouth and began to pick up additional bookings in more theaters. It became an unexpected hit, and reviewers began to take notice, particularly overseas, where critics like Francois Truffaut and other French film writers associated with Cahiers du Cinema raved about Siegel's work.

In Europe and in later screenings in the U.S., Invasion of the Body Snatchers was usually shown in its original form, without the studio-mandated epilogue and prologue.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was remade in 1978, with its setting moved from a small town to San Francisco. With a slight change in some names and an updating of character traits and occupations, the five central roles were taken by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy.

At the opening of the 1978 sequel, Kevin McCarthy is seen running between cars screaming a warning, as if his character had been frantically trying to get people to believe him for more than 20 years. Although in the original version we see him only outside the cars, slamming against windshields, screaming at the occupants of the vehicles, in the remake we see him in a point of view from inside a car, prompting one observer to note: "He's been waiting 22 years for his reverse shot." Shortly after, McCarthy is hit by a truck, putting him out of his misery for good.

Another version of Jack Finney's original novel was made by Abel Ferrara in 1993 and called simply Body Snatchers, with the action moved to a military base. Another reported remake is roughly scheduled for 2006, although no cast or other details have been revealed yet.

An international sci-fi co-production called Los Nuevos extraterrestres (1983) was also released under the title The Pod People, but the movie has nothing to do with this story. It's actually a take-off on E.T. (1982).

There have been other films with "body snatcher" in the title that have nothing to do with this story. The most famous, The Body Snatcher (1945), based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, has Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as dealers in illegal cadavers.

The idea that the people you know best and love are being transformed into something alien, changing so that they are not essentially the same people, is a powerful and chilling one that has been used in a number of films. Among them are Invaders from Mars (1953, remade in 1986), in which a little boy sees his parents taken over by aliens; I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958); The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963), where an entire family is transformed; Dreamcatcher (2003); John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing, and the British film Quatermass II (1957). Variations on the theme have also appeared in The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004), which spawned a series of TV films about Stepford husbands and children; Village of the Damned (1960, 1995), about a group of evil, mind-controlling children conceived while their parents were unconscious during a mysterious alien invasion; and Impulse (1984), in which people drink toxic milk and are transformed into raging Id monsters. There have also been films featuring people who find out either they or their loved ones or both are secretly robots and androids: The Creation of the Humanoids (1962), Blade Runner (1982).

"Pod people" has entered the language as a common term for ultra-conformists and mindless followers of the status quo. There is at least one band by that name, and a December 2004 CBS News report about the popularity of the Apple I-Pod music device was titled "Invasion of the Pod People."

Invasion of the Body Snatchers has inspired study and fan devotion that sometimes verges on the obsessive. Dana Wynter once related a story about a man who was writing a thesis on the film for his degree and measured the distance from one corner to another in the town where it was shot. She also said he told her he studied her line, "I'm here Miles," and found it to be a tritonal B-flat to E to G. He asked her where she came up with such a brilliant idea. "And I thought to myself, 'These people are out of their minds!'" she said.

by Rob Nixon

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was completed on a budget of only $300,000.

Producer Walter Wanger was behind some of the most prestigious pictures in Hollywood, including Queen Christina (1933) with Greta Garbo, John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), and Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945), which starred Wanger's wife, Joan Bennett. By the time of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, his stock in Hollywood had fallen somewhat due to a scandal. Believing his wife to be having an affair with her agent, Jennings Lang, Wanger confronted Lang in a parking lot in 1951 and shot him. Lang was not killed, but Wanger did spend some time in jail. He and Bennett stayed married until 1965, by which time he had recovered some of his prestige with movies like I Want to Live! (1958) and Cleopatra (1963).

Director Don Siegel began his film career in the late 1930s creating montage sequences for a number of Warner Brothers pictures. He wanted to move to directing as early as 1942, but studio executives valued his skills so much, they refused to bend his contract to allow it. So he labored for a few more years, contributing impressive montage work to such films as Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (1942) before getting his first directing break. In the 1950s, Siegel made a career of stylish action movies, generally dismissed by American critics but highly praised by the French proponents of auteur theory, who valued Hollywood genre films. His biggest success, however, came in the 1960s beginning with a series of tough cop thrillers (Madigan, Coogan's Bluff, both 1968) that lead to his 1971 smash hit, Dirty Harry.

Siegel did a great deal to establish Clint Eastwood's career. They made five films together in a short span of time (1968-1971) huge successes. One of these, Dirty Harry, is indelibly associated with Eastwood's screen image. During filming of that picture, Siegel became ill with the flu, and Eastwood temporarily took over as director for one crucial scene. It was his first unbilled turn as director. Eastwood later dedicated his Oscar®-winning film Unforgiven (1992) to Siegel, who had died the previous year.

Don Siegel and his first wife, Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors, were the parents of actor-director Kristoffer Tabori, who was christened Christopher Donald Siegel but took the name of his stepfather, Hungarian-born playwright-actor George Tabori.

Siegel once claimed to have broken into Dana Wynter's house and hidden a pod under her bed, causing her to get hysterical when she discovered it. According to Wynter, Siegel merely left the prop on her doorstep and she almost broke her neck stumbling over it while leaving her house at dawn.

Dana Wynter once told a TV Guide interviewer, apparently without any intention of irony, "I hate the idea of a double." Wynter was, of course, referring to an aversion to using stunt doubles or stand-ins during a production, but the comment has a certain humor when related to the fate her character suffers in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Kevin McCarthy comes from an illustrious family. His sister was distinguished author, critic and political essayist Mary McCarthy, whose novel The Group was filmed in 1966. His cousin was former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy was also a close friend of actor Montgomery Clift.

McCarthy's roots were in the theater, and he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® nomination for his second film, a screen adaptation of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman (1951). He also won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer for that film.

At 90 years old, McCarthy is still working regularly and is currently in production on The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, scheduled for a 2006 release.

Carolyn Jones had a fairly successful career in the late 50s and early 60s, playing mostly second female leads in a number of hit pictures. But she is probably most famous as Morticia in The Addams Family TV series. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® in The Bachelor Party (1957).

Larry Gates made a number of films for both TV and the big screen before settling into work as H.B. Lewis on the long-running TV soap The Guiding Light from 1983 until his death in 1996.

Sam Peckinpah, who worked as dialogue director on this film, for many years claimed to have contributed to the screenplay, but that story has been denied by people involved in the making of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When Mainwaring threatened to sue, Peckinpah decided to stop telling that story.

Kevin McCarthy was never sure if he was the first choice for the role, but he reasoned he must have been cast because the picture was a physically demanding one. He had worked on Siegel's previous film An Annapolis Story (1955) and proved he could handle a variety of tough, strenuous tasks.

Future film director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, 1969, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 1973) served as the dialogue director on this film and makes a brief appearance as Charlie the meter reader.

In addition to several versions of his novel The Body Snatchers, Jack Finney's other writings have been adapted a number of times to the screen, including Good Neighbor Sam (1964), with Jack Lemmon, Assault on a Queen (1966), with Frank Sinatra, and Maxie (1985), with Glenn Close

Screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring worked with Siegel twice before this picture and on two others after it: Baby Face Nelson (1957) and The Gun Runners (1958). Under the pen name Geoffrey Homes, Mainwaring was responsible for some notably atmospheric crime dramas, including Out of the Past (1947), The Hitch-Hiker (1953), and (under his own name) The Phenix City Story (1955).

"I suppose it will appeal to the science fiction kids." - Dana Wynter, around the time of the film's release

"I was boring in it. There was no edge. If you're lucky, you develop a bit of that as you get older. And you develop a bit of humor. In your first picture, you're so terrified that you're going to do everything wrong that you just play everything straight. So it's nothing I'm proud of. Now, I was happy to be in it, especially because of Kevin and because of Don, and it was a fun thing to do. But I'd just as soon forget it." - Dana Wynter, years after the film's release

"It's got some masterful things in it. It's undeniably a classic, that's for sure. Here we are still talking about it forty years later." - Kevin McCarthy.

"This is probably my best film." - Don Siegel, 1968.

by Rob Nixon

Famous Quotes from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

MILES (Kevin McCarthy): At first glance, everything looked the same.

WILMA (Virginia Christine): There's something missing. Always when he talked to me there was a certain look in his eyes. Now it's gone. There's no emotion. The words are the same, but there's no feeling.

BECKY (Dana Wynter): I knew something was wrong, but I thought it was me.

MILES: (seeing the pod replica of his friend Jack in its early stage) It's like the first impression stamped on a coin.

DR. KAUFFMAN (Larry Gates): There is no need for love or emotion. Love, ambition, desire, faith - without them, life is so simple.

SALLY (Jean Willes): (lowering a pod into her baby's playpen) There'll be no more tears.

MILES: Don't fall asleep!

MILES: A moment's sleep and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction.

MILES: They're here already! You're next! You're next, You're next...

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

The Big Idea Behind INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

Jack Finney was a young writer whose first novel had been turned into the film 5 Against the House (1955). His serialized story The Body Snatchers was released as a paperback in 1955 and became a hit among fans of sci-fi and fantasy literature. Maverick independent producer Walter Wanger first discovered the story in serialization in Colliers Magazine and gave a copy to director Don Siegel, with whom he had recently completed a taut prison drama, Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954). Wanger had already secured the interest of minor studio Allied Artists (formerly known as the Poverty Row studio Monogram).

Initially, Jack Finney had an altogether different idea when he began writing Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He recalled that "my first thought was that a dog would be injured or killed by a car, and it would be discovered that a part of the animal's skeleton was of stainless steel; bone and steel intermingled, that is, a thread of steel running into bone and steel so that it was clear the two had grown together. But this idea led to nothing in my mind." (From the book They're Here...Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute). Instead, Finney came up with another concept "in which people complained that someone close to them was in actuality an imposter," an idea that took flight and became a metaphorically rich narrative where humans were being replaced by emotionless pod imitations. Finney always maintained that "it was just a story meant to entertain, and with no more meaning than that...The idea of writing a whole book in order to say that it's not really a good thing for us all to be alike, and that individuality is a good thing, makes me laugh."

Siegel liked the story and saw it as a chance to make an important picture. "I think the world is populated by pods and I wanted to show them," he said years later. "I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow."

Siegel suggested Daniel Mainwaring for the adaptation. Mainwaring (under the name "Geoffrey Homes") had worked with Siegel on The Big Steal (1949) and An Annapolis Story (1955) and they already had an established work routine; first, they would talk out a sequence, then Mainwaring would write it and show it to Siegel, who would then take it to Wanger. The writer would then make another pass based on Wanger's suggestions.

Siegel and Mainwaring were determined not to make just another special-effects picture. At the same time, even though they were in synch with the idea that the world was turning toward a dehumanized pod existence, they wanted to entertain rather than preach.

Although Siegel resented the studio's insistence on giving the movie a more hopeful ending, the original story by Finney actually had a more upbeat ending than the script Mainwaring and Siegel fashioned.

Siegel also hated the title the studio forced on him, particularly the addition of the rather cheesy "Invasion of" to Finney's original title. The studio, however, did not want any confusion with the earlier grave-robber film The Body Snatcher (1945) and the Robert Louis Stevenson story on which it was based. During production, Kevin McCarthy came up with a title inspired by a line from Hamlet: "Sleep No More." Siegel loved it but was not allowed to use it.

Dana Wynter wasn't crazy about the title, either. She found it embarrassing and told Wanger, "How can I admit to my parents that I'm doing a picture called Invasion of the Body Snatchers, for God's sake? They'll think I'm demented!"

Vera Miles had originally been penciled in by Allied Artists to play the role of Becky, but Wanger insisted on "that new girl, that English one." Wanger had spotted Dana Wynter a short time before in the offices of the William Morris Agency in New York and thought of her immediately for this picture. By the time she was cast, however, Wynter had just been signed by Fox and that studio agreed to shift the date of her contract to allow her to do this project. Wanger called her "a brunette Grace Kelly with the zest of Ava Gardner. My best discovery since Hedy Lamarr."

by Rob Nixon

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Behind the Camera on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

The film was shot in dozens of locations in and around Los Angeles and the town of Sierra Madre, which largely stood in for the fictional Santa Mira.

A few scenes, such as the interior of Miles Bennell's office, were done at Sunset Studios. It was Production Designer Ted Haworth's challenge to match the look to the low-key location scenes they filmed. The greenhouse scene was also done in the studio because there were so many technical elements to be controlled when the pods burst open and bubbled, revealing the replicas of the characters.

The scene in which Miles and Becky are pursued up a long, steep outdoor staircase was shot in Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. The head grip came up with the idea to build a small dolly with wheels that rode the top of the staircase's iron rails ahead of the actors.

Bronson Canyon was also the location for the tunnel where Miles and Becky hide. A trench was dug for them to lie in with planks placed over them for the scene in which the pod people run through the tunnel looking for them.

The last sequence was shot, not on the actual Hollywood Freeway, but on a little used cross-bridge. The cars were driven by stunt drivers. Don Siegel said later that Kevin McCarthy was in real danger of getting hit, because the sequence was shot at dawn and he was near complete exhaustion.

Ted Haworth came up with a fairly simple and inexpensive (about $30,000 total) idea for creating the pods. The most difficult part was when the pods burst open, revealing the likenesses of the actors. The actors had to have naked impressions of themselves made out of thin, skin-tight latex. Making the casts, which involved being submerged in the very hot casting material with only a straw in their mouths to breathe through, was grueling for the actors, especially Carolyn Jones, who was claustrophobic. Dana Wynter, in an interview with Tom Weaver, recalled "I was in this thing while it hardened, and of course it got rather warm! I was breathing through straws or something quite bizarre, and the rest of me was encased, it was like a sarcophagus. The guys who were making it tapped on the back of the thing and said, 'Dana, listen, we won't be long, we're just off for lunch [laughs]!' In the end, we had to be covered except for just the nostrils and I think a little aperture for the mouth."

Haworth was worried that studio executives would object to the "nudity" of the pod likenesses. Siegel reminded him that Hollywood executives were all pods and, as such, had no real feeling about anything, including nudity. One executive, however, voiced strong objections and ordered Siegel to eliminate any nudity from the picture. Siegel returned to Haworth and told him to continue as planned. "I was sure that before the impressions were made, this executive would have become a pod, too," he said in his autobiography. At any rate, the issue was fairly moot; the pod replicas are revealed under foaming soap bubbles that manage to keep any overt nudity concealed.

Wynter genuinely enjoyed the shoot and noted that everyone in the cast and crew was extremely nice to her as a newcomer - except Carolyn Jones. She said the more experienced Jones was "strangely unfriendly and unhelpful," yet she still managed to hone her style by observing her.

The pace of the shooting meant there was little time for the actors to rest between takes of the exhausting chase sequences. And there was no time to discuss scenes. Wynter said the actors were always responsible for mentally rehearsing their characters and actions before jumping in front of the cameras.

The biggest problem Siegel and company had with the studio was over the use of humor. Siegel, Mainwaring and Wanger had scripted scenes with humor in them, and McCarthy said the actors improvised some during shooting. When the film was still in the work print stage, Siegel and Wanger decided to try it out in front of a preview audience behind the studio's back. Much of the humor was still in the film at that point, and the audience response went from shrieks to screams to laughter and back again. Siegel had sneaked a tape recorder into the theater so they could prove to the studio just how great the reception was to their rough cut. But studio head Steve Broidy hit the roof when he found out and wanted to know why the audience was laughing in places. He ordered any trace of humor removed.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was originally to have ended on a close-up of McCarthy screaming into the camera (and to the audience), "You're next!" But the studio thought that was too downbeat an ending and ordered a new one shot. In their version, Miles is picked up by the authorities who finally believe him when they receive news that a truck full of mysterious pods has been reported. The studio also insisted on an opening prologue in which Miles begins to tell the story in flashback, thereby destroying any suspense about whether or not he survives. The additional scenes were shot in a public television station in Los Angeles.

Lead actor Kevin McCarthy didn't particularly like the script because he felt that, in streamlining the novel for the screen, depth of character was lost. McCarthy thought it was a mistake that these fairly sophisticated, educated characters had such bland dialogue and manner of relating to one another, "lacking the curves and nuances that you often hear in the conversation of ordinary, mature men and women."

Siegel later claimed that during filming he crept into Wynter's house and slipped a pod under her bed, causing her to become hysterical when she found it. "That is a bit far-out," Wynter replied when she heard Siegel's account. "Actually, he left it on my doorstep. He had a girlfriend who lived next door to me...and he would pass my cottage all the time. And one night he just left it on the doorstep!"

Ted Haworth was probably the most livid about the studio's tampering. He wrote a letter to Steve Broidy telling him Allied Artists was destroying the picture. Haworth had been Alfred Hitchcock's art director on Strangers on a Train (1951) and I Confess (1953), and he told Broidy that Hitchcock would have given his eyeteeth to have made a picture that frightening.

The urbane, genial Wanger was liked and respected by everyone involved. But Kevin McCarthy later said he had the impression during production that Siegel, despite the glowing words he had for his producer in later years, thought Wanger was more diplomatic than effective in his dealings with the front office on such issues as the humor, the title, and the additional scenes. "I think he might have called Wanger a pod, if the two of them hadn't been partners," McCarthy said.

The picture took only 19 days to make, according to Siegel (other reports say as much as 24 days, with about 4 days of studio production). There was no second-unit work and no process shots.

by Rob Nixon

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

The Critics' Corner on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

"Though one of the subtlest films of the genre, containing little graphic horror, it is also one of the most passionate and involving. Its style is typical Siegel: energetic and violent, with clever use of natural locations to create a moody, threatening environment." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films (University of California Press, 1965).

"Not only the most subtly terrifying science-fiction picture ever made, but also a cautionary fable about the relentless movement of the world toward a sameness of thought and a total lack of feeling." - Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It (Knopf, 1997).

"This plain and inexpensive piece of science fiction employs few of the resources of the cinema (to put it mildly), but it has an idea that confirms everyone's suspicions. People are being turned into vegetables - and who can tell the difference?...Some of the best lines of dialogue are voice-overs - the chatter of the dehumanized." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

."One of the all-time great science-fiction films, one of the few that make the fantastic seem perfectly credible...Where Siegel's film outshines Phil Kaufman's 1978 remake is in pacing - the excitement just keeps building." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.

"A masterpiece of sci-fi cinema...a classic, stuffed with subtly integrated subtexts (postwar paranoia, etc.) for those who like that sort of thing, but thrilling and chilling on any level - and look out for one of the most sinister kisses ever filmed." - Anne Billson, TimeOut Film Guide (Penguin, 2000).

"There are no moments of great violence in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We see no one die on screen and, technically, no one dies in the film. There are no monsters and only a few special effects, which are confined totally to the construction of a few pods shown but briefly. The essence of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is its aura of normalcy. It is normalcy, the acceptance of the status quo, the desire to escape from the pain of the abnormal that creates the sense of horror in the film." - Stuart M. Kaminsky, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.

"Shot in Siegel's sober yet energetic style and using real locations for the fictional Californian town of Santa Mira, the opening sequence creates a strong sense of unease that turns to terror in the second half as the good citizens of Santa Mira start to send out the pods across America. The horror of the situation is all the more chilling for being so understated: a nurse, holding a pod, to another nurse, 'Shall I put this in with the baby?', 'Yes, then there'll be no more crying.'...The result is one of Siegel's best films.." - The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers stands alone in representing the significance and occasional splendor of the Hollywood B-picture...Like many genre films in Hollywood's blacklist era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers functions as an allegory, raising questions about contemporary society that could not be confronted as directly in a realist manner. But the question is, an allegory of what?...Was it a warning, in familiar Cold War style, against communistic ideology that turns friends and neighbors into squadrons of malevolent drones?...Yet was it not also, more subtly, critical of postwar America and the strains of an acquisitive, competitive society from which individuals might welcome relief?" - Robert Sklar, The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films.

"This tense, offbeat piece of science-fiction is occasionally difficult to follow due to the strangeness of its scientific premise...Don Siegel's taut direction is fast-paced generally, although in his efforts to spark the climax he permits McCarthy to overact in several sequences." - Variety Movie Guide.

"Persuasive, thoroughly satisfying, low-budget science fiction, put across with subtlety and intelligence in every department." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

AWARDS & HONORS

In 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be one of the motion pictures preserved on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

The threat of an alien invasion has been a popular sci-fi theme in movies ever since the early fifties when films like The Thing (From Another World) (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) had everyone watching the skies anxiously. Perhaps that's why Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) struck a nerve with audiences when it first appeared. Not only had the aliens already landed but they had assumed human form and were living amongst us. Set in the sleepy California town of Santa Mira (a fictitious place), this unsettling tale, based on Jack Finney's original story that first appeared in Colliers Magazine, follows a doctor as he tries to a treat a strange malady that is sweeping through his town. Patients are coming to him insisting that family members and loved ones are impersonators, devoid of emotion, and not the people they used to know. At first skeptical, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) discovers shocking evidence at the home of his friend Jack (King Donovan) that confirms his rising paranoia but his efforts to warn the authorities may already be too late.

Initially, Jack Finney had an altogether different idea when he began writing Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He recalled that "my first thought was that a dog would be injured or killed by a car, and it would be discovered that a part of the animal's skeleton was of stainless steel; bone and steel intermingled, that is, a thread of steel running into bone and steel so that it was clear the two had grown together. But this idea led to nothing in my mind." (From the book They're Here...Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute). Instead, Finney came up with another concept "in which people complained that someone close to them was in actuality an imposter," an idea that took flight and became a metaphorically rich narrative where humans were being replaced by emotionless pod imitations. In fact, the 1956 film version was interpreted by some critics as an anti-Communist allegory; others saw it as a thinly disguised attack on McCarthyism. Finney, however, maintained that "it was just a story meant to entertain, and with no more meaning than that...The idea of writing a whole book in order to say that it's not really a good thing for us all to be alike, and that individuality is a good thing, makes me laugh."

Director Don Siegel saw something else in Finney's story when he first read it in Colliers Magazine and "recognized that a most original film could be made - not only entertaining, but frightening as well" (from his autobiography, A Siegel Film). It also confirmed a sneaking suspicion of his. "Danny [Mainwaring, the screenwriter] and I knew that many of our associates, acquaintances and family were already pods. How many of them woke up in the morning, ate breakfast (but never read the newspaper), went to work, returned home to eat again and sleep?" Yet, the pod people would not appear to be such insidious predators if human beings weren't such easy targets, a sentiment Miles expresses in the film when he says, "People allow their humanity to drain away and don't realize how serious it is until it is directly threatened."

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot on location in the small town of Sierra Madre, California and in and around Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. It took nineteen days to shoot at a cost of approximately $300,000. For the casting, Vera Miles was considered for the role of Becky Driscoll, Miles' girlfriend, but producer Walter Wanger decided he wanted to use Dana Wynter, a young actress who was under contract to Fox. Kevin McCarthy had already worked with Siegel on a previous film, An Annapolis Story (1955), so they had a good working rapport; McCarthy even suggested a less sensational title for the film, "Sleep No More" but the studio brass rejected it as too high brow. In addition to Carolyn Jones and King Donovan, the film's second leads, the rest of the cast was comprised of first rate character actors such as Whit Bissell, Richard Deacon and, in a bit part, future director Sam Peckinpah as the meter reader (he also served as the dialogue director on the film).

Of course, the real stars of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are the pods. Siegel recalled in his autobiography, that "My brilliant art director, Ted Haworth, figured out a way of creating the pods that was simple and relatively inexpensive (around $30,000). The most difficult part was when the pods burst open, revealing exact likenesses of our leading actors. Naturally, they had to have naked impressions of their bodies made out of thin, skin-tight latex. Foaming soap bubbles would gradually disappear, revealing, yet still concealing, their entire bodies." This process required body casts of the lead actors; Dana Wynter, in an interview with Tom Weaver, recalled "I was in this thing while it hardened, and of course it got rather warm! I was breathing through straws or something quite bizarre, and the rest of me was encased, it was like a sarcophagus. The guys who were making it tapped on the back of the thing and said, 'Dana, listen, we won't be long, we're just off for lunch [laughs]!' In the end, we had to be covered except for just the nostrils and I think a little aperture for the mouth." Siegel later claimed that during filming he crept into Wynter's house and slipped a pod under her bed, causing her to become hysterical when she found it. "That is a bit far-out," Wynter replied when she heard Siegel's account. "Actually, he left it on my doorstep. He had a girlfriend who lived next door to me...and he would pass my cottage all the time. And one night he just left it on the doorstep!"

Ms. Wynter wasn't the only one who found making Invasion of the Body Snatchers a sometimes trying experience. Kevin McCarthy (in an interview with John McCarty) recalled that "the toughest day for me was staggering up those long, interminable stairs on that steep flank of Beachwood Canyon and then across the rugged landscape that falls away to Bronson Canyon. The crew had rigged a gizmo out of block and tackle and so forth so the camera could dolly upwards but be looking downwards to study Dana and me (for half a day) as we tried to escape the pursuing vegetables. We made it to the crest! Half hour lunch break. Then we started down the other side of the hill into Bronson Canyon, fighting our way through wild brush, the terrain, rough and morguly. Then Dana took her spill and I carried her into the cave where we hid under those boards. Rigorous going." Siegel, however, thought the final sequence was more challenging with McCarthy trying to warn motorists about the pods on the Hollywood Freeway. It was "shot on a crossbridge scarcely used. The police allowed only our cars and trucks, about fifty, driven only by stunt drivers...There was no process in the picture: every shot was authentic. The shots of Kevin's final scene were filmed just before dawn, and Kevin was in real danger, considering that he was at the breaking point of complete exhaustion. The stuntsmen knew this and were alert to the fact that he might fall down, but happily there were no accidents.

One aspect of Invasion of the Body Snatchers that continues to arouse controversy and divide viewers even today is the fact that the film exists in two different versions, one with a downbeat ending, the other with a more hopeful one. Siegel also revealed that he had originally included several humorous touches in his final cut which the studio, Allied Artists, later edited out without his approval. "In their hallowed words, 'horror films are horror films and there's no room for humor,' Siegel recalled. I translated it to mean that in their pod brains there was no room for humor. The studio also insisted on a prologue and an epilogue. Wanger was very much against this, as was I. However, he begged me to shoot it to protect the film, and I reluctantly consented...Oddly enough, in Europe and in the 'underground' in America, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shown with the prologue and epilogue edited out. Like this, it was known as 'the Siegel version.'" Most viewers, however, are probably more familiar with the official Allied Artists cut which ends with McCarthy convincing a psychiatrist and hospital doctor to contact the FBI. In Siegel's more pessimistic climax, McCarthy spots a truckload of pods on its way to the next town while passing motorists ignore his frantic attempts to warn them.

Director Philip Kaufman pays homage to the latter scene in his often inventive 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which McCarthy has a cameo role at the beginning; he's ranting and raving, "They're here, they're here," just before he's accidentally struck down by a car in San Francisco's Tenderloin district (the driver is the film's protagonist played by Donald Sutherland); Don Siegel also makes a brief appearance in the film. In 1993, Body Snatchers, directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly and Forest Whitaker, marked the third remake of Finney's novel and there will probably be more. But it's hard to top the original. Horror novelist Dean Koontz summed up the film's enduring appeal in the book They're Here...Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute: "Many of us spend the evening hours online, staring at a screen rather than at human faces, communicating without the profound nuances of human voices and facial expressions, seeking sympathy and tenderness without the need to touch. All the while, through our bones creeps the persistent feeling that we are losing our humanity. No wonder we still respond to Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers so powerfully, even more than forty years after its initial release."

Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Richard Collins, Jack Finney (novel), Daniel Mainwaring, Sam Peckinpah
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Film Editing: Robert S. Eisen
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Music: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Miles J. Bennell), Dana Wynter (Becky Driscoll), Larry Gates (Dr. Dan Kauffman), King Donovan (Jack Belicec), Carolyn Jones (Theodora Belicec), Jean Willes (Nurse Sally Withers).
BW-81m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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