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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956)

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The working titles of the film were The Body Snatchers and They Came from Another World. According to a modern source, director Don Siegel considered using the title Sleep No More. Except for the opening and ending sequences, the story is told as a flashback, with intermittent voice-over narration by Kevin McCarthy portraying "Dr. Miles Bennell." According to modern sources, these sequences and the narration were added to the script, at the insistence of the studio, and shot a few months after principal photography was completed. According to a 1969 Films and Filming article, Siegel claimed that Allied Artists studio heads also wanted to edit out some other moments from the film, but it is unclear whether this was done.
       The title of the film was changed from The Body Snatchers, which was the title of Jack Finney's three-part serial, to avoid confusion with RKO's 1945 production of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Finney's story, which was published in Collier's in November and December 1954, was published as a novel in early 1955. Popular horror novelist Stephen King is quoted on a website as saying that The Body Snatchers "set the mold for what we now call the horror novel." Although only Daniel Mainwaring is credited onscreen as the scriptwriter of the film, some modern sources state that future director Sam Peckinpah, who portrayed "Charlie Buckholtz," worked on script revisions.
       According to a March 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot in Chatsworth, Sierra Madre and Woodland Hills, CA. Several locations in the Hollywood Hills and Bronson Canyon were also used, among them, the corner of Beachwood Canyon Drive and Belden. An April 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item claimed that thirty-eight location sites were used for the film and that only four days of interior shooting were planned. A website dedicated to the locations for the film adds shooting sites in Glendale, Hollywood, Los Feliz, the San Fernando Country Club, Chatsworth railway station and Mulholland Drive at the Hollywood Freeway.
       Although, as a May 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item stated, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the first Allied Artists film to be shot in SuperScope, The Return of Jack Slade (see below) was the first Allied Artists film shot in that process to be released. According to an April 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of the first pictures to come under a new Los Angeles smog control regulation concerning the shooting of fire scenes and other special film effects. To schedule the shooting of scenes involving fires, the script first had to be approved by the Air Pollution Control District. According to the news item, Los Angeles County also requested script approval of fire scenes.
       According to a January 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was to premiere in Detroit, MI, although no date was given for the performance. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was unusual for a horror film, in that it portrayed no violence, and special effects were kept to a minimum. According to Siegel in the Films and Filming article, he and producer Walter Wanger had intentionally agreed to do this. As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, the film ended on an "unresolved note" and the review added, "it seems, the first time [Miles] goes to sleep, he, too, will become a vegetable."
       One complaint against the film, as noted in the Daily Variety review, is that the "film would have benefitted through more explanatory matter to fully illuminate the scientific premise." The Los Angeles Times review reported that the film never explained how "these devilish pods found their way into a small California town." The Hollywood Reporter review summed up the film: "While the mechanics of the plot gimmick are rather sketchily handled...the actual telling of the story...contains a great deal of solid emotion and suspense."
       In later eras, Invasion of the Body Snatchers would be analyzed as a product of the Cold War, dramatizing either America's fear of Communists or a response to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. However, contemporary reviews mention neither and seem to provide a more general interpretation. The Los Angeles Examiner review stated, "lurking close to the story surface is the suggestion that maybe, in these hectic times, we have subconsciously been hoping for some way out." According to the Hollywood Reporter review, Mainwaring and Finney "seem to be saying that modern man, tired of facing the mental problems of our intricate age, is prone to welcome the irresponsible life of a human vegetable." As for Finney's intention, his 1995 New York Times obituary reported that he "maintained that the novel was nothing more than popular entertainment."
       A 1978 remake produced by Robert H. Solo, also titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was directed by Philip Kaufman and starred Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams as "Matthew Bennell" and "Elizabeth Driscoll." In that production, which was set in San Francisco, Siegel and McCarthy made cameo appearances: Siegel as a taxi driver, and, in an homage to the earlier film, McCarthy appears briefly, slamming onto the windshield of Sutherland's car, during which the surprised movie audience was able to recognize him. He yells, "They're coming! They're coming! You're all in danger!," then runs off down the street, where he is killed by a car. Warner Bros. set a third version of Finney's work, the 1993 Body Snatchers, on a military base. That version was directed by Abel Ferrara and starred Gabrielle Anwar and Terry Kinney.
       In the decades since the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatcher's release, the term "pod people," which was inspired by the transformed characters in the film, has become a popular phrase signifying people who are emotionally and creatively dead. According to many modern writers and film historians, the picture, which was in its time a low-budget, B-movie, is now regarded as a leader in the horror film genre. Where previous horror films frightened the audience with monsters, Invasion of the Body Snatchers psychologically terrorized them with the potential darkness inside themselves.