Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956)

When is a B Movie not a B Movie?

When it's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Like the pod people, the film's disturbing threat, this 1956 movie looks familiar and like something it isn't. Sure it has all the hallmarks of a B Movie; it's low budget sci fi, it has a cast of largely unknown journeymen and women of film and TV, it has the clunky expositional dialogue and ludicrous leap of deduction which exist solely to expediate the plot that is utterly familiar to the genre, yet Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is a work so intelligent, so accomplished and so of the moment that it refuses to comply with its limitations and successfully transcends its trappings to become something whose indelible and distinctive handprint  can be seen on almost every suspense packed sci fi and horror movie that followed.

Director Don Seigel, producer Walter Wanger and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (adapting Jack Finney's serialised magazine story) may deny the metaphors at play here. They may argue that no one intended it to be an allegory of Communism and McCarthyism, but it's beside the point whether theye did or they didn't. The point is they literally caught the zeitgiest, whether they did it consciously or not. They were working in an America whose spine was constantly beset by ice cold shivers -  the fear of dehumisation and loss of identity from reports of brainwashing techniques in the Korean War, the loss of autonomy witnessed in communist systems across the world, the growing concern regarding what many saw as a harmful idealogy creeping like a virus into public consciousness, the bland conformity of 50s America, and the fear of a possible Nuclear War - all of these things helped shape the mindsets of those involved in the production, intentionally or not, and subsequently shaped the minds and appreciation of the film's audiences.

It's a quintessential Don Seigel picture, displaying his flair for a particular kind of taut and lean efficiency that cannot help but impress. Claustrophobic and relentless in its haunting of the viewer (though the optimistic ending - and prologue -  at the request of the studio bosses does ultimately neuter the intentions of writer, producer and director) it's wonderfully executed and equipped with an effective, unsettling score from Carmen Dragon.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be a B Movie, but it's a Grade A one in my eyes.

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