Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Small Town America Fighting Cold War Pod People, or Thoughts on Invasion of The Body Snatchers

 If you’ve ever heard Saul Goodman call someone a “pod person”, this is the movie he’s referring to; Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956), filmed in glorious black and white, which is actually shades of gray, and chock full of cool mid-century cars and fashions.  It was an age when men wore suits with pocket squares and women wore evening gloves and furs.
Kevin McCarthy stars as Dr. Miles Bennell a small town doctor, with Dana Wynter as a demure 50’s romantic interest Becky Driscoll who helps Miles investigate the aliens who are systematically replacing their entire town with bland duplicates.  The first half of the movie takes place over a single night, which makes for a memorable first date.
Invasion of The Body Snatchers is a classic sci-fi movie with no make-up and minimal special effects, no flying saucers or men in green suits.  Even the discovery of the first alien is described, rather than portrayed, an old radio drama trick.  Tension is supplied by the eerie soundtrack, lighting, and good old-fashioned acting.  The alien pods, when they are finally revealed, look like giant cabbages blowing bubbles and are unfortunately far more frightening to the actors than the audience.
From a modern perspective, the obvious Cold War metaphors seems almost sentimental and laughably naïve.  The unemotional detachment of the alien replacements is a sly nod towards the atheist government in Soviet Russia.  But the paranoia of suspecting your neighbor of being somehow non-American and the hysteria it fostered was very real at the time.
It’s an elegant, economical plot that holds up over multiple viewings, at which point the story becomes almost affectionate, and the characters like familiar old friends.  The entire movie plays out like a familiar Twilight Zone episode that you are happy to watch once a year and has inspired three remakes to date; the seminal 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) and Nicole Kidman’s TheInvasion (2005).
Directed by Don Siegel, who worked on Casablanca (1942) but is most remembered for Dirty Harry (1971), and along with Kevin McCarthy had a cameo in the 1978 remake.  Also watch out for Sam Peckinpah, yes, Sam The Wild Bunch (1969) Peckinpah as Charlie, the friendly neighborhood gas man.
The movie remains a compelling alien conspiracy that predates shows like The X-Files.  The brilliance of aliens taking your identity while you sleep remains one of the film’s greatest strengths, simply because it implies that the only way to fight these aliens is to remain awake.  Like Freddy Kreuger would remind us 30 years later, sleep is inevitable, and there’s always the chance that you won’t wake up.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.