American director, born in Chicago 1912. Educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1934 got his first job in Hollywood as film librarian at Warner Bros. and other jobs until 1945 when he directs 1st film "Star in the Night" which won an Oscar. In early 1960s works directing for TV, mainly pilot episodes for series. 1964 directs first made-for-TV film "The Killers" but its violence in wake of Kennedy assassination leads to its withdrawal. Directed a number of action movies, most notably a trio of "cop movies": "Madigan" (1968), "Coogan's Bluff" (1969), and "Dirty Harry" with Clint Eastwood in 1971. Very skilled at making such movies with tight narrative and explosive action sequences. Many involve highly individualistic characters who rebel against social conformity in seedy or sordid situations.
From the Collier's Magazine 1955 serial "The Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney.
A classic and highly influential science fiction film which is frightening in spite of the absence of any explicit violence. Successfully remade in 1978 with Donald Sutherland. Like many horror and science fiction films of the 1950s there is a "subtext" which refers to the Cold War and the McCarthy period of anti-communist Congressional investigations. The fear of communist inflitration, communist invasion, and nuclear war is transferred to stories of invasion by aliens from outer-space. The communist "other" becomes literally the "alien." The treatment of nuclear war and invasion can be that of warning, as in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) with the robot Klaatu urging the scientists of the world to act in unison to overcome the political divisions of the world, or helplessness in "Invaders from Mars" (1953) in which a small boy realises that his parents have been taken over by aliens and there is nothing he can do. Common feature is the single individual who is aware of the danger of society being taken over/corrupted and who takes steps to warn others, but who is ignored.
Film concerns a typical small town in the US, Santa Mira in California, normally the heartland of American conservative values, which is invaded by "pods" from outer space. The pods hatch out duplicates of the town's inhabitants which eventually and one-by-one replace the real inhabitants. Once the town has been taken over, the "pod-people" organise the shipment of truckloads of pods which are sent out to all the major cities of the US in order to continue the invasion. The local doctor, Miles Bennell (played by Kevin McCarthy), returns from a conference to find that people have been coming to his surgery complaining that the people near to them have been behaving strangely, that they are somehow "different" (because they have been replaced by their "pod" duplicates). MB investigates a number of incidents but finds that those who originally made the complaints have now retracted their story (they too have been replaced). MB and a small group of friends eventually discover the pods and attempt to warn the outside world (even the telephone operator seems uncooperative and is thus suspected of being a pod). MB and his girlfriend seek shelter in a cave and desperately try to stay awake to avoid being taken over by the pods (the pod duplicate is only able to take over the real human during sleep). In a moment of weakness the girlfriend closes her eyes momentarily, just long enough to be taken over. A true moment of horror occurs when MB kisses his girlfriend and realises that her cold stoney stare is that of a pod person! MB flees onto the highway where no one will stop to listen to his warnings and where he sees trucks containg pods being sent to the major US cities to continue the invasion. The film ends as it began, with MB at a hospital trying to convince some naturally dubious doctors of the truth of his warnings. Only at the last minute (but is it already too late?) does something corroborate his story and the doubting doctors begin to believe him.
Stuart Samuels, "The Age of Conspiracy and Continuity: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)" ini American History/American Film: Interpretating the Hollywood Image (New York: Unger, 1987), pp. 204-17.
1. The absence of violence in the film. We witness no deaths and the "monsters" seem to be harmless plants, which we see only briefly. (Compare with the "pods" in Ridley Scott's film "Alien" (1979) and the violent and bloody manner in which they take over humans and in turn are destroyed by the Colonial Marines). The film critic Leslie Halliwell, whose views I seldom share, correctly calls this film "the most subtle film in the science-fiction genre cycle, with no visual horror whatsoever."
2. The apparent "normalcy" of the town and the inhabitants after they have been replaced by their pod duplicates. The "invasion" seems to be a non-violent one and the people seem to welcome the change that has come over them, as a solution to long-felt problems. One reading of the film is that the pods are like the spread of socialist/communist ideas - affecting ordinary everyday Americans, with little or no outward change in their behaviour, but which changes their whole way of thinking about the world. Reference to the "brainwashing" of US POWs in Korea by communist Chinese captors. Of the 7,000 captures, none escaped, few made any attempt and 70% collaborated with the captors.
3. The indestructibility of the pods. At various times they are burnt and even subjected to a ritualistic vampire "killing" with a pitchfork driven like a stake through the heart. Is this the way to drive out "godless" communism? DS seems to be suggesting through the indestructibility of the pods that the invasion will succeed.
4. The fruitless warnings which are given but not heeded by others. The patients who come to the doctor, the symbol of authority in the town, to warn him of what is happening. He is away and then, when he returns, slow to act. The saddest and most horrible example of unheeded warning is the frightened boy, Jimmy Grimaldi, who is stopped by MB running away from his (pod) mother. He cannot convince the doctor that his mother has become a monster and is handed back to her to face certain "death." MB also faces this problem, at the beginning of the film and again at the end. Can this be seen as an indirect justification of the McCarthy trials, as a warning against "invasion" of American institutions by communists? Compare with warnings by Gen. Jack D. Ripper of communist plot to flouridate the water in Kubrick's "Dr Strangelove." Compare handing over POWs and other Soviet "nationals" to Stalin after WW2 to face camps or execution.
5. The pschychiatrist Kaufmann's diagnosis that the town is suffering from an epidemic of mass hysteria brought on by worrying about what is going on in the world (i.e. Cold War). MB describes it as a malignant disease spreading through the entire country, evil taking possession of the town. It is the result of atomic radiation - "anything is possible after the events of the past few years" (atomic testing).
6. MB's solution is to go 'the authorities" (the FBI). Compare faith in authorites in "The Atomic Cafe".
7. The feeling of helplessness we share with MB when he runs onto the highway and is surrounded by speeding cars (a symbol of capitalist individualism) unwilling to stop to listen to his warnings. His sense of doom increases when he sees the trucks with cities of destination on their sides distributing the pods across the US.
8. The changes which are supposed to be brought about by the takeover of individuals by their pod duplicates. One pod person promises they will be "reborn into an untroubled world where everyone is the same." They give up much of their individuality and behave like a mob (like ants in a nest or bees in a swarm, mob chases MB and Becky into cave), they reject the main institutions of capitalist America (the nuclear family, monogomy, small business - Mr Grimaldi, private property), they stop going to the country club (commies don't like having fun? don't drink cocktails, martinis?), they agree to sacrifice themselves to the common good, they engange in onerous "party" activity organised by "party officials" (i.e. the loading of trucks to distribute the pods across America), and they are generally submissive and compliant. In other words they have become "communists".
9. The psychiatrist (or rather his duplicate) explains: out of the sky came a solution, you will be born into a world where everyone is the same, no need for love or emotion or feelings, ony the instint to survive remains, we are better off without love, desire, ambition and faith, and ultimatley you have no choice.
10. The logical contradition at the end of the film concerning Becky
Driscoll's pod duplicate.