Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is considered one of the best 1950’s sci-fi films. This classic film produced by Walter Wanger, directed by Don Siegel and starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter was released through Allied Artists Picture Corporation on February 5, 1956. Daniel Mainwaring, the screenwriter, adapted the screenplay from Jack Finney's 1954 novel The Body Snatchers.
The story depicts an extraterrestrial invasion of a small California town. The invaders encased in pods resembling giant pea pods replace human beings with duplicates that appear identical on the surface but are devoid of any emotion or individuality. A local doctor uncovers what is happening and tries to stop them.
Initially, Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotten and several others were considered for the role of Miles. For the role of Becky, Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, Vera Miles were considered. But budget restraints force the studio to choose less known actors for the leads and Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter were selected for the roles of Miles and Becky.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was originally scheduled for a 24-day shoot and a budget of  $454,864. The studio later cut the budget significantly allowing a shooting schedule of 20 days and a budget of $350,000. The film was shot in 23 days between March 23 and April 18, 1955. The cast and crew worked a six-day week with Sundays off. The production went over schedule by three days because of night-for-night shooting that Siegel insisted on.  Additional photography took place in September 1955 due to the studio's insistence that the storyline be altered. When the film was completed its budget stood at $382,190 with only $15,000 on special effects.
The tight schedule and budget did not stop Don Siegel having a little fun as he later explained in an interview:
One night, I broke into Dana Wynter’s house and slipped a pod under her bed. By this time, the pods had become a scary, realistic, believable possibility to cast and crew. The next morning, when Dana found the pod, she was in a state of near hysteria.

Both Siegel and Mainwaring were satisfied with the film as shot. The film originally ended with Miles J. Bennell on the highway shouting to the people driving by, "You're next, you're next!" But the studio wanted an optimistic conclusion and insisted on adding a prologue and epilogue to the movie suggesting a more positive outcome which would have been told in a series of flashbacks. In this version the movie begins with a ranting Bennell in custody in a hospital emergency ward. He then tells an arriving doctor (Whit Bissell) his story. In the closing scene pods are found at the scene of the highway accident, confirming Bennell’s warning and the FBI is notified, although it remains uncertain if they are able to stop the invasion and save the Earth.
The project had been referred to as The Body Snatchers after the Finney serial throughout production, however, Wanger and the studio wanted to avoid confusion with the Val Lewton film The Body Snatcher (1945). They Come from Another World. Better Off Dead, Sleep No More, Evil in the Night and World in Danger were proposed as alternate titles but none were considered acceptable and therefore the film retained its original title.

When the film was released domestically in February 1956, many theaters displayed several pods made of papier-mâché in their lobbies and entrances, along with large life-size cutouts of McCarthy and Wynter. The film made more than $1 million in the first month, and made more than $2.5 million in the U.S. in 1956 alone.  When the British release (with cuts imposed by the British censors) took place in late 1956, the film earned more than a half million dollars.
Over the years since the release of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) there has been much discussion among critics, film historians and fans alike regarding the alleged political undertones of the film. This theory seems fueled by the fact that screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring had brushes with
Hollywood witch-hunts which has led some to believe that the film is actually a metaphor against McCarthyism. However actor Kevin McCarthy said in an interview that he did not believe that any political allegory was intended. The interviewer stated that he had spoken with the author of the novel, Jack Finney, who stated that there was no specific political allegory in the story.
Furthermore in his autobiography, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, Walter Mirisch writes: "People began to read meanings into pictures that were never intended. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an example of that. I remember reading a magazine article arguing that the picture was intended as an allegory about the communist infiltration of America. From personal knowledge, neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple."
Don Siegel the director said of the film: "I felt that this was a very important story. I think that the world is populated by pods and I wanted to show them. I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow. The political reference to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism was inescapable but I tried not to emphasize it because I feel that motion pictures are primarily to entertain and I did not want to preach."
In 1994 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Political commentary or not, today more than 50 years after its release Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) still packs a suspenseful punch for horror and sci\fi fans alike.


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