Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, King Donovan and Kevin McCarthy. Image from The Red List.

Ruumiinryöstäjät / Varastetut ihmiset / Ruumiinryöstäjät tulevat. US © 1956 Allied Artists Pictures Corp. [or was it 1955 on screen? AFI Catalog copyright date: 16 Jan 1956]. PC: Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc. EX: Walter Mirisch (n.c.). D: Don Siegel. SC: Daniel Mainwaring - based on the novel The Body Snatchers (1954, Collier's Magazine) (1955) by Jack Finney. DP (b&w, SuperScope): Ellsworth Fredericks. PD: Ted Haworth. Set dec: Joseph Kish. Makeup: Emile LaVigne. Hair: Mary Westmoreland. SFX: Milt Rice. Special makeup FX (pods and other props): Don Post. M comp. + cond.: Carmen Dragon. S: Del Harris. ED: Robert S. Eisen.
    C: Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Miles J. Bennell), Dana Wynter (Becky Driscoll), Larry Gates (Dr. Dan "Danny" Kauffman), King Donovan (Jack Belicec), Carolyn Jones (Theodora "Teddy" Belicec), Jean Wiles (Nurse Sally Withers), Ralph Dumke (Police  Chief Nick Grivett), Virginia Christine (Wilma Lentz), Tom Fadde (Uncle Ira Lentz), Kenneth Patterson (Stanley Driscoll), Whit Bissell (Dr. Hill, psychiatrist), Sam Peckinpah (Charlie Buckholtz, gas meter reader).
    Loc: Chatsworth, Sierra Madre, and Woodland Hills; Hollywood Hills; Bronson Canyon; Glendale, Hollywood, Los Feliz, the San Fernando Country Club, Chatsworth railway station, Mulholland Drive at the Hollywood Freeway (California).
    The film was not theatrically released in Finland although Valiofilmi had it classified in 1959 (as Ruumiinryöstäjät tulevat, rated K16). Telecast: 27.7.1974 MTV3 (Varastetut ihmiset), 28.7.2010 YLE Teema. VET 50995 – K12 – 2190 m / 80 min.
    A NFI print with Norwegian subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Carte blanche à Tapani Maskula), 29 May 2013

At this viewing I was more conscious than before of how strongly this movie is based on the screenplay, the narration, and the dialogue. Daniel Mainwaring has done a great job with the novel of Jack Finney which according to Stephen King "set the mold for what we now call the horror novel".

Most of the striking points are conveyed verbally. "There's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling." (Wilma Lentz).  "I've been afraid a lot of times in my life, but I didn't know the real meaning of fear until... until I had kissed Becky." (Miles Bennell). The dialogue is sharp and startling, and the words carry the narrative.

The images follow. The performances are not very profound, and the boundary between normal humanity and the pod status is not as striking as might be desirable. 

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an unforgettable study in paranoia, a quintessential 1950s scifi shocker, the most unsettling of them all because the monster is somebody who is almost exactly normal. The replica knows every single detail of our emotional history; only that certain glimpse in the eye is missing.

Don Siegel directs with cool, laconic efficiency which works better here than indulging in expressionism.

A favourite scene: the blank fingerprints of the unfinished, faceless pod. Another favourite scene: the one on the early morning town square ("just like any Saturday morning"), the meeting of the pod people seen from above, from the doctor's window, in long shot. Trucks with pods appear, and they are going to spread them over the whole country. The sequence has a Langian frisson of fatality.

Follows the escape over the hills and into the mine tunnel where Wilma finally cannot resist sleep... and turning into a zombie. "You are next!" cries Miles on the highway, a raving maniac who is taken to the hospital, believed mad, but there is the relieving conclusion added by the production company that the FBI is now looking into the matter.

The print is complete and in the correct SuperScope ratio, but it has a somewhat duped, high contrast look.

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