There is so much of interest in the extras on the blu-Ray of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, a classic sci-fi of the 50s.
The story was based on a 3 part serial by Jack Finney, “The Body Snatchers”, in Colliers magazine in 1954. Finney subsequently novelised it.
A story of aliens taking over humans whilst retaining all the memories of the people they replace. The film is told in flashback as Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) relives the last few days when he returned to his home town of Santa Mira.
At the end of the long flashback, the two doctors don’t believe Miles’ fantastic tale until a truck driver is brought into the Emergency room, saying he was in an accident and was found under a load of giant seed pods.
Dr Hill (Whit Bissell) reacts: “ Get on your radios and sound an all points alarm. block all highways, stop all traffic and call every law enforement agency in the state..”
Dr. Hill picks up the phone: “Operator, get me the FBI. Yes, it’s an emergency.”
The end. Not nearly as dramatic as Don Seigel’s original ending.
Jack (King Donovan) finds a ‘blank’ body taking on his appearance!
Jack: “It’s like the first impression that’s stamped on a coin – it isnt finished.”
Later when Jack and Dr. Kauffman (Larry Gates) have been duplicated, they tell him that an extra-terrestrial life form is responsible for the invasion, but the film never really explains why they have come to earth. Kauffman says:
“Seeds drifting through space took root in a farmer’s field. From the seeds came pods which had the power to reproduce themselves in the exact likeness of any form of life.”
In the original Jack Finney serial, the seeds move on to other worlds after leaving a dead planet.
Virginia Christine as ‘Wilma’ shares her concerns with Miles about the strange behaviour of her Uncle Ira. Miles calms her fears but as time goes on he realises something sinister is happening in Santa Mira. Family members seems the same but act strangely.
The fictional town of Santa Mira was in fact Sierra Madre, an L.A. Suburb. In the above scenes, the pods are being collected by those folk already replicated.
In case you’re wondering if there are two of everybody wandering about, apparently the original bodies disintegrate into dust once duplication is complete.
The pod people are never overtly violent but, boy, are they frightening. It’s the complete lack of emotion , zombie-like and relentless . Once taken over, they tell Miles and Becky it’s so much better – no pain.
The Bronson Caves ( a section of Griffith Park in Los Angeles) was the setting for this scene.
The indoor set for the cave. Miles and Beckie hide . Director Don Siegel checks their position.
”I went to sleep, Miles, and it happened.”
Becky had fallen asleep and is now one of “them”. She calls out to those tracking Miles, “He’s In here. Get him!”
Miles runs away, alone and desperately tired. He sees a farm where seed pods are being grown by the hundreds.
“They’re here already! You’re next!”
Director Don Seigel’s first cut ended with McCarthy’s character ‘Miles’ seeing a truck loaded with pods heading for San Francisco. He runs onto the highway, shouting and screaming , trying to flag down cars, but no one stops.
The film was to end with a huge close-up of ‘Miles’ screaming ,”You’re next”. And what a breath-stopping ending that would have been. But the studio, Allied Artists, insisted on adding a prologue and epilogue, to give a more optimistic outcome – test screenings didn’t like the bleak ending.
Don Siegel didn’t walk away. It was still his film. So 6 months after finishing his role in the film, Kevin McCarthy was in South Africa and was called back to Hollywood to film further scenes.
The newly filmed prologue has Miles telling Dr Hill (Whit Bissell) of fantastical happenings when he came back to his home town of Santa Mira. There is then the long flashback.
Working titles for the film included the original Finney title,The Body Snatchers, They Came From Another World (too similar to The Thing From Another World) and Sleep No More ( suggested by Kevin McCarthy).
Finney’s original title was considered too similar to the 1945 film,”The Body Snatcher.”
Examining the pod.
Made on a budget of $380,000 and shot in 19 days, Don Siegel’s film has become a science fiction classic. The build up of suspense is worthy of Hitchcock!
Walter Wanger was the producer and Daniel Mainwairing provided the screenplay.
Among the blu-Ray extras was a very good talk by Walter Wanger’ s biographer, Matthew Bernstein and a wonderful reading of excerpts of Don Siegel’s autobiography by his son, actor Kristopher Tabori.