Don Siegel’s Science-Fiction Shocker– The original nightmare that Threatened the World!
… there was nothing to hold onto – except each other.– They come from another world!
”I’ve been afraid a lot of times in my life-but I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until-until I’d kissed Becky.”
“The dark secret behind human nature used to be the upsurge of the animal… The threat to man, his availability to dehumanization, lay in his own animality. Now the danger is understood as residing in man’s ability to be turned into a machine.” – Susan Sontag
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956 took an ambiguous turn for many who still endeavor to analyze the film directed by Don Siegel, which was inspired by a well-known series in Collier’s magazine printed in three parts in 1954 from Jack Finney’s novel released in 1955. Siegel’s iconic film included a screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring.
Producer Walter Wanger so impressed with Finney’s story, bought the film rights before the third part had been published. Wanger discovered Don Siegel through his 1954 prison noir Riot in Cell Block 11.
The director also considered Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the favorite among his notable films. Body Snatchers has attained its status as one of the most influential alien invasion films and a signature science fiction narrative of the 1950s, that tapped into the cultural and historical zeitgeist of that decade. And although Siegel’s film can be seen as an intellectual film, ”it derives its strength from a nightmare situation – the sort of nightmare which a child tearfully explains as ‘It was like you, only you were horrible!” (Raymond Durgnat -The Subconscious: From Pleasure Castle to Libido Motel 1958)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers features a great ensemble of actors including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, King Donovan Larry Gates, Jean Willes, Virginia Christine, Ralph Dumke, Tom Fadden, Everett Glass, and Dabs Greer.
Sam Peckinpah acted as dialogue coach and Carmen Dragon’s evocative film score has influenced both filmmakers and television directors alike. You can hear Dragon’s ethereal piano in such television shows as The X-Files and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.
Ultimately in 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was among the 25 ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films’ that are annually anointed as part of the US National Film Registry at the Library of Congress under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988.
The film plants the seed for the theme of paranoia, fear of ‘the other’, and invisible invaders who can swiftly replace individualism and individuals and transport them into a hive mind, a collective of unemotional, hollow pod people. The essence of this truly resonated with the sweeping anxieties of 1950s American culture.
On the set of Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956.
Siegel’s protean ‘Invasion’ film sparked a range of political and social analyses of the alien ‘infiltration’ sub-genre of Science Fiction films, one that emphasizes the ‘take over’ where ‘we’ would no longer have a soul or any spark of humanity. It triggers for us… the fear of the death of ‘self.’ and the death of the ‘soul.’
Other classic Science Fiction with alien ‘infiltration’ themes of being ‘taken over’ is the most notably Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) and The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963).
“Made in 1956 in the middle of the decade, peopled by men in gray flannel suits, the silent generation, the status seekers, Senator McCarthy, and the lonely crowd, Siegel’s science fiction thriller was a cry of frustrated warning against the conformity and uniformity of a society that was blissfully living in the best of all possible worlds.” (Vivian Sobchack cites Charles Gregory)
Don Siegel managed to complete the shooting of the film within a tight schedule of just 19 days. To enhance authenticity, all the exterior scenes were filmed in natural locations around Los Angeles, specifically selected to resemble the small Northern California suburban town of Santa Mira. The city square featured in the film was located in Sierra Madre, east of Pasadena, while the chase sequence up the hill and staircase took place in a section of Hollywood known as Beachwood.
The 1950s witnessed a significant surge in mass migration to newly developed suburban areas, which in turn only strengthened the process of conformity, unrestrained with a vampirism of the soul creating an atmosphere that ‘bred apathy. (Kier-La Janisse) What writer Bernice M. Murphy called ‘Suburban Gothic.’
Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrives on its ability to skew what is ordinary about American life in the 1950s and impregnate the screen with an unsettling narrative of paranoia and fear.
Paranoia was symptomatic of the late 40s and 50s postwar American science fiction ‘invasion’ films. We saw the perceptible tropes of the internal invasion of our human bodies that were transformed into imperceptibly altered bodies in a world plagued with suspicion, distrust, and paranoia.
“The imperceptibility of the altered body is a staple of the paranoiac world. Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness 1903 became the most famous paranoiac text, due to Freud’s analysis of it in his 1911 essay “Psychoanalytical notes Upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides) Within Schreber’s paranoiac system he perceives himself surrounded by replicant humans he terms ‘fleeting improvised men.’ Creatures resembling ordinary humans but who, in his view, are souls put down temporarily on earth by divine miracle.’’ (From Cindy Hendershot’s article From the Invaded Body: Paranoia and Radiation Anxiety in Invaders From Mars, It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
Siegel manages to make the tedious, hint at the terrifying, which reverberates in a seemingly normal scene; for instance when Miles and Becky go to visit her cousin Wilma played by Virginia Christine. “Memories or not, he isn’t my Uncle Ira.” Uncle Ira is missing ”a special look in his eye.”
Becky is haunted by the sense that her Uncle Ira (Tom Fadden) is not really her Uncle anymore. It is all very unremarkable as he affects the role of a suburban everyman mowing the lawn, mouth straddling his pipe as he leisurely remarks about the weather.
“But Miles, there’s no emotion—none. Just the pretense of it. The words, gestures, the tone of voice, everything else is the same but not the feeling.”
Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 – Part Three! Invasion of the Body Snatchers: I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until… until I had kissed Becky”