Classic sci-fi doesn’t come more significant than this. Despite being remade numerous times, this black and white original still packs a hell of a wallop and is the touchstone for ‘they walk among us’ conspiracy stories.
Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is being held at a hospital by the police, who think he has lost his mind. Despite being in an agitated state, Miles is adamant that he isn’t insane. Then he starts to tell his story to the psychiatrist. After returning from a business trip, people in his small town of Santa Mira have begun to behave oddly. A child is convinced his mother isn’t really her. It’s a similar story he hears with several people. And what about the corpse that has turned up at this friend’s house that looks a little like him but has no fingerprints? Throughout the night, Miles and his girlfriend Sally (Dana Wynter) discover the sinister truth of what’s happening, as an alien race is taking over the town one person at a time.
Adapted from Jack Finney’s serialised story and directed by Don Siegel (who would helm such magnificent movies as Dirty Harry), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the epitome of Cold War paranoia. The threat of losing ones’ self is a universal worry, and it’s depicted wonderfully here. Unfortunately, the scenes that bookend the story were imposed by the studio execs who were originally unhappy with Siegel’s original bleak climax. That said, and while it would be more impactful to end with McCarthy screaming at us through the camera, the intro throws us straight into the action, and it motors at a strong pace from there.
The BFI Blu-ray release retains some of the extras that have appeared on previous releases, which is always welcome (particularly since some of the contributors are no longer with us), but also includes an interesting new commentary from filmmaker and historian Jim Hemphill and a fantastic recording of a session Don Siegel did at the BFI in 1973 as Barry Norman interviews him. It’s a worthy set for a film that seems to get better with each viewing.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is released on Blu-ray by the BFI on October 25th. Read more about the film here.