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definition - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Theatrical poster
Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring
Based on The Body Snatchers by
Jack Finney
Starring Kevin McCarthy
Dana Wynter
Larry Gates
King Donovan
Carolyn Jones
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography Ellsworth Fredericks
Editing by Robert S. Eisen
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation
Release date(s)
  • February 5, 1956 (1956-02-05)
Running time 80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $382,190
Box office $3,000,000

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1956 American science fiction film directed by Don Siegel and starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. Daniel Mainwaring adapted the screenplay from Jack Finney's 1954 novel The Body Snatchers.

The story depicts an extraterrestrial invasion in a small California town. The invaders 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.

In 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Psychiatrist Dr. Hill is called to the emergency ward of a hospital, where a frantically screaming man is held in custody. Dr. Hill agrees to listen to the man's story, who identifies himself as Dr. Miles Bennell. Bennell recounts the events leading to his arrest in a flashback.

In the fictional town of Santa Mira, California, Miles Bennell, a local doctor, has a number of patients accusing their loved ones of being impostors. Another patient is a former girlfriend of his, the recently divorced Becky Driscoll, who tells him that her cousin Wilma, has the same fear about Uncle Ira. Dr. Dan Kauffman, a psychiatrist in the town, assures Bennell that the cases are nothing but "epidemic mass hysteria".

That same evening Bennell's friend Jack Belicec finds a body with what appear to be his features, though it's not yet fully developed. The next body found is a copy of Becky in the cellar of her house. When Bennell calls Kauffman to the scene, the bodies have mysteriously disappeared and Kauffman suspects Bennell of falling for the same hysteria. The following night Bennell, Becky, Jack and Jack's wife Teddy again find duplicates of themselves, emerging from giant pods. They conclude that the townspeople are being replaced in their sleep by perfect physical copies. Miles tries to call long distance for help from outside resources, but the phone operator claims that no long-distance calls are possible. Jack and Teddy drive away to get help. Bennell and Becky discover that most inhabitants have already been replaced, and are now devoid of any humanity. They flee to Bennell's office to hide for the night.

The next morning they see that truckloads of pods are being sent to neighboring towns, to replace even more humans. Kauffman and Jack, both of whom are now "pod people", reveal that an extraterrestrial life form is responsible for the invasion. After the takeover, they explain, life loses its frustrating complexity because all emotions and sense of individuality have vanished. Bennell and Becky manage to escape and hide in a mine outside of town. While Bennell inspects a near-by farm where more pods are bred, Becky falls asleep and is instantly taken over. She informs the "pod people" where to find Bennell, who runs onto the next highway, frantically screaming to passing motorists, "They're here already! You're next! You're next!"

Bennell finishes his story. Dr. Hill and the doctor on duty doubt his account. At this very moment, a highway accident victim is hospitalised, who had been found under a load of giant pods. The men realise that Bennell's story is fact and alert the authorities.


  Novel and screenplay

Jack Finney's novel ends with the extraterrestrials leaving earth after they find many humans offering too much resistance, despite having almost no reasonable chance against the invaders. Also, the "pod people" have a life span of no more than 5 years. As a result, 5 years after taking over the last human being, the invaders would have to look for a new planet with new life forms as hosts – leaving behind a depopulated earth.


  Budgeting and casting

  In this screenshot from the trailer; the principal cast (topright going clockwise): Carolyn Jones as Teddy, Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Miles Bennell, King Donovan as Jack Belicec, and Dana Wynter as Becky Driscoll; discover the pods growing

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was originally scheduled for a 24-day shoot and a budget of USD $454,864. The studio later asked Wanger to cut the budget significantly. The producer proposed a shooting schedule of 20 days and a budget of $350,000.[1]

Initially, Wanger considered Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotten and several others for the role of Miles. For Becky he thought of casting Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, Vera Miles and others. With the lower budget, however, he had to abandon these choices and cast Richard Kiley, who had just starred in The Phenix City Story for Allied Artists.[1] Kiley turned the role down and Wanger cast two relative newcomers in the lead roles: Kevin McCarthy, who had just starred in Siegel's An Annapolis Story, and Dana Wynter, who had done several major dramatic roles on television.[2]

Sam Peckinpah had a small part as Charlie, a meter reader. Peckinpah worked as a dialogue coach on five Siegel films in the mid-1950s, including this one.[3]

  Principal photography

Originally producer Wanger and Siegel wanted to shoot Invasion of the Body Snatchers on location in the town Jack Finney described in his novel: Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco.[1] In the first week of January 1955, Siegel, Wanger and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring visited Finney to talk about the film version and to take a look at Mill Valley. The location proved to be too expensive and Siegel and some Allied Artists executives found locations resembling Mill Valley in Sierra Madre, Chatsworth, Glendale, the Los Feliz neighborhood and in Bronson and Beachwood Canyons - all of which would make up the town of "Santa Mira" for the film.[1] In addition to these outdoor locations, much of the film was shot in the Allied Artists studio on the east side of Hollywood.

The film was shot by cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks in 23 days between March 23 and April 18, 1955. The cast and crew worked a six-day week with only Sundays off.[1] The production went over schedule by three days because of night-for-night shooting that Siegel wanted. Additional photography took place in September 1955, filming a frame story which the studio insisted on (see Original intended ending). The final budget was $382,190.


The project was originally called The Body Snatchers after the Finney serial.[4] However, Wanger wanted to avoid confusion with the 1945 Val Lewton film The Body Snatcher. The producer was unable to come up with a title and accepted the studio's choice, They Come from Another World that was assigned in summer 1955. Siegel protested this title and suggested two alternatives, Better Off Dead and Sleep No More, while Wanger offered Evil in the Night and World in Danger. None of these were chosen, as the studio finally settled on Invasion of the Body Snatchers in late 1955.[4]

Wanger wanted to add a variety of speeches and prefaces.[5] He suggested a voice-over introduction for Miles.[6] While the film was being shot, Wanger tried to get permission in England to use a Winston Churchill quotation as a preface to the film. The producer also tried to get Orson Welles to voice the preface and a trailer for the film. He wrote speeches for Welles' opening on June 15, 1955, and spent considerable time trying to persuade Welles to do it, but was unsuccessful. Wanger considered science fiction author Ray Bradbury instead, but this did not happen, either.[6] Mainwaring eventually wrote the voice-over narration himself.[4]

The studio scheduled three previews for the film on the last days of June and the first day of July 1955.[6] According to Wanger's memos at the time, the previews were successful. However, later reports by Mainwaring and Siegel contradict this, claiming that audiences could not follow the film and laughed in the wrong places. In response, the studio removed much of the film's humor, "humanity" and "quality," according to Wanger.[6] He scheduled another preview in mid-August that did not go well. The studio decided to change the film's title to a more conventional science-fiction one. In later interviews, Siegel pointed out that it was studio policy not to mix humor with horror.[6]

Wanger saw the final cut in December 1955 and protested the use of the Superscope format.[4] Its use had been a part of the early plans for the film, but the first print was not made until December. Wanger felt that the film lost sharpness and detail. Siegel had originally shot Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Superscope was a post-production lab process designed to create an anamorphic print from non-anamorphic source material that would be projected at an aspect ratio of 2.00:1.[4][7]

  Original intended ending

Both Siegel and Mainwaring were satisfied with the film as shot. It was originally intended to end with Miles screaming hysterically as truckloads of pods pass him by.[5] The studio, wary of such a pessimistic conclusion, insisted on adding a prologue and epilogue to the movie that suggested a more optimistic outcome to the story which is thus told mainly in flashback. In this version the movie begins with a ranting Bennell kept in custody in a hospital emergency ward. He then tells an arriving doctor (Whit Bissell) his story. In the closing scene, pods are discovered at a highway accident, thus confirming his warning. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is notified, though it is left ambiguous whether they intervene in time to save the Earth.

Mainwaring scripted this framing story and Siegel shot it on September 16, 1955, at the Allied Artists studio.[4] In a later interview Siegel complained, "The film was nearly ruined by those in charge at Allied Artists who added a preface and ending that I don't like."[8] In his autobiography, Siegel added that "Wanger was very much against this, as was I. However, he begged me to shoot it to protect the film, and I reluctantly consented […]".[9]

While the Internet Movie Database states that the film's original ending had been reinstated for a re-release in 1979,[10] Steve Biodrowski of Cinefantastique magazine claims that the film is still being released with its additional footage, including a screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005, honouring director Don Siegel.[11]

Though disapproved of by most reviewers, George Turner (in American Cinematographer)[12] and Danny Peary (in Cult Movies)[13] endorsed the subsequently added frame story. Nonetheless, Peary emphasised that the additional scenes changed significantly what he saw as the film's original intention (see Themes).

  Theatrical release

When the film was released domestically in February 1956, many theatres displayed several of the pods (made of paper) at theatre lobbies and entrances along with large lifelike black and white cutouts of McCarthy and Wynter running frantically away from a crowd. The movie made over $1 million in its first month. In 1956 alone the movie made over $2.5 million in the US. When the British issue (which had cuts imposed by the British censors[14]) took place in late 1956, the film made over a half million dollars in ticket sales.[4]


Some reviewers found a comment on the dangers faced of America turning a blind eye to McCarthyism,[15] or of bland conformity in postwar Dwight D. Eisenhower-era America. Others have viewed it as an allegory for the loss of personal autonomy in the Soviet Union or communist systems in general.[16] For the BBC, David Wood summarised the circulating popular interpretations of the film as follows: "The sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia is acute, as is the temptation to view the film as a metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era."[17] Danny Peary in Cult Movies pointed out that the addition of the framing story had changed the film's stance from anti-McCarthyite to anti-communist.[13]

In W.S. Poole's Monsters in America, the film is argued to be an indictment of the damage to the human personality caused by reductionist modern ideologies both of the Right and the Left.[18] In An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, Carlos Clarens saw a trend manifesting itself in Science Fiction films, dealing with dehumanization and fear of the loss of individual identity, being historically connected to the end of "the Korean War and the well publicized reports coming out of it of brainwashing techniques".[19] Comparing Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, Brian Neve found a sense of disillusionment rather than straightforward messages, with all three films being "less radical in any positive sense than reflective of the decline of [the screenwriters'] great liberal hopes".[20]

Despite the general agreement among film critics regarding these political connotations of the film, lead actor Kevin McCarthy said in an interview included on the 1998 DVD release that he felt no political allegory was intended. The interviewer stated that he had spoken with the author of the original novel, Jack Finney, who also professed to have intended no specific political allegory in the work.[21]

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 the original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple."[22]

Don Siegel spoke more openly of an existing allegorical subtext, but denied a strictly political point of view: "[…] 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."[23]


  Critical reception

Largely ignored by critics on its initial run,[12] Invasion of the Body Snatchers received wide critical acclaim in retrospect and is considered one of the best films of 1956.[24][25][26] The film holds a 97% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[27] In recent years, critics have hailed the film as a "genuine Sci-Fi classic" (Dan Druker, Chicago Reader),[28] "influential, and still very scary" (Leonard Maltin)[29] and one of the "most resonant" and "one of the simplest" of the genre (Time Out).[30]


In 1993, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[31] In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the science fiction genre.[32] The film was also placed on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding films.[33] The film was included on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[34] Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 29th scariest film ever made.[35] Time magazine included Invasion of the Body Snatchers on their list of 100 all-time best films,[36] the top 10 1950s Sci-Fi Movies,[37] and Top 25 Horror Films.[38]

  DVD releases

The film was released on DVD in 1998 by US-label Republic (an identical re-release by Artisan followed in 2002). It includes the Superscope version plus a version in the Academy ratio. The latter is not the original full frame edition but a pan and scan-reworking of the Superscope edition, losing even more visual information.

DVD editions also exist on the British (including a computer colourized version), German (as Die Dämonischen) and Spanish market (as La Invasión de los Ladrones de Cuerpos).

  Related works

Listed are only works directly connected to Jack Finney's novel or Don Siegel's film, not thematically related works like Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters and its dramatizations, Val Guest's Quatermass 2 or Gene Fowler's I Married a Monster from Outer Space.


  1. ^ a b c d e LaValley, Al (1989). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Rutgers University Press. pp. 25. 
  2. ^ LaValley 1989, pp. 25-26.
  3. ^ Weddle, David (1994). "If They Move...Kill 'Em!". Grove Press. pp. 116–119. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g LaValley 1989, p. 26.
  5. ^ a b LaValley 1989, p. 125.
  6. ^ a b c d e LaValley 1989, p. 126.
  7. ^ Detailed description of the Superscope format on Widescreenmuseum.com.
  8. ^ Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema, London 1975.
  9. ^ Don Siegel: A Siegel Film. An Autobiography, Faber and Faber, London/Boston 1993.
  10. ^ Info on Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ alternate versions on IMDB.com
  11. ^ Review by Steve Biodrowski on Cinefantastiqueonline.com
  12. ^ a b George Turner: A Case for Insomnia, in American Cinematographer, March 1997, American Society of Cinematographers, Hollywood 1997.
  13. ^ a b Danny Peary: Cult Movies, Dell Publishing, New York 1981.
  14. ^ Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the BBFC website.
  15. ^ Leonard Maltin speaks of a "McCarthy-era subtext" – Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide, Signet/New American Library, New York, 2007.
  16. ^ "[…] it is the quintessential Fifties image of socialism." – Noel Carroll, Soho News, Dec. 21, 1978.
  17. ^ Wood, David (May 1, 2001). " Invasion of the Body Snatchers". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/05/01/invasion_of_the_body_snatchers_1956_review.shtml. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  18. ^ Poole, W. Scott. Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, Texas: Baylor, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60258-314-6.
  19. ^ Carlos Clarens: An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, Capricorn Books, 1968.
  20. ^ Brian Neve: Film and Politics in America. A social tradition, Routledge, Oxon, 1992.
  21. ^ DVD commentary track, quoted in: Invasion of the Body Snatchers - review. Feo Amante's Horror Home Page. http://www.feoamante.com/Movies/GHI/invasion_bsnatch_56.html 
  22. ^ Mirisch, Walter (2008). I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0-299-22640-9. 
  23. ^ Interview with Don Siegel in Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema, London 1975.
  24. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1956". AMC Filmsite.org. http://www.filmsite.org/1956.html. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  25. ^ "The Best Movies of 1956 by Rank". Films101.com. http://www.films101.com/y1956r.htm. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1956". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/year/1956. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  27. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1010678-invasion_of_the_body_snatchers/. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  28. ^ Druker, Dan. " Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Chicago Reader. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers/Film?oid=2188855. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  29. ^ Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide, Signet/New American Library, New York, 2007.
  30. ^ " Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Time Out (magazine). http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/76141/invasion_of_the_body_snatchers.html. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  31. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Award Wins and Nominations". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049366/awards. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  32. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". AFI.com. http://www.afi.com/10top10/scifi.html. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  33. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". AFI.com. http://connect.afi.com/site/DocServer/thrills100.pdf?docID=250. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  34. ^ "Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". web.archive.org. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071030070540/http://www.bravotv.com/The_100_Scariest_Movie_Moments/index.shtml. Retrieved June 20, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Chicago Critics’ Scariest Films". AltFilmGuide.com. http://www.altfg.com/blog/hollywood/chicago-critics-scariest-films/. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  36. ^ Schickel, Richard (February 12, 2005). "All-Time 100 Movies". Time. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1953094_1953144_1953652,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  37. ^ Corliss, Richard (December 12, 2008). "1950s Sci-Fi Movies". Time. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1866039_1866042_1865918,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  38. ^ "Top 25 Horror Films". Time. October 29, 2007. http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1676793_1676808_1676843,00.html. Retrieved April 13, 2009. 

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