Criterion Prediction #210: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, by Alexander Miller
Title: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, King Donovan
Synopsis: A mysterious phenomenon strikes and Doctor Miles Bennell realizes that everyone around him turns out to be duplicate alien automatons bent on world domination.
Critique: I’ve always loved Don Siegel, whether he’s putting a .44 magnum in Clint’s hand, diving into a prison riot or loosely rejiggering an Ernest Hemingway short story. He was just at home in the west as he was with modern cop stories with an equally adept demeanor for resonant war films. So we could only think that a fast-and-loose, low-budget, allegorical sci-fi/horror film articulating the 1950s-era paranoia amid the McCarthy days would be a departure for Siegel. Could it be a sore thumb protruding from an otherwise steady hand of low-key auteurism? Of course, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is anything but a misstep; it’s one of the director’s most well-known titles. The film is a high point in 1950s genre filmmaking, influencing and inspiring remixes and reinterpretations decades ahead.
Propulsive and tight, Siegel’s direction, paired with the three-way split script by Richard Collins, Daniel Mainwaring and Jack Finney, has the feisty punchiness of a taught film noir (the writing pool also yielded classics such as Out of the Past, Riot in Cell Block 11 and The Hitch-Hiker) but leans headlong into the timely machinations of 1950s science fiction. But the awareness of postwar cynicism turns us away from the nuclear vein of giant monsters, shrinking people and cosmic journeys. Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes a sharp look at the patterns of human behavior. You can make it about Cold War paranoia, a parable for the McCarthy scare, a condemnation of conformity or you can simply embrace its merits as a tense and smart chiller.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: When The Criterion Collection announced that they were releasing the lesser-seen, hard-hitting noir drama Riot in Cell Block 11, I was nonplussed. Being a fan of the director and already smitten with their double-bill treatment of both Siodmak and Siegel’s The Killers, I was ramped up for more Siegel on the way. That minor trifle aside, The Criterion Channel has recently resurrected some of their movies from the LaserDisc days. Next to Trainspotting, they’re streaming another yesteryear treasure, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Plus Criterion has resurrected a good number of their Laser titles over the past few years; Cat People, Tootsie, The Princess Bride and The Magnificent Ambersons. This means that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a good chance for the Criterion treatment.