Clas­sic noir that age has failed to fraz­zle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

IN­VA­SION OF THE BODY SNATCH­ERS Di­rected by Don Siegel. Star­ring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wyn­ter, Larry Gates, King Dono­van, Carolyn Jones Club, IFI, Dublin, 80 min Dr Miles Ben­nell (Kevin McCarthy) re­counts, in flash­back, a fan­tas­tic tale about pod peo­ple re­plac­ing his pa­tients and friends: “At first glance ev­ery­thing looked the same. But it wasn’t. Some­thing evil had taken pos­ses­sion of the town,” he ex­plains with some fraz­zle. Is it mass hys­te­ria? Cap­gras syn­drome? Or is there a more sin­is­ter ex­pla­na­tion for the denizens of Santa Mira be­com­ing blank and emo­tion­less?

Don Seigel’s su­perb 1956 ver­sion of Jack Fin­ney’s novel The Body Snatch­ers doesn’t have the mil­i­taris­tic di­men­sion of Abel Ferrara’s 1993 adap­ta­tion or that durable im­age of Don­ald Suther­land scream­ing in the 1978 ver­sion. But, steeped in post-war para­noia and such con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous hot top­ics as psy­chi­a­try, it of­fers a snap­shot of 1950’s con­scious­ness – a knot of in­flu­ences that would feed into both the McCarthy tri­als and the golden age of sci­ence fic­tion.

The film still feels sur­pris­ingly mod­ern. When peo­ple first com­plain that loved ones sud­denly don’t feel like loved ones, Miles of­fers the kind of ad­vice one still sees in gov­ern­ment warn­ings: “You don’t have to be los­ing your mind to seek psy­chi­atric help.”

The screen­play by Daniel Main­war­ing is play­ful. “You’re a for­ward wench,” Miles tells Becky. Ad­di­tional di­a­logue was re­put­edly sup­plied by Sam Peck­in­pah, who ap­pears as a me­ter-reader. The film’s pro- ducer Wal­ter Wanger had just served a four-month sen­tence for shoot­ing at his wife’s lover (an in­ci­dent that in­spired Billy Wilder’s The Apart­ment) and this helps ex­plain the gloom that hangs over In­va­sion.

A hap­pier end­ing, im­posed by the stu­dio, did lit­tle to lift the som­bre mood. Thank­fully, this is the shorter, spook­ier ver­sion. Nei­ther age nor that aw­ful Oliver Hirsch­biegel re­make shall weary Siegel’s pic­ture.

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