Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 1956

Director – Don Siegel

Starring – Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Larry Gates

In the early to mid-fifties, a relatively new genre had taken hold of the film industry.  Taking the place of the grand, war-themed dramas, science fiction (often times tinged with horror elements) came into its own with the birth of the atomic age.  And while there had certainly been stories of space travel, monsters, and aliens before this timeframe, the films of the fifties and sixties came to represent the fears of the modern world.  Fear of radiation, fear of communism, and the fear of the perceived corruption of the “American” value system (these fears would stem from events as diverse as the Korean War, race relations in the United States, the burgeoning civil rights movement, and eventually the assassination of JFK).  So the question is, does Invasion of the Body Snatchers exist as a commentary on this change, or is it simply an exploitation film, capitalizing on this social upheaval to make a buck?  The answer is…both.

The story is relatively simple, a doctor in a small California town returns home from a medical seminar at the insistance of his secretary.  The doctor’s office is flooded with cases of hysterical people claiming that close friends or members of their families are in some way different, and not themselves.  When pressed for details on what is different, the only elaboration is that despite looking and acting exactly the same as usual, these people are different, and somehow off.

Eventually the doctor, teaming up with his former sweetheart, learns that the town’s people are steadily and silently being replaced by these malicious, un-feeling, pod-people, called this because of the giant seed pod that the replacement’s are born out of (a device that works especially well in the United States thanks to our dependance on and prevalence of agriculture in this country).  From then on out, it is a fight to escape the clutches of this foreign, yet eerily familiar menace.

Now, as far as I’ve read, the film was never trying to be anything more than a riveting, good time.  It may have borrowed on the xenophobia and tension that came from the communist threat, but it was never meant to be a direct allegory.  Never-the-less, the film, intentionally or not, has managed to distill the anxiety of it’s time to great effect.  Tension in the story is built slowly over the course of the story.  It never goes for the easy scare, relying instead upon the unease of the situation.  In fact, once the pods and the blank, faceless, replacements are finally shown it is almost a relief; Once we know what to look out for we can stop concentrating on everything else that we don’t have to.

In terms of the look of the pod-people, in their unformed state they aren’t so much shocking as they are unsettling.  The un-defined shape of these intruders fits nicely with the un-ease that the town’s folk are feeling.  When we’re confronted with what seems wrong with it, we can’t put our finger on it, and therein lies the success of this film.

As far as acting goes, each actor does what is necessary but no more than that.  Don Siegel, director of such other classics as Dirty Harry, The Killers, and Escape from Alcatraz, knows just what to get from his actors to keep the momentum going, and the tension thick.

I know that there are now two different re-makes of this same story, one in 1978 with the same name starring Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy, and another in 2007 with Nicole Kidman called simply The Invasion.  I’ve heard from a trustworthy source that the 1978 version is pretty great, and I’ve heard from a number of sources that the 2007 version is anything but.  All in all, I was surprised with the quality in this film, pleasantly so.  I’m not sure why, but it was better than I thought it was going to be.  Definitely worth the watch.

“Pod people, yo!” – Ashley

Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

SinginInTheRain

Singin’ in the Rain – 1952

Director – Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Starring – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds

Coming into this movie, I was skeptical.  To be more to the point, coming into this endeavor of watching all of these movies, I was skeptical about every one of the musicals.  For some reason, I just don’t really consider a musical a viable genre of film.  It doesn’t have any of the high drama, action, or space monsters that would make me say, “Cool!”  Instead there’s dancing…and worse, there’s singing too.  Not sure why this particular combination of things turns me off of musicals, but it is both of those two ingredients  that are vital to the musical.  And here I am hating on them before I’d even seen the first one on the list.

Lucky for me, Laura just went ahead and brought home both Singin’ In The Rain and West Side Story without me knowing.  I say lucky, because I really had a very good time watching Singin’ In The Rain.  It was extra fun because she loves it so much, I caught her out of the corner of my eye bobbing her head, or singing under her breath.  I got twice the show, for half the price!

To start with, the first thing that struck me was the color.  The poster isn’t kidding when it says Technicolor.  It was like having electric, neon candy explode inside my brain!  There was so much to look at, and all of it was so rich and vibrant, full of life.  Gene Kelly was everything I’ve heard he was, charming, debonair, suave, and light on his feet.  I had never heard of Donald O’Connor, or Debbie Reynolds, but both of them also impressed me with their skills.

The story, a couple of  young men who come up through vaudeville, and into movies during the switch over from silents to talkies, perfectly suits the inclusion of the rich color palette, thematic set pieces, and the film’s dependence on song.  This is just what the fifties has taught us about Hollywood.  It’s bright, it’s beautiful, it’s filled with happy endings, and just desserts.  It’s one big dream, fully rendered and realized on screen.

Technically speaking, the set pieces incorporated genius use of practical light sources as well as light motivated by the emotions and exuberence of the characters.  The camera work was smooth and quick, never hanging for too long on one element of the dance.  The camera holds back enough so that we feel like we see the entire routine, but moves in for close-ups enough so that we don’t miss the finer details or the acting.  The songs, with the exception of a couple of slower ones, were fast paced, energetic, and exciting.  Each one got your blood moving without overstaying it’s welcome, or getting stale.

The only critique I have of this film is a pretty minor one.  Of the songs, two of them were a little slow and didn’t really engage me.  These performances stood out so much to me because of the sheer energy of the other routines.  They didn’t necessarily move the plot forward, and they certainly sapped the momentum out of the story.  I guess there are people out there who not only like slower, romantic songs, but are drawn to musicals because of them.  That is actually one of the elements that has been keeping me away for so many years.

I’ve learned my lesson.  While I am still a might skeptical about musicals, I am 50 percent won over.  If West Side Story is half as good as Singin’ in the Rain was, then there will officially be some hope for the getting through the rest of the musicals in the bunch.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

“I loves it!” – Ashley