THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the 1956 classic of Cold War paranoia, will screen as part of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s tribute to the late Don Siegle (a director otherwise best known for tough-guy action films like DIRTY HARRY ).
The evening, which will include clips and commentary before the screening, will be hosted by director Curtis Harrington (NIGHT TIDE). Actor Clint Eastwood, who starred in four films for Siegel, will be the evening’s special guest.
The event will take place on Wednesday, July 20 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwin Theatre, 8949 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. (Free parking is available at 8920 and 9025 Wilshire Blvd.) Start time is 8:00 p.m.
This is a must-see event for fans of Don Siegel (whose work also includes the excellent MADIGAN with Richard Widmark and THE KILLERS with future president Ronald Regan). I can’t begin to imagine what Clint Eastwood might have to say about BODY SNATCHERS, because the film is so far removed from the work he did with Seigel, but I’m sure he will have something to say about working with the director, who was a big influence on Eastwood’s own directing efforts. (In fact, Eastwood’s first Oscar-winner, UNFORGIVEN, is dedicated to “Sergio and Don,” a reference to Siegel and Sergio Leone, who directed Eastwood’s Italian Westerns.)
As for the film itself, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is a mixed bag, one that raises interesting questions about how we judge films: do we value them according to what’s actually up on screen, or do we employ some more nebulous system, a combination of rose-colored memories and the author’s intentions (whether fully realized or not)?
BODY SNATCHERS is widely regarded as a classic, one of the great science fiction films of all time, and with good reason: it’s a powerful black-and-white portrait of individuals losing their humanity as they are taken over and replaced by pod people (apparently from outer space, although the film offers little evidence).
On the other hand, BODY SNATCHERS is a seriously compromised film. The studio that financed it did not like Siegel’s original downbeat ending, which had star Kevin McCarthy running down a highway, trying to warn people, “They’re here already! You’re next” while cars whizzed by, drivers ignoring him as if he were nothing but a hopeless nut-case. A prologue and an epilogue were added, along with a voice-over narration so that the whole story unfolds as if Miles (the McCarthy character) is telling the story in flashback to the police. Afterward, the police are prepared to dismiss him, until a convenient piece of evidence pops up to confirm his story, implying that the alien invasion will be nipped in the bud.
As if this bogus happy ending were not bad enough, the narration is over-wrought and melodramatic, making the film feel more like a bad B-movie than the expert little piece of craftsmanship that it is. (I remember a screening at the University of Southern California decades ago, where students in the audience were laughing out loud at some of the voice-over comments. Younger viewers typically like to laugh at old-fashioned movies, but this was USC –a school noted for its film prgoram, and you would expect such viewers to be a little be more sympathetic to an official “classic.”)
My point is this: Everyone knows there is something wrong with the finished version of the movie (including Siegel himself, who said in interviews that he wanted nothing to do with the revised ending and the narration). Yet critics insist on ignoring the flaws — most recently, for example, when Time magazine’s Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel placed the film on the joint Top 100 Best Films list.
Why is this? Because we all know what director Don Siegel’s intentions were, and that is what we take away from the film when we leave the theatre. The feeling we carry around in our heads after seeing the movie leaves the studio-enforced alterations mentally erased, as it were.
Unfortunately, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was made in the era before DVDs, when studios didn’t hang on to their unused footage with the knowledge that they could increase home video sales by releasing a director’s cut. So it seems unlike that the film will ever bee seen as Siegel intended it (unless someone tries literally lopping off the beginning and ending footage with a pair of scissors, and who knows but that future digital technology would allow someone to mix out the unwated narration?).
Still, whateve its unfortuante flaws, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remains worth seeing, because enough of Siegel’s original intent survives on the screen to make the film a genuinely creepy experience — a horror film not about death and bloodshed but about the loss of personality — the loss of one’s very self — which may in a sense be the ultimate horror, even worse than death: a sort of emotionless, zombied caricature of one’s former existence, drained of everything that gives life joy and meaning.
Tickets are $5.00 for general public, $3 for Acadmey members. They can be purchased at the box office during business hours or by mail (no phone or Internet sales).
Location: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwin Theatre, 8949 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills