I don't claim to be an expert on sci-fi cinema from the Fifties but much of it resembles other genres, such as mystery and horror. Certainly when I think of horror, I think of all those creepy-crawly, big and scaly monster movies like Godzilla (we all know him), Them! (giant ants), Beginning of the End (giant grasshoppers) and Tarantula (duh).
Films like The Thing from Another World (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) have "monsters" too in a manner of speaking. The "pod people" in Body Snatchers are rather akin to zombies, ever so popular today, as we know, and tap into the primal fear many of us have had, in the Fifties and arguably more recently, of being forcibly submerged into a mindless, conformist mass.
|Panic: Kevin McCarthy|
Yet there's also a strong mystery element in both films. In Body Snatchers, Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), lately returned from abroad to his small California town, encounters increasingly disturbing evidence that the townspeople are behaving strangely. Then his friends Jack and Theodora "Teddy" Belijec (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones) present him and his girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), with a human body, a very queer human body indeed, in their game room.
Later on this strange body disappears, just like in murder mysteries, and public authorities start spouting suspiciously pat explanations about the whole thing. Heck, we might almost be in film noir territory here! But then of course we veer into pure sci-fi. Still, much of the early interest driving the film lies (akin to that in detective fiction) in its investigative element, as the doctor struggles valiantly to determine just what is taking place around him.
|The body in the game room: Carolyn Jones and ????|
During the 1950s the hegemony of the detective novel continued to fracture with the rise not just of sci-fi, but espionage, or spy, novels, noir and psychological (frequently domestic) suspense. Indeed, publishers started indiscriminately to term what used to be called mystery or detection as "suspense" fiction. This is not necessarily the most useful term in the world, as some have pointed out, because all storytelling would seem to be based on the question of suspense, i.e., what happens next. But, still, the mystery form survived in within all of these genres, even if in mutated form, like that of the creatures so frequently found in sci-fi film.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is much praised, and deservedly so, for its atmosphere of rising fear and paranoia, buoyed by a terrific performance from Kevin McCarthy. (Dana Wynter and Carolyn Jones are fine too, though a little too much shoehorned into "helpless female" roles characteristic of the era, especially Wynter). The framing scenes forced on director Don Siegel have been criticized, probably with justification, but the penultimate scene with McCarthy is truly memorable. A great film, as is its 1978 remake.
|Pursued by the mob, is resistance futile? Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy|