Science Fiction Films of the 1950s: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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InvasionOfTheBodySnatchers-OriginalPoster

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The 1956 film The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a seminal piece of cinema.  This movie combined the theme of alien invaders with that of xenophobia and the fear of communists infiltrating American society. Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter starred in the film, and directed by Don Siegel, in an Allied Artists film. The film was based on a novel by  Jack Finney called The Body Snatchers.

This black and white movie is atmospheric and establishes quickly a tone of distrust and disquiet, by creating a world in which normalcy seems just out of place. This questioning of normalcy, especially in  the context of 1950s America, in which conformity was seen as a virtue, is a strength of the movie. In post World War Two America, many people lived in a segregated world, divided by race, class, and religion.  Also, the United States was suffering through the hearings run by Senator Joe McCarthy, which were a modern version of witch hunts. The level of paranoia that was permeating American society is reflected in this film. Additionally, the possible effects of scientific research on humanity as well as the omnipresent nuclear threat also inform the tone of this film.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Certainly, there were people who opposed the insanity of the time, people such as the writers Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, and the journalist Edgar R. Murrow, but I will discuss their courage in another post in the future.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has grown in popularity and has become recognized as one of the most important science fiction films of the 1950s, if not in American cinema as a whole. The idea of the loss of humanity behind the facade of a person’s face gives rise to the current explosion of zombie movies. This movie also gave America the term that would live in our consciousness of “pod people.” It is a brilliant movie, and one that I suggest that you see if you have not.

Favorite Science Fiction Films of the 1950s: The War Of The Worlds

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I have been discussing horror films primarily in my blog, but I want to extend my examination to science fiction movies also. Certainly the two genres have much in common, especially in their examination of very real social issues through the motif of the creation of fantasy worlds. They also differ in their focus on monsters or unseen fears in horror and on the dangerous use of technology in science-fiction.

The 1950s was a decade  that saw the emergence of science-fiction films into the public consciousness, especially reflecting the twin fears of the Cold War: of communists and of nuclear annihilation. These were the kind of enormous social anxieties that played well in the genre of science-fiction.

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In 1953, H. G. Wells’ classic novel The War Of The Worlds was adapted into a contemporary American setting in their feature film. A previous incarnation had been the 1938 Radio production for the Mercury Theater on the Air by Orson Welles. This was the famous production that had sent much of the United States into a panic, thinking that the country was being invaded.

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In post World War Two America, after having experienced an attack on native land by a foreign country and being one of the major forces in a global war of unprecedented scale, the time was correct for a newer adaptation of the novel. The world had suffered devastating losses with a conservative estimate of the dead at 56 million. Immediately upon the ending of that war, NATO and the Soviet Union faced each other in an often silent but still hugely dangerous new kind of conflict.  Fears of a new invasion and of complete destruction permeated the country. This 1953 movie, made by Paramount Pictures, produced by George Pal, and starring Gene Barry, addressed those concerns directly.

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http://scifi.stackexchange.com

Shot in Technicolor and set in California, the film employs sleek new special effects, although dated by today’s standards, and shows powerful alien spaceships from Mars attacking Earth.  The planet’s powerful military defenses are useless against the superior technology of the invaders. (This point, which was a crucial theme against England’s colonizing of countries with lesser technological abilities, was dropped from this film.) Neither God nor the figure of the young scientist, who would save the world in other movies, had any impact on the invaders.  Even the atomic bomb, which had been used to force the surrender of Japan in World War Two, had no ability to break the Martians’ defense. The world is saved only by germs in the environment to which the Martians have no immunity.

It is a powerful film, and a reflection of the fears of that time. If you enjoy science-fiction cinema, take a look at this movie.