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

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InvasionOfTheBodySnatchers-OriginalPoster

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

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.

Science-Fiction Films of the 1950s: The Day The Earth Stood Still

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https://en.wikipedia.org

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) was a brilliant science-fiction film that set the standards, in many ways, for other following films.  One of the great strengths of the genre of science-fiction as well as horror and fantasy is its ability to comment on direct issues in contemporary society.  In this 20th Century Fox film, the director, Robert Wise uses the arrival of an alien spaceship on earth as a cautionary message about the potential of the human race to cause its own self-destruction through atomic warfare.

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https://en.wikipedia.org

The core plot element is that beings from advanced civilizations on other planets have found people on earth have developed both nuclear weapons and a space program. They have sent an emissary, Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, to deliver a gift and a warning to the people of Earth.  The gift, a small box, was destroyed by a frightened soldier who thought it was a threat. In reality, it was a device that would have allowed humans to study the universe. With the gift gone, what is left is a warning that if human beings insist on bringing their atomic weapons and violence into space with them, then earth and its inhabitants will be destroyed utterly. This message is a quietly subversive challenge through what was seen as just a movie to the nuclear states of the world.

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http://highlandcoldwar8.wikispaces.com

A staple of science-fiction, both cinema and television is the robot.  This kind of machine will figure into film in many ways from the earliest days to recent film.  The Day The Earth Stood Still has such a machine in Gort, a robot that serves as an aide  to the alien Klaatu.  Earth people view it as a threat, as they do everything alien, which is yet another point to the movie.  Xenophobia and bigotry, unfortunate human capacities, were at the forefront of American society in the late 1940s and 1950s.  If someone was different from the so-called norm, then they were somehow bad and immoral.  This will be the main point of the next movie I will examine in this series: Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The Day The Earth Stood Still was a critical success and has been named by several film organizations as one of the most important films of American cinema.  If you have not yet seen this movie, and I am NOT talking about the remake, then I recommend it highly.

 

Walt Whitman Teaches Us to Question Everything

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I have taught Walt Whitman in several classes, and this excerpt is from his introduction to the 1855 First Edition of Leaves of Grass.

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(http://www.whitmanarchive.org)

Whitman was one of the greatest American poets and has been called the Bard of Democracy. He challenged the existing views of normalcy in the United States across a wide range of topics. We live in a time, perhaps even more than in the 1800s, when great pressure exists to conform to what society defines normalcy to be. I believe it is crucial for individuals to find out who they are, for what they have passions, and what they believe. With this thought in mind, I want to share this small excerpt:

“re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem”

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(https://pixabay.com)

Whitman shattered the conventions of his time, and his admonition to us to question everything is as important today as it was in the mid-1800s.

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(https://pixabay.com)

Please, keep Whitman’s idea in mind, and question everything.