Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one hell of a sci-fi/horror film, and it stood out in the mid 50s amid the more familiar creature features and effects-heavy features for its more streamlined story about “monsters” that look just like us. It’s been remade three times since — 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1993’s Body Snatchers, and 2007’s The Invasion — and every version aside from the last is great stuff. The original has gotten a terrific new Blu-ray release this week from Olive Signature, and among its various extras are a pair of commentary tracks. Joe Dante moderated one of them *eleven years* ago alongside stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, but it was shelved and never released… until now.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentaries for…
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Commentators: Kevin McCarthy (actor), Dana Wynter (actor), Joe Dante (filmmaker)
1. This was filmed in “SuperScope” which, per Dante, is similar to Super35 “in which you photograph the whole frame but then you extract the middle.”
2. The bookend sequences — Dr. Miles Bennell (McCarthy) telling the story to doctors and the authorities — was added after the film had been completed and shown to early audiences. They found it too scary, so the wraparound scenes were added to inject some hope into the film. Some viewers have found the additions too compromising, but Dante’s a fan.
3. The wraparound was filmed in one day, and they also shot a trailer as well featuring McCarthy talking directly to the camera.
4. Vera Miles was originally attached for the role of Becky Driscoll (Wynter). “I feel awful because really Vera Miles deserved to play this,” says Wynter. Dante disagrees saying this character has “an aura of class” that Wynter gets just right.
5. Wynter recalls the first mention of her in a review in the Herald Examiner calling out her sharp shoulder blades. “That’s why that rag’s out of business,” says Dante.
6. Dante was told the film was shot over 24 days, “but in Don Siegel’s remarkably uninformative book he says it was shot in 19 days.” McCarthy confirms the lower number.
7. The little boy in the doctor’s office is Bobby Clark who Dante recalls appearing in several TV shows as a child before adding “I don’t know what happened to him.” Without missing a beat Wynter replies “He probably grew up.” Clark’s last feature role came a year later in Destination 60,000 (1957), but he continued in television until the mid 60s.
8. Siegel and his cast felt it was important to add small bits of humor throughout the film to lighten tension and highlight humanity, but per Dante the studio was against it and cut most instances from the final product.
9. McCarthy recalls sneaking a print of the film out of the offices along with Siegel for an early preview at a theater in Long Beach, CA. They recorded audio of the theater to capture the audience reaction, and thrilled with the response they brought it to the studio heads who blew their collective lids before cutting off Siegel’s access to the film.
10. Dante likes Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake, “but I’ve always had a problem with it only in that I think they made a mistake setting it in San Francisco.” People there are “generally flamboyant” as a rule he says, so the idea of people acting oddly, differently from the norm doesn’t really work.
11. Sam Peckinpah, who has a small role in the film, was apparently very quiet on set. He can be seen in the basement at 37:32.
12. Allied Pictures is affectionately referred to as the Roger Corman-like studio of its day, and they all acknowledge its low-rent nature. “They had to kind of stretch for class,” says Dante. “They were B minus films,” adds Wynter.
13. They disagree over when exactly Dr. Dan Kauffman (Larry Gates) became a pod person. Dante thinks he’s one for the first time when Miles and Becky arrive in their bathrobes, but McCarthy says he’s been one since the earlier car ride. “Hmm, interesting,” says Dante, clearly not believing him but choosing instead to be a gentleman and a fan.
14. McCarthy loves his Shakespeare and more than once starts reciting lines from various plays he’s performed on the stage including one stretch from Hamlet that led to the suggestion that the film should be titled Sleep No More.
15. Dante really wanted a DVD release of Siegel’s Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) back in 2007. Happily, Criterion answered his call in 2014.
16. Siegel once snuck into Wynter’s house and hid a pod prop beneath her bed. No one challenges her on the commentary to prove she’s still human.
17. Dante points out at a missing part of a stairway railing at 53:07 saying it was removed intentionally for a later shot at 1:06:29.
18. McCarthy and Dante visited author Jack Finney — whose serial in Collier’s magazine is the basis for the film — in Mill Valley, CA while filming Innerspace in 1987.
19. Dante says the film cost $350k, and both McCarthy and Wynter seem audibly shocked.
20. Dante wonders what the pod people’s end game is once they’ve taken over everyone. “Do they just want to eat pie at the local store? They get no joy out of life, so what’s the deal with these guys?”
21. The long steps that Miles and Becky climb at 1:07:13 are in Beachwood Canyon, CA (by Griffith Park) and were also used, possibly, in a Laurel & Hardy short. Dante’s not sure, but the dude’s movie memory is a steel trap so I’m gonna say he’s correct.
22. Miles’ rant through traffic is on the Cahuenga Pass, and Dante says he drives it several times a week making him think of the film each and every time.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“When I watch this I find myself somewhat embarrassed and quite uneasy.”
“I was a very chunky lump then.”
“I hate to hear people dropping other names than mine.”
“People used to wear hats. Now when you see somebody in a hat it’s… strange.”
Unlike Dante, I’m slightly more partial to the 70s version of the tale (probably because it’s a bit more cynical in its ending), but this original remains a tight, fantastically thrilling slice of sci-fi/horror with its slam against conformity. It’s great fun, and Olive’s new Blu-ray is as good as it gets for the film. It looks great, and in addition to both commentaries (the second is with film historian Richard Harland Smith) we also get a few solid featurettes. This should be a definite pick-up for genre fans.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.