The original, and the best. Superbly directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, The Killers, The Shootist), the film takes advantage of the science fiction craze in the 1950s and the paranoia from the Cold War.
Starring Kevin McCarthy as mild-mannered doctor Miles Bennell, he doesn’t believe the sudden rash of people convinced their loved ones aren’t really them but impostors. Mass hysteria, the local psychiatrist calls it. Bennell slowly becomes aware that there is something more to it than hysteria.
Co-starring is a young Dana Wynter, as Becky Driscoll, who moves back to town and immediately catches the interest of Bennell. Together, they will find out the truth, and in the meantime, fall in love.
Very early in the film, Bennell’s friend Jack Belicec, urgently asks him to come by his house. Belicec has discovered a body in his house, who looks blank and has no fingerprints, like a pre-formed person without features. Pouring drinks, Belicec cuts his hand, drawing blood. As they talk about blank-man’s features, a remark is made that it looks a lot like Belicec, which raises concern. Later, as the body takes Belicec’s features, it even has a cut on his hand.
Test audiences supposedly didn’t understand the film’s humor and were confused by the plot. Siegel claimed they took all the humor out, though Bennell has a few quips in the beginning of the film. A number of changes were made, including a new, more positive ending, and a voice-over narration.
The film follows Bennell and Driscoll as they discover more the blank-people grow from pods, to eventually replace people. These people lack emotion but assume the knowledge and memory of the people they replace. Bennell and Driscoll attempt to contact authorities in other cities but cannot get through on the phone. Their only chance will be to get out of town. After they stop for gas, Bennell discovers that the gas station attendant has put two pods in Bennell’s car trunk. He destroys them by setting them on fire.
He decides to stop at his nurse’s house but discovers she had been replaced by a pod. Bennell and Driscoll barely escape.
Bennell and Driscoll hide out in a cave, but she eventually falls asleep, and in doing so, is replaced by a pod. Bennell knows it when he kisses her.
Bennell escapes and winds up in another town, in police custody. His story is so fantastic that he is taken to a mental hospital. It happens that an accident victim arrives at the hospital and it is discovered that the accident he was in involved a truck loaded with pods, having left the town that Bennell lives in. Suddenly, the authorities now believe Bennell and sound the alarm.
McCarthy gives a great performance as the lovesick doctor who must escape the pod people. He has a great bedside manner as the doctor, reasonable and not outright dismissal of people who think their loved one’s aren’t human. By the end of the film he displays the right amount of terror, frantic but not incoherent.
The rest of the cast is quite good, particularly Wynter in one of her first roles, King Donovan as Belicec and Carolyn Jones as Belicec’s wife. Throw in Richard Deacon, Virginia Christine and Whit Bissell in supporting roles and the cast is quite strong.
In 1950s science fiction, most things come from outer space or the result of atomic radiation from experiments or bombs. The new technology of splitting the atom was more a threat than Elvis’ hips. Rock and roll might ruin the teenage generation, but atomic energy might end civilization.
I’m not a big fan of the 1978 remake, although I saw it when it was first released, and actually for awhile preferred it to the original. I’m since regained my equilibrium and it is the original version that I like the best.