A small-town doctor comes to believe that his fellow citizens are being replaced with identical alien impostors; some kind of invasion is underway.
This excellent piece of sci-fi paranoia, based on Jack Finney’s novel, can read most commonly as an allusion to the threat of communism turning everyone into lefty drones, or, alternatively, as an anti-McCarthy tale about the crushing of individual choice. The beauty of Don Siegel’s fraught, pacy thriller, a kind of sci-fi noir, is that it functions perfectly either way. Or, it seems, as a play on both.
It is the most famed of the spate of 50s sci-fi allegories, and is a cut above most of the nervy tales of mutant insects and invaders because it is so unshowy – the alien presence is in the vacant eyes of loved ones, the subtle dehumanising of the cast into “pod people”. Siegel, as ever rough-edged and machismo, is clearly taken with this smart screenplay’s many levels, and deliberately lets this film run from terror to melodrama to comedy. As screenwriters were being blacklisted, he went for the jugular of American paranoia. As Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, both hitting a shrill exaggeration in performance, dash about avoiding assimilation while no one listens, Siegel’s isn’t a work of paranoia; it’s a sarcastic attack upon it. How easily it might fit into today’s America.
- Yet, the concept still works as a finely conceived horror-thriller, with its atmospheric black and white photography, needling score and telling little Americana setting, makes it far more than just a subtext. Such that it has worked with two solid remakes in the 70s and the 90s. *
A 50s horror classic that remains a gem of allegorical paranoia.