Dr. Kevin McCarthy returns home to Santa Mira, California after a two-week trip to discover that half the townspeople are complaining that the other half aren't whom they claim they are: they LOOK like their spouses, uncles, and sweethearts, but the looks are deceiving and they're some sort of emotionless doppelgangers. Whatever the hysteria is, it's spreading, and Kevin, girlfriend Dana Wynter, and their country club pals King Donovan and Carolyn Jones soon discover ginormous seed pods that have a tendency to pop open and spit out a body that resembles anyone who falls asleep nearby.
Based on a novel by Jack Finney (who wrote Time and Again), directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry), screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (Out of the Past) and shot by Ellsworth Fredericks (Sayonara), this film leaves its low-budget Allied Artists trappings behind and is THE classic of 1950s paranoia. Sure, they LOOK like us, but they're NOT us. Enemies are much easier to hate when they look "different", but when you peer around you and can't tell who's a commie, or a pervert, a heretic, or whatever, well, that just makes a person look over their shoulder an awful lot and eye their neighbors with suspicion.
Person who's been Podded: "Love, desire, ambition, faith. Without them, life's so simple, believe me."
Much of it is in the noir style, with scenes of McCarthy and Wynters running down dark, rain-slicked streets, casting huge shadows. At one point, Dr. Kevin remarks that the odd thing about the body snatching isn't that it's happening; "In my practice, I've seen how people allow their humanity to drain away." He's just surprised to see it happen suddenly instead of over time. This is far from your typical science-fiction horror film, kids. (Funny, many of the sci-fi films of the '50s began with a sense of wonder, with most of the films about mankind's reach into space, but 'degenerated' by the mid-50s into mainly being about monsters coming to get us.)
McCarthy and director Siegel made cameo appearances in the 1978 remake; future director Sam Peckinpah plays the meter reader in this film. Filming wrapped in the spring of '55, but Allied Artists got antsy after middling audience previews, did some post-production editing, and brought back Siegel and McCarthy in September to film a new wraparound opening and closing with Dr. Whit Bissell and Dr. Richard Deacon to give the film a somewhat more upbeat finale, plus to add McCarthy narration to keep the audience clued in as to what was going on. Does it ruin the film? For years, the consensus was that it marred the movie, but these days, most folks accept the additions, just like we learned to accept the uncle that suddenly isn't our uncle.
Not just a great science-fiction thriller; it's a great movie, period. When I reviewed the original Olive Films release years ago, I whined that it was a shame it didn't get a major "ultimate edition" with commentary and documentaries, a la Olive's The Quiet Man. Apparently, they listened to me, because here it is: the edition I would've put together, with not only a phenomenal presentation of the film but two wonderful commentaries, one highly informative one by Richard Harland Smith, who will tell you about the screen credits of every actor who walks across the screen plus give you essential background into the film and its production, and another recorded for a never-produced 2006 special edition with - get this - stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, who have of course both since passed, and director Joe Dante. What a treasure, lots of fun memories about the film.
The remainder of the extras consist of short (2 or 3 min.) to featurette (about 30 min.) length mini-documentaries on producer Walter Wanger and various aspects of the film's production, including the discussions to rename the film, a then-and-now shooting location series, the original trailer, and more.
A terrific presentation of one of the screen's great thrillers. Our highest recommendation and an early favorite for Disc of the Year.