Don Siegel’s 1956 thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, follows the story of Dr. Bennell (famously portrayed by Kevin McCarthy), as he uncovers the truth behind claims that people in his town are imposters. As it turns out, the people of the town are replaced by identical duplicates that grew from pods and plan to take over the human race. Don Siegel makes excellent use of filming techniques like tracking  shots and CU shots to keep the viewers at the edge of their seats throughout the film. In this analysis I will focus on the climatic scene where Dr. Bennell runs away from the pod people and into a busy highway where he tries to warn everyone that they’re in danger. I also thought of using the scene in which Dr. Bennell sees the townspeople suddenly gather in the center of town but, I prefer the anxiety caused by the climax.

The scene consists of 20 shots (from the point in which Dr. Bennell reaches the highway). The first shot is one of my favorites because of the use of tracking. We get a MS of Dr. Bennell when he discovers the highway and instead of cutting behind him, Siegel decides to track him as he runs. This shot gives us two different backgrounds without cutting (the woods behind Dr. Bennell and the lights of the cars in the highway in front of him). The sudden tracking of him helps the viewer understand his sense of fear and panic. The next shots show the townspeople’s reactions but the shots really shine when Dr. Bennell is in the middle of the highway trying to warn the drivers. The three shots of him arriving at the highway cause great anxiety for the viewers. The mix of Kevin McCarthy’s acting and the continued tracking shots made me personally anxious because I wasn’t sure if he might get hit by one of those cars. This may seem a bit far-fetched but my hypothesis for the use of tracking by Siegel was that it was symbolic of how Dr. Bennell could not escape the townspeople just like he couldn’t escape from the camera’s eye.

Towards the end of the scene, the more effective shots were the ones that made use of CU shots. At one point Dr. Bennell jumps on the back of a truck. In this sequence we get a CU shot of his reaction to seeing pods in the truck. Dr. Bennell’s eyes widen in disbelief and we get a sense of his state of mind. Finally the scene ends with a mini-monologue in which he continues to warn everyone. This sequence was CU of him. His face consumed the whole screen. I loved this because this shot finally let’s all the suspense And anxiety explode out of the protagonist. The CU gave me a sense of no escape from fate for the character.

It’s unfortunate that film didn’t finish after this scene. (But that’s a fight for another day). This use of shots was reminiscent (and a bit more settle) to some of the scene from Vertigo in the sense that we get to share the emotions and feelings of the protagonist. It’s almost like a “hands-on” experience in which we don’t just watch the film; we participate in it as well.

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2 Comments so far

  1.    exgee226 on December 12, 2010 6:34 pm

    Oh, I know what scene you’re talking about. I like your “hypothesis” and I totally agree; the tracking used by Siegel was symbolic in the sense that Dr. Bennell couldn’t escape the townspeople just like he couldn’t escape from the camera itself. I believe this was being portrayed. And one is able to feel the anxiety this scene gives off firsthand by just watching it! Loved this mooovie 😀

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