#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)

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#139 Forbidden Planet

Watched: September 29 2017

Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robby the Robot

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 38min

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Commander Adams (Nielsen – before he became everyone’s favourite deadpan comedy actor) and his crew are travelling through space to a distant, Earth-like planet in order to rescue any survivors from a previous mission.

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Earth technology circa year 2300. Can’t wait!

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When they reach their destination they find only two survivors; the mysterious Dr Morbius (Pidgeon) and his young attractive daughter Altaira (Francis). They live alone with their robot Robby and a menagerie of wild animals while Dr Morbius explores the remains of an advanced ancient civilization which used to inhabit the planet. Also, there’s a killer monster roaming around, but the good doctor and his daughter seem somehow immune to it. Curiouser and curiouser.

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Must be her scandalously short dresses keeping them safe. Monster doesn’t want to seem too forward.

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The all-male crew start creeping on Altaira pretty quickly, leading to the commander berating her for her short dresses. ‘Cause, you know, it’s her own freaking fault. Naturally, the two then fall for each other, and Altaira decides to leave her home and father for Earth. This does not please Father, nor the monster…

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You silly girl. You must understand that your dress is distracting my crew and this is your fault and not a great opportunity for us men to reconsider our view of women and our capability to control our urges. Go change.

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Forbidden Planet is an awesome sci-fi adventure, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but greatly influenced by Freud as well. For its time, and genre, it had a big budget and is presented in colour and Cinemascope – quite rare for ’50s sci-fi.

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Not to mention Robby the Fanciest Robot!

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We’re suckers for old-timey sci-fi and so naturally we loved this film. Add to that Leslie Nielsen, mysterious monsters, ancient civilizations, action, a score of “electronic tonalities,” Freud, and incestuous undertones (again, Freud) and we have a winner.

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Also, Morbius the Creepy Science Guy

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Forbidden Planet has the honour of being the first film on the list where someone let us know when we started this project that they wanted to join us for the viewing, so we had a viewing party! Sort of… Well, three people and pizza constitute a party in our book. The next one which has sparked interest is Flash Gordon (1980), so we’re looking forward to that. In a few years. We don’t get out much.

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We’re pretty sure this kind of thing is waiting for us out there, so we prefer to stay inside where it’s safe…

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What we learned: We’re all monsters in our subconscious, but we have laws and religion to keep us under control. Also, never trust the sole surviving member of an exploration party where everyone else died under mysterious circumstances.

Next time: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

#138 Bigger Than Life

Watched: October 4 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Robert F. Simon, Walter Matthau

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 35min

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School’s out for Easter. What a dream! Though not for teacher Ed Avery (Mason), who suffers stomach pains and is on his way to his second job as a cab dispatcher. Despite his clear discomfort and his rush to get to his second, secret, job, he takes the time to give a student a break and to play matchmaker for a couple of colleagues. An all round good guy!

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Pictured: every teacher’s face at vacation time

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After a dinner party, Ed collapses and his wife Lou (Rush) and BFF Wally (Matthau) get him to the hospital. The doctors run a series of tests, including a very cool and quite possibly cancer-inducing X-Ray with barium, and are discouraged by what they find. Without treatment, Ed has less than a year to live.

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A life span further reduced by the liberal helpings of barium and x-radiation

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The only treatment found to be somewhat effective is the newly discovered (possibly?) hormone cortisone, but it can have serious side-effects. After weeks of experimenting, a proper dosage is found, and Ed is sent back home with a few weeks’ supply of cortisone pills.

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Ed’s medication gives him a new appreciation for fancy clothes and shopping sprees. There’s a chance we may have too much cortisone in our systems…

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In time, Lou starts noticing some changes in her husband’s personality. He is more adventurous and spontaneous, but less sensible and responsible. He is energetic and manic with terrible mood swings and occasional tremors.

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There’s always a possibility he is possessed, according to the mirror

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As Ed’s solution is to up his cortisone intake, his new personality traits develop into full blown delusions of grandeur, complete with a new tyrannical approach to family life.

 

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Even his shadow gets in on the action, looming threateningly over his young son Richie

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Bigger Than Life is very dramatic, and Ed’s development throughout the film goes from one extreme to the next. We loved the X-Ray/barium scene, the dramatic crescendo of the ending, the shadows and the general craziness. It may not be a film we’ll rewatch over and over again, but it is definitely worth watching once.

What we learned: Teachers owe it to themselves to be sick on school days – not during vacation. Word! Also, stick to the prescribed dosage.

Next time: Forbidden Planet (1956)

#137 The Quatermass Xperiment

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, David King-Wood, Thora Hird, Richard Wordsworth

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 18min

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As a young couple laugh randomly in a field, a rocket comes crashing down from the sky. Emergency services arrive shortly after but are unable to do anything with the space craft other than wait for it to cool down.

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Not a scenario covered in basic training for most British emergency services. Only a few.

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Enter Professor Quatermass (Donlevy) – a scientist with little patience, no respect for so-called authorities, and no time for nonsense. He is the brains behind the semi-successful space launch, and he is worried about the crew after they lost radio contact for 57 hours. And rightly so – when they finally open up the ship, two of the three astronauts have vanished, and the only remaining crew member is in a state of shock.

 

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“Not to worry, my dear. I suspect, if we put him in this dental chair and stick tubes in him, he’ll probably snap right out of it. Yes, that’ll do the trick!”

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The survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth) is transferred to a hospital after he fails to make any progress, but his wife Judith (Dean) has the brilliant idea to kidnap her non-responsive, traumatized and possibly infectious husband and get him out of there.

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“We still don’t know what’s wrong with you or what happened to the rest of the crew, but what could possibly go wrong?”

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With their subject missing, Quatermass and Dr Gordon Briscoe (King-Wood) find out some ugly truths about his condition, and they must hunt Carroon down before he manages to kill and/or infect too many others. The future of the planet is at stake!

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He retains some of his humanity. Little girls with dolls are scary and must be avoided!

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We’ve never seen this one before, although we have seen the two surviving episodes of the 1953 BBC show on which is was based. It was good to finally get some closure and find out how this all developed.

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Answer: not that well…

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This is a great sci-fi horror, which obviously inspired shows like Doctor Who, although the effects are now a little bit dated (not that we care about that stuff – we are masters at suspending our disbelief!). The stages of Carroon’s transformation are still very good, and also very sad.

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Donlevy’s Quatermass is a bit more aggressive than Reginald Tate’s TV version, but we enjoyed him a lot.

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We can’t wait for the other two Quatermass films – we loved the shows they’re based on and can’t imagine the films being anything less than amazing.

What we learned: Outer space is scary.

Next time: Bigger Than Life (1956)

#136 The Night of the Hunter

Watched: September 17 2017

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a preacher on a killing spree – a self-appointed Soldier of God on a mission to rid the world of attractive widows.

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“The Lord said not to have sex before marriage. I don’t remember reading anything about sex being mandatory once you’re married, so… You’re on your own, wifey!”

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He serves a stint in prison for driving a stolen car (very Christian of him) and shares a cell with robber Ben Harper (Graves). Harper tells his cell mate about his family and Powell figures out Ben’s children know the whereabouts of the money from the robbery.

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The best way to earn the trust of children is to take their father’s place

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Powell tracks down Harper’s bereaved widow and successfully woos her (with help from the very busy Icey Spoon [Varden]), set on learning her children’s secret. However, son John (Chapin) is not a fool, and he never trusts his new step-father.

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“SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

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When Powell’s misogyny, frustration and general disposition drives him to kill his new wife, the children grab the money and go on the run, drifting down the river in their boat in search of a safe haven, which they find in the form of Rachel Cooper (Gish). But Powell is not about to give up on “his” fortune…

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This is what you get for wanting to have sex with your husband

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We have no words to express how much we loved The Night of the Hunter. A serial killer (who may have been the inspiration for characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carnivale), resourceful children, absolutely beautiful imagery (even the above picture of dead Willa Harper (Winters) is eerily gorgeous in its grotesqueness), and the exquisite Lillian Gish are the main ingredients which made us fall, but there was nothing about it we didn’t love.

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A badass lady with a shotgun. Need we say more?

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It’s scary and stunning, creepy, sad and hopeful. We loved the shadows, the music, the knuckle tattoos and the performances. Will definitely watch again.

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Lillian f**king Gish. Just amazing.

What we learned: It’s a hard world for little things.

Next time: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

#135 The Ladykillers

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Alexander MacKendrick

Starring: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Danny Green, Katie Johnson

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Mrs Wilberforce (Johnson) is a sweet little old lady and frequent visitor at the police station reporting on various observations, who is looking for a tenant for her vacant room. When Professor Marcus (Guinness) shows up looking for a room where he can live and rehearse with his string quintet, she may have gotten more than she bargained for.

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Wilberforce – the bane of hardened criminals!

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Naturally, Professor Marcus and his cohorts (the rest of the men credited) are not what they appear – they are a band of criminals planning to rob a security van at King’s Cross and they want to use Wilberforce’s house, and the old lady herself, as part of their plan.

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As if classical musicians could make this much money

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However, the gang had not counted on Mrs Wilberforce, her observational skills, her morals, or her ability to make them all feel like naughty little boys being scolded by Mother.

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She’s not angry. She’s just very disappointed.

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The Ladykillers is a fantastic comedy, perfectly cast and entertaining throughout. Katie Johnson, who gets ridiculously low billing, is amazing as the old widow, and her adversaries are all brilliant as well – screen legends as many of them are.

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Some of the characters are better than others are fake-playing their instrument

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An old favourite of ours, it is always a treat to rewatch it, and we recommend it to everyone with no stipulations. If you can’t get some sort of enjoyment from this, you’re dead inside.

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Happiness overload when Mrs Wilberforce had all her little old friends over for tea. They’re so sweeeeet!

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What we learned: Don’t mess with little old ladies.

Next time: The Night of the Hunter (1955)