Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Omega Man: Both Remade, Both Propaganda

                     The 1956 film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Don Siegel, and the 1971 film, The Omega Man, directed by Boris Sagal, were movies that were more than just entertainment. The films had a finite message to them pertaining to current times and fears that the nation (or the national government) had about outside influences such as Communism and biological warfare (or known today as weapons of mass destruction). The novel The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, was written (for informational and propaganda use) about the conditions and corruption in the American meatpacking industry. The novel was so effective that Sinclair and President Theodore Roosevelt were both played an integral part in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. These films were based on novels that also dealt with issues of the time in which they were written.  The novels were the basis for the films political and controversial issues.

                     The novel The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney, is usually taken to be an allegory of the Red scare; it was written in the mid-1950s, when people were genuinely afraid that their seemingly normal, all-American neighbors might actually be Communists in disguise. Although that specific fear has passed, fear of the alien among us has not, which makes the novel still relevant and genuinely chilling today, which allows for many films to be made from this novel.

                     Not only was the novel The Body Snatchers an influential piece used as film propaganda too; but also the novel I Am Legend, written in 1954 by Richard Matheson, was used as an informative work. This work of fiction is notable as being influential on the developing modern vampire genre as well as the zombie genre. This book played a large part in popularizing the fictional concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease and in exploring the notion of vampirism as a disease.

                      Now since examining the novels the first films were based on, one can have a clearer understanding of the films based on them.  Naturally, the films are not exactly like the books, but the two films that are being examined are very closely related to the books that the films represent.

                     The film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan and Carolyn Jones, has been read as both an allegory for the supposed loss of personal autonomy in the Soviet Union and as an indictment of McCarthyism paranoia (which also affected the Hollywood industry, which had its stars and film makers being forever named as the Hollywood Ten) because of their perceived involvement in Communism during the early stages of the Cold War.

                     This film is about Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returning to his small town practice to find several of his patients suffering the paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors. He is initially skeptical, especially when the alleged patients are able to answer detailed questions about their victim's lives, but he is eventually persuaded that something odd has happened and determines to find out what is causing this phenomenon. Dr. Miles ends up finding out that people were being converted into in pods, which were the imposters.

                     Along with, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), Dr. Miles tries to escape the mass hysteria, but barely makes it alive to the city, where no one had been affected yet. He tells the police of his experiences, and naturally at first they do not believe him. But they do end up believing him where there is a vehicle accident, with the vehicle covered in pods. The officials eventually seal off access to the city, and Dr. Miles is proven correct and honest in their eyes of the doctors.

                     At the time when this film was adapted from a book to fit the silver screen, the film was trying to fit into the context of what was going on in the United States at that time, which was McCarthyism. McCarthyism is a term that describes the intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States in a period that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. This period is also referred to as the Second Red Scare, and coincided with increased fears about Communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents. Originally coined to criticize the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, "McCarthyism" later took on a more general meaning, not necessarily referring to the conduct of Joseph McCarthy alone.

                     The overall theme from the novel and the film really represents the term McCarthyism. It basically covered the whole idea or concept that, like the Soviet Scare, there would be pods that would take over humans and change their total persona. The fear that was in the United States was that there could have been Communists in the country, who would corrupt and manipulate one’s mind into becoming Communist too. The film that was made a few years later was also called Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it was directed by Philip Kaufman in 1978. This almost exact remake has the same plot line, but ending of the film is different from the original film. The ending in this film has Donald Sutherland (Dr. Matthew Bennell) and Veronica Cartwright (Nancy) as the ending couple. Towards the end, Matthew realizes his efforts are in vain to save people because the invasion still continued; the next day, Matthew watches dozens of children being led into a dark theater to be replaced. While walking towards city hall, he is spotted by Nancy, who has survived the previous night. Thinking he is human, she walks towards him. Matthew responded by pointing to her and emitting the piercing pod scream. In the end, Nancy is then alone and helpless.

                     It is understandable that the ending was changed from that of the original film, but the theme (representing McCarthyism) was referring to Communism on a slight different angle. At the time this film was made, the Vietnam War was going on. It was against the fighting between North and South Vietnam. One side was feeling oppressed under the burden of a communist dictator. The United States went over seas to aid the rebels (those fighting Communism), and to reiterate the fact that Communism was bad.  The film makers could have revitalized this version of the film to get the message across. Now, in the film, The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Paul Koslo, and Rosalind Cash, the plot had a basis of biological warfare almost wiping out the human race, which for the time was appropriate since the Cold War had been just fifteen-twenty years prior to this time, and during the Vietnam War (referring to the bombs and other harsh weapons being used over seas, not necessarily Communism) was currently being fought.

                     The film was took place in the year 1977, two years after biological warfare between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union had wiped out almost the entire human population, as revealed through flashback newsreel footage. Also in flashback, we learn that Army Colonel Robert Neville (Heston) at the time a military scientist had injected himself with an experimental vaccine for the disease, which has rendered him immune. In Los Angeles, a group of several hundred resistant albinos calling themselves "The Family" have survived the plague. The plague has turned them into violent, nocturnal, light-sensitive albino mutants, and the disease has affected their minds with psychosis and "delusions of grandeur." Although resistant, the members are slowly dying off, apparently due to the plague mutating.

                     Heston realizes that he must die to save humanity, and everything in the world would be back to the way it was as before. This film could have been made to let the public be aware of the fact that there were massive bombs and other weapons that were in other countries that could hit the United States and wipe out mankind.

                     Now, the most recent remake of the film was I am Legend, directed by Francis Lawrence in 2007. This film was remade almost in the exact fashion as the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; in the fact that the plot and most of the characters remained the same. There were some minor changes, such as the leader of the mutant group, and that there was a surviving family that knew there was a colony of survivors. The remake of this film really fits into today’s current events because of the Iraq War, and the United States trying to suppress all of the Middle Eastern and third world countries making their own biological weapons (and factories). I am Legend could have been made, like of The Omega Man, to remind the American people of what had happened on 9-11 and that the country of Iraq really does have WMD (weapons of mass destruction) so, they could wipe out the country.

                     These films were widely viewed and had an powerful message: everyone is either going to be taken over by Soviet Communist or everyone is going die due to the warfare and the biological weapons being made. These films were appropriate for their times they came out and for the times they were remade. They were not made or remade for just any reason. The themes, the historical (and even current) time frames, and the affairs in the world at the time are strong enough proof that public awareness or propaganda was intended.

Sarah Hurley Austin

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