"Pod people" became a chilling metaphor for
the Cold War in sci-fi's ultimate paean to paranoia,
Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

For almost half a century following the end of World War II, America was wracked with fears of atomic annihilation by one or more of its former allies. Families took out mortgages to have nuclear bomb shelters built in their back yards. Grandstanding politicians ran amok "rooting out Communists" and succeeded mainly in ruining many lives, including their own. Adding to this atmosphere of abject suspicion were the ubiquitous reports of unidentified flying objects.

Little wonder, then, that moviegoers of the 1950s were engulfed by yarns about invaders from other nations and other planets. From an avalanche of awful, fast-buck productions on this subject, there emerged a handful of jewels during 1951-53, notably The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars, and It Came from Outer Space.

Another first-rate film sprouted up, belatedly, in 1956: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With a final cost of $416,911, this didn't really qualify as a "big" picture; either the "ambitious B" or "nervous A" category would have been appropriate. Comprising the cast were several excellent, stage-trained actors whose names, unfortunately, meant little in terms of box-office draw. The picture's chances for choice playdates were nil because it belonged to a genre that had fallen into disrepute, and also bore the brand of Allied Artists, which exhibitors remembered by its former name, Monogram, a studio that had specialized in low-budget productions. Allied was now producing the occasional prestige picture, along with low-budget items such as the Bowery Boys and Bomba the Jungle Boy series.

On the other hand, the producer of Body Snatchers was Walter Wanger, a top-of-the-line veteran who at the time was a trifle tarnished and battle-scarred. Famed for the likes of Queen Christina, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Algiers, Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent, Canyon Passage and Scarlet Street, Wanger landed at Allied after a disastrous fall from power. Between 1932 and 1948, he had produced 51 major features for MGM, Columbia, Paramount, Universal and United Artists. However, he then formed an independent company to make an epic production of Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. This film cost $4,650,506 and went in the red to the tune of $2,480,436. Refusing to seek bankruptcy protection, he made two good pictures for Eagle Lion and another for Columbia in 1948-49, but lost heavily on all three.

Wanger then languished among the unemployed until June of 1951, when his friends at Monogram Pictures, Walter and Harold Mirisch and Steve Broidy, offered him a producer's berth. Monogram had survived many years on Poverty Row. At $12,500 and 14 percent of net profits per picture, Wanger's contract was a far cry from the cushy deals he had enjoyed during his days at the majors.

He restored his reputation in 1954, at the newly renamed Allied Artists, by producing the hit picture Riot in Cell Block 11 for just $298,780. The success of Riot was a shot of financial adrenalin for Wanger, Allied and director Don Siegel.

Wanger and Siegel would soon team up again. Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers had been serialized in Collier's magazine in November and December of 1954. Wanger submitted it as a film project to the AA management, along with five other properties, and AA bought the screen rights immediately. Impressed by Siegel's no-nonsense yet expressive directorial style, Wanger was anxious for him to direct the picture. Siegel signed on to tune of $21,688.

When Riot scribe Richard Collins proved unavailable, Siegel suggested Daniel Mainwaring, with whom the director had collaborated on three prior films. Mainwaring, a popular novelist under both his own name and the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes, wrote the script in close consultation with Siegel. Collins later worked on several scenes after principal photography had commenced.

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