Sunday, 30 November 2014

Running on empty… The Body Stealers (1969)

You could argue that this film makes the most of its obviously limited budget and it does feel as if they either used up the funding too quickly or had it cut abruptly! At the start we see parachutists in the air, helicopters taking off and landing and a variety of locations but, as the story progresses we spend more and more time in studio. Dialogue and not special effects leads the way and even the alien spaceship had to be rented from the Daleks*.

But there’s a quality cast who do their best to keep things going, hampered as they are by a patchy plot that desperately wants to achieve far more than it actually does. You can’t really dislike such a film: its intentions are good and it does have some splendid sixties skirts, cardigans and slacks along with shots of the Red Arrows to redeem itself even if its ideas eventually collapse in on themselves due to a lack of aliens with motivation…

Watching parachutes
Things start promisingly enough as a group of military top brass led by General Armstrong (George Sanders) gather to watch a test dive for some revolutionary new parachutes designed by Jim Radford (Neil Connery brother of Sean…). All is going well until there’s a glow in the sky and the three men completely disappear leaving their back backs and chutes to fly to earth without them.

Top brass
It’s a situation the government wants to keep as quiet as possible and as the men gather in government offices they are left in no doubt by Hindsmith (Allan Cuthbertson) that answers must be found before any fuss is made. Hindsmith is an archetypal smug man of power who seems to view his hapless secretary, Joanna (Sally Faulkner – who featured in the classic Doctor Who serial, The Invasion – another link!) as part of his rights and privileges.

Allan Cuthbertson and Sally Faulkner
An investigation is duly launched but before long abduction takes place, this time in full view at a crowded airshow. There’s some great stock footage of the Hawker Hunter era Red Arrows followed by one of the film’s few special effects as a parachutist is zapped by a heat beam before vanishing.

A special effect
As the crisis grows it is decided that freelancer Bob Megan (dynamically-voiced Patrick Allen) is the best bet for reaching a swift conclusion without too much fuss… Jim finds him enjoying an amorous picnic with a young blonde called Paula (Carol Hawkins) having flown to the middle of nowhere… Bob’s twin passions being “birds” and aviation.

Patrick Allen and Carol Hawkins
Bob agrees to help his mate especially when he discovers that he knows many of the missing men: all of them highly trained parachutists and flyers. He is taken to a NATO research facility where he meets the scientists leading the analysis, Dr. Matthews (Maurice Evans) and Julie Slade (Hilary Dwyer) with whose biology he immediately takes a concern. Interesting point on the sixties mind-set here: sexual combativeness seems to have acted as a signifier of heroic tendencies… and Mr. Bond, I blame you.

Bob sets his sights on the attractive scientist... (Neil realises it's all Sean's fault...)
Doctor Slade rebuffs Bob’s efforts to establish how she’s “doin’” and tries hard to keep in on the point and it’s now that the talking really begins as the action shifts to focus on the research facility. Doctor Matthews hints at possible interstellar intervention whilst one of the missing men is found, his body chemistry altered and with a radiation level high enough to power a small nuclear submarine.

Meanwhile Bob has taken up digs in a local pub at which he shares a few doubles with a landlord called Mrs. Thatcher (Shelagh Fraser) – if only she could have been snatched and used to replace the other Mrs. T… the school milk would still have been taken away but it would have been replaced by gin.

Lorna Wilde
From the pub Bob goes on a late night walk along the beach where he encounters an ethereal beauty staring out at space and the sea. She is Lorna (Lorna Wilde) and, in addition to being a woman of obvious mystery is unable to resist Bob’s charming directness… the two embrace before she picks herself up and runs away… Bob and Lorna meet again the next evening and she happier to linger longer… there’s something strange about her and not just her instant attraction to Bob’s knitwear…

Don't worry, Julie's only being knocked mildly unconscious...
The team investigates the parachutes finding similar levels of radiation… and then the chutes go missing after Julie is knocked unconscious…. But still the mystery seems as big as ever although the situation is now so serious that it is ruining Hindsmith’s ability to concentrate on his extra-curricular activities involving Joanna who, disappointed for some reason, tells him to look elsewhere for extra tea and biscuits.

The answer – it seems – is to send Bob up in a special radiation-proof costume to see if he can avoid the teleportation and discover more about the process and the people involved.

Bob is assailed by alien rays!
Whilst this ramps the tension up from “de-frost” to simmer, it hardly brings things to the boil: Bob is duly assailed by the red rays but survives the jump in order to tell the tale and to land himself in brave convalescence nursed by Julie… but events are moving quickly now and they just might be onto something…shocking!

Dusty verdict: Gerry Levy directs this patchy affair with efficiency – probably his only way forward in the circumstances and his actors keep straight faces in their attempt to make a drama out of the crisis of the script. The music by Reg Tilsey is also good value; providing dramatic impetus when the lack of effects begins to intrude…

Patrick Allen and George Sanders
 Patrick Allen strides manfully through his scenes and is a believable hero if an unconventional love interest. Neil Connery looks a lot like brother Sean but he cannot act like him even though he does well. Sanders, Cuthbertson and Evans provide solid character-acting whilst the array of pretty actresses from Sally to Lorna and Hilary all manage to bring some trace sense of being more than just adornments to the plot.

Hilary Dwyer
As I said The Body Stealers is not an unlikeable film and is ideal - undemanding - rainy afternoon viewing when you want to be taken back to a time when technology was more respected and the future was approaching with far greater certainty than it is now…

The film is now available on good value DVD from Odeon Entertainment from MovieMail or Amazon – but I think I’ll keep hold of my old VHS.

*Re-used from the Doctor Who film Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150AD

The Red Arrows!
A woman of mystery...
Joanna's had enough...
Neil impersonates Sean...
Stranger on the shore
Spot the difference: Dalek ship on the right

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