Cinema Treasure Guilty Pleasure: Aliens

Welcome to the first installment of a new monthly series I’m calling Cinema Treasure/Guilty Pleasure.  At the end of each month I’ll be posting a brief look at two films that share some commonality, whether it be a theme, trope, director, star, et cetera.  The first film I’ll discuss is one of arguably obvious cinematic merit–the sort of thing taught in Introduction to Film courses, featured on “Top 100 Yadda Yadda” lists, or winning awards at fancy events that include speeches and extensive song-and-dance numbers.  The second film I’ll discuss is one that doesn’t have the cinematic gravitas of, say, Citizen Kane, but that remains a personal favorite for other reasons: cult films, films from my youth, or films simply so bad they’re good.

This weeks’ theme: Films Featuring Aliens

Cinema Treasure:  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by Don Siegel.  Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones.

Kevin McCarthy stars as Miles Bennell, a small town doctor, whose patients begin reporting that loved ones have suddenly become cold, distant, and unfamiliar.  As he begins investigating these reports, Dr. Bennell discovers that the townsfolk are being replaced with emotionless alien copies.  What follows is a solid, highly suspenseful science fiction adventure.  Many contemporary film scholars consider the film an allegory for paranoia and the Communist threat in the era of McCarthyism, though director Don Siegel reportedly argued that pod people were everywhere: “I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow.”

Viewers should note that the studio forced Siegel to alter the original cut of the film, which featured moments of humor and a bleaker ending–I recommend viewing both cuts, though I find the ending of the “Siegel version” much more satisfying.

Things I love:  Kevin McCarthy’s voice and charisma, Carmen Dragon’s musical score, the noir-influenced cinematography.

Guilty Pleasure: *batteries not included (1987), directed by Matthew Robbins. Starring: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae.

This sweet picture, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, focuses on a group of tenants who face eviction from their derelict apartment building.  When they refuse to leave their apartments, however, a local gang is hired to scare them out.  Enter “The Fix-its,” robot-like alien creatures who befriend the hopeless tenants and save the day.  If the plot sounds sappy, that’s because it is–but sappy doesn’t necessarily mean bad.  *batteries not included features lovely performances from real-life couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, while The Fix-its have a Wall-E-esque sweetness and expressivity. It’s a heartwarming tale that I loved as a child.

Things I Love: adorable baby Fix-its, Jessica Tandy, the scene where The Fix-Its help make hamburgers.