The Body Stealers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (26th May 2024).
The Film

During a military training demonstration of parachutes designed by Jim Radford (Neil Connery), three highly-trained paratroopers vanish "out of thin air" in the sky leaving only their gear. When a public exhibition of the Red Arrows has similar results, both General Armstrong (Hangover Square's George Sanders) and Wing Commander Baldwin (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock's Robert Flemyng) are told by parliament minister Hindesmith (The Trygon Factor's Allan Cuthbertson) to keep their investigation from the public. Radford decides to privately enlist civilian jumper Bob Megan (The Night of the Big Heat's Patrick Allen) to investigate since he knew some of the missing men. When fetching Dr. Julie Slade (Cry of the Banshee's Hilary Dwyer) traces of radioactivity on the parachute gear strong enough to alter the body chemistry of the only jumper recovered who is now comatose and wasting away, her supervisor Dr. Matthews (Rosemary's Baby's Maurice Evans) urges Bob not to be "too earthbound" in his investigation. Bob remains skeptical even as he has nightly meetings with the unearthly beauty Lorna (Son of Dracula's Pamela Conway) who tries to warn him against pursuing his investigation, especially since someone seems willing to kill to keep things under wraps.

Coming in between Tigon's counter-culture horror films The Conqueror Worm, The Sorcerers, and The Curse of the Crimson Altar and the masterful The Blood on Satan's Claw, The Body Stealers has more in common with the likes of the Bond series and Doctor Who than The Quatermass Xperiment, and it is hard to tell just how intentional the tone is as it of often more ludicrous than light (even before Hindesmith quips that the culprits might be "Scottish Nationalists with some devious plan to repopulate the Highlands," the film feels like Monty Python's "Alien Scotsman" sketch played straight). Whether intentionally or not, Allen plays up the Sean Connery Bond-ness to lecherous degrees in a film with a quite overt leering attitude that perhaps feels even more disagreeable simply because it precedes the slightly more permissive period of British sex comedies to come a year or so later. This aspect does serve some purpose, however, as the reveal of Hindesmith in the after hours company of his secretary (Prey's Sally Faulkner) misdirects the viewer into thinking there are a legion of alien women seducing powerful men.

The actual plot, however, is shapeless and episodic, with the Bob/Lorna scenes seeming to be part of another movie in mood and style while Dwyer's scientist is reduced to a second fiddle love interest and then a scream queen for the "old dark house" climax in which Bob gets the best of "both worlds" (with further evidence of equilibrium restored in a scene that shows Hindesmith getting a replacement secretary in Emmerdale Farm's Wanda Moore). Allen and Evans let down by the script, having more interesting chemistry while being put off by the leering reciprocation of a hotel proprietor played by Shelagh Fraser (Doomwatch) while Connery's brief film career consisted primarily of capitalizing on his brother's success with the Italian Eurospy "star vehicle" Operation Kid Brother and as one of handful of Bond series cameo actors in the Hong Kong action comedy Aces Go Places 3: Our Man From Bond Street. Armstrong, Flemyng, and Cuthbertson fare best because they seem to able to effortlessly match the film's tone as it fluctuates from scene to scene. The script is credited to actor Michael St. Clair who had previously scripted the American sci-fi film Mission Mars but editor-turned-director Gerry Levy (Where Has Poor Mickey Gone?) can surely take as much blame for revising it under the pseudonym "Peter Marcus" under which he had also provided reword Michael Armstrong's The Haunted House of Horror with "additional material." The supporting cast includes some familiar faces including Michael Culver (The Empire Strikes Back) and Larry Dann (Ghost Story) and future sitcom actors Carol Hawkins (Zeta One) and Johnny Wade (The Two Ronnies).
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Video

The Body Stealers was given an X-certificate by the British Board of Film Censors upon submission but eventually played with slight cuts with an A-certificate, and it was this version that was released stateside by Allied Artists as "Invasion of the Body Stealers". The A-certificate version was also released on VHS in the U.K. by Guild Home Video and subsequently on DVD as part of the Anchor Bay's 2005 coffin-cased in a fullscreen transfer that was repurposed by Odeon when they licensed the Euro London library for their 2011 DVD. 88 Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative of the X-certificate version, restoring roughly a minute and a half of material, extending a shot in which Lorna strips as she walks towards the surf to briefly reveal her breasts as she exits the frame, a new shot of her gown on the sand at her feet, and an extension of the shot from behind depicting her walk into the sea (the A-certificate version cuts from the start of her stripping to her already knee-deep in the surf. Also restored is more than a minute of the sex scene between Bob and Lorna including a more indulgent shot of Lorna removing her top facing the camera and some extended writhing between the two that seems less explicit for what it shows all of these shots optically overlaid atop each other along with the nocturnal grading but for the "spirited" movement of Allen in and out of the camera frame. Apart from the grainy opticals, and a few day-for-night wide shots, the transfer is gorgeous. Every fiber of Allen's cardigan stands out along with the cheap felt of some of the military uniforms, and the added depth of the HD image makes a shot in which Allen's lantern-jawed countenance bows into frame to startle Dwyer in a scene that was probably the tipping point to where "brains and beauty" stopped being a complement. The difference between the first day-for-night beach scene and the lighting of the studio-lit mock-up created for the sex scene is more apparent, but overall this presentation gives a bit of pizzazz to a film that always looked kind of drab on DVD, restoring the lustre to the photography of Tigon DP Johnny Coquillon (Straw Dogs).
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Audio

The feature audio option is a 24-bit LPCM 2.0 mono track that gets the dialogue and canned effects across clearly enough, but the mood-killing scoring of DeWolfe library composer Reg Tilsley does most of the heavy-lifting. Optional English HoH subtitles are included.
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Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by film critics David Flint and Allan Bryce who liken the film to Doctor Who meets The Avengers, and their referring to the earlier series of both as they note how "old fashioned" it feels for a 1969 film, particularly with its "ridiculously lecherous men" and frequent smoking. They also discuss the film's Bond-isms, the familiar supporting cast as well as noting that the calibre of the cast itself seems above the film the script by the "original Hans Gruber" and provide indirect reasons as to why Dwyer moved behind the camera as a producer.

Ported from the Anchor Bay DVD is the audio commentary by actor Patrick Allen, moderated author John Hamilton in which he recalls looking up to "cad" Sanders and admiring Evans, Flemyng's shyness, and working with Dwyer (who he is glad to know was still working at the time). At the time of the commentary, he had not seen the finished film but only the rushes, so his memories are sometimes vague apart from noting his heavy reliance on smoking for hand acting during the dialogue scenes. He does, however, discuss his time in America and Canada, having gone abroad to study medicine only to become interested in acting and landing a contract with NBC for a radio show before returning to England where he has done plenty of work as a voice actor.
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The disc also includes "The Making of The Body Stealers" 2024 documentary (41:37) features the recollections of several surviving cast and crew members. Conroy recalls her nude scenes and how Allen's wife Sarah Lawson on whose The Devil Rides Out he dubbed actor Leon Greene whose real voice was only heard in the film's theatrical trailer because Allen had also been hired to do the narration put Conroy at ease when she had to do the love scene with him, as well as a scene she shared with Connery that was not used presumably it was dropped so as not to make her character seem as villainous as the real heavy, leaving it ambiguous as to whom he caught up with while chasing her (they never share the frame otherwise) while Faulkner and Culver recall Sanders who might have felt the film was a comedown. Actor Dixon Adams recalls working on his Scottish accent on the way to the audition because he thought the title The Body Stealers referred to Burke and Hare. Editor Howard Lanning (The Girl from Starship Venus) reveals that director Levy was his brother and they worked in television with their own company for a decade before going freelance, and notes his brother's tendency to go with "good enough" takes in what he judges as an overall medicore film. Assistant editor Marion Curren (The Blood Beast Terror), props supervisor Arthur Wicks (From Beyond the Grave), and boom operator Rowland Fowles (The Hunger) also chime in.

In "Invasion of The Body Stealers" (11:02), film historian Jon Dear focuses less on the Bond influences than on how the film anticipates the upcoming Jon Pertwee color series of Doctor Who with its Earthbound UNIT stories, including parallels between the film and some of the early episodes including a female scientist sidekick, a military representative, and the third Doctor being something of an amalgam of the Bob and Dr. Matthews characters as well as the cast members they shared.

In "A Career Man - Will Fowler on George Sanders & The Body Stealers" (20:57), Fowler discusses what distinguished Sanders from other British expatriate actors during his Hollywood career going from star to character actor to television star/host, and even recording his own album before a more somber discussion of his latter day film career before he decided to take his life, having grown "bored."

The disc also includes the theatrical trailer (2:27).
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Packaging

The first pressing includes a limited edition glossy O-ring slipcover and booklet notes by John Hamilton (neither of which were provided for review).

Overall

A bit of Doctor Who, The Avengers, and James Bond, The Body Stealers really is a mixed bag, but not without interest because of a fine cast, a crew of Tigon regulars, and a boldly leering attitude worth noting.

 


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