Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Body Stealers

If the cinematic psalms of Ed Wood have taught us anything, it is that intrepid visitors from the furthest corners of the cosmos are a determined bunch. Reaching a ninth plan at all implies a strong level of resolve, a fortitude flexing below those suits of tin-foil. Wood never dished out another helping of the trials and tribulations of the curious spacemen, in the end we were scandalously starved of any sort of serialization, no filmic sequels, no television syndication, not even a string of expanded universe novellas. Who knows how many other plans might have been put into operation between the time of Lugosi’s final stroll and today. We can only assume that those multifarious plans found an outlet in other films of a similar nature, such as 1969’s The Body Stealers.

On a training exercise, a group of soldiers mysteriously disappear whilst testing out the latest innovations in parachute technology. Alarmed by this humiliating incident and impatient to unearth the truth, the military request the help of a rugged chap currently living the Thunder in Paradise lifestyle. This square-jawed hero, going by the name of Bob Megan, ditches his seaplane, dons a nice cardigan, and joins his associates in the armed services.

Like Snake Plissken’s randy uncle, Bob delves into the situation with both hands, oscillating between the scene of the vanishing and the laboratory charged with examining the parachutes. The first wall to be thrown in his way – a mighty thick barrier impeding ability to carry out his task, dragging him by the heels like a malevolent force – is the rule decreed by one of his comrades: “no dames.”

Made especially difficult by the presence of lustful ladies in every room, Bob barely stumbles two minutes without a nubile rupturing his vision. It comes as no surprise to find Bob smashing through the rule with a sledgehammer of libido little more than halfway through the film. His desiring side-glances at every feminine figure to traverse the space around him speak only of testosterone run rife, his crescent-moon chin thrusting with every sniff of, to coin a phrase from Simone de Beauvoir, le deuxieme sexe. Just watch as he seduces a random blonde minding her own business on the beach near his hotel, or as he tries to commence some electrifying afternoon-sex while waiting for a few soldiers to defrost in the other room.

However, Bob isn’t the only character fumbling his way through a directory of sexual objectification – a most important subplot features its own share of amorous games. The liaison for communications between the air force chiefs and “the minister”, a man whose neatly cropped moustache belies a continent of perversities, is a rival for the title of ‘Sleaze King of The Body Stealers. Running his eyes all over the miniskirt-ed body of his secretary, his urges are later satisfied by some after-hours office action. Yet chagrin is aroused in the glamorous lady when a phone-call wrenches the irritated civil servant from his duties, a chagrin emitted in a series of annoyed yelps, to which he finds it necessary to serve her a vocal back-of-the-hand and we never see her again. The final shots display a brand new secretary, one whose insolence had not yet offended her superior, but who knows how that budding relationship was to develop.

While the film may play out like a poorly-financed attempt to capitalise on the success of Doctor Who and the Bond franchise, it does have some moments of merit. A wonderfully hyperbolic General delivers plenty of mirth, such as when, aghast at the impudence of this whole disappearing bodies business, he bellows to all in the vicinity: “If anyone’s playing games with me, I’ll jail them for life!” I’d rather he’d have directed that tirade against whoever’s decision it was to include all that banal footage of the Red Arrows in the final cut, but he has a higher rank than I. Also, the hero Bob’s elongated chin caused me to ruminate on Bruce Campbell and his crusades against nasty alien fiends in Terminal Invasion, and that made me warm inside.

To return to the opening meditations: overall, The Body Stealers is lacking the same level of extraterrestrial-related action we get in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Here, the “things from outer space” only really emerge into the light of the camera at the end, and whilst I consider the revelation a slight disappointment, I must say I’ve never seen a red turtleneck worn so elegantly in my life.

And there we have it. Bodies are stolen, bodies are returned, everything recedes back to normalcy. Let’s just be thankful the aliens chose a British air force on manoeuvres – in what can only be described as Point Break in the Midlands – to stage their thievery. What might have been the tragic consequences of mounting a pilferage during the parachuting exploits of, say, Operation Dumbo Drop? Not only would Ray Liotta have been highly peeved by the whole episode, but Danny Glover would have been livid, for if there’s any kind of shit he’s too old for, it is certainly the aliens stealing elephants kind.


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