In old Hollywood, B grade movies identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicised bottom half of a double feature. However, this practice largely ceased by the end of the 1950s with the studios changing their departments into TV production divisions.
B movies often represented a particular genre e.g. westerns while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Almost always shorter than the top-billed feature films, many had running times of 80 minutes or less. The term gave a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more lavishly budgeted A grade films; however they often provided a fertile start for many talented directors, writers, actors/actresses, cinematographers, editors etc for them to make their mark in movies.
One such example, and a particular favourite of mine, is the science-fiction classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers directed by Don Siegel and released in 1956.
This low-budget feature which ran for only 80 minutes, was released by Allied Artists, a very minor studio in Hollywood. It proved to be quite a hit, and despite its lurid title, displayed subtle nuances quite unlike what would be expected of a science-fiction film of the 1950s.
The film’s storyline concerns an extra-terrestrial invasion that begins in California. Alien plant spores have fallen from space and have grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical copy of a human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it until only the replacement is left; these duplicates, however, are devoid of all human emotion. Little by little, a local doctor uncovers this invasion and attempts to stop it.
The film was been remade a number of times – there’s a pretty good 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, but none have quite matched the original.
The original ending did not include the flashback framing, in fact when I first saw it in the mid 1970s, the prologue and epilogue had been cut out (which was as the film-makers originally intended) but they have been restored, which is a pity, as the intent was to present a rather pessimistic ending.
The film has often been analysed as a commentary of the dangers facing the United States, whether it be McCarthyism or Communism. However, Siegel denied any such intent – he just wanted to make a damn good movie that was entertaining and exciting.
Don Siegel would go on to have a notable directorial career, with films like The Killers (1964), The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Escape From Alcatraz. He formed a memorable partnership with Clint Eastwood in which they made 5 films together.
So what other B movies do Cats fondly remember ?