Gerry Levy, 1969
Starring: George Sanders, Maurice Evans, Patrick Allen
During a series of jump trainings, paratroopers in the British army mysteriously begin to disappear. The concerned General Armstrong (George Sanders) brings in specialist and NATO agent Bob Megan (Patrick Allen) to investigate — along with a panel of scientists — in the few spare minutes he’s not busy trying to have sex with every woman on the planet. Megan meets a strange woman named Lorna (Lorna Wilde) on the beach and learns that she’s connected to a race of aliens who are behind the disappearances. Meanwhile, Armstrong and Megan meet resistance in their investigation in the form of some government ministers.
Tigon’s The Body Stealers aka Thin Air aka Out of Thin Air aka Invasion of the Body Stealers is nearly on the same level as the studio’s disappointing Haunted House of Horror in the sense that it’s maybe founded on some interesting ideas, but is an absolute mess. Essentially a weird throwback to cheap sci-fi films like The Trollenberg Terror (1958) and Fiend without a Face (1958), the film is almost a direct rip off of Robert Day’s First Man into Space (1959), another title about disappearing pilots. But I’m genuinely sad to say that while The Body Stealers has the flimsy plot and threadbare production values of those British sci-fi/horror mashups from a decade earlier, it utterly lacks their improbable charm.
In a weird way, it’s basically like ‘50s British sci-fi meets James Bond, thanks to the presence of Patrick Allen (who I can’t even look at without thanking of Captain Crunch thanks to his absurd costume in Hammer pirate/smuggler film Captain Clegg aka Night Creatures), who is on top of his philandering game in this film. The Body Stealers suffers from lots of scenes of stuffy dialogue — though there are some hilarious lines like “Perhaps it’s the work of some Scottish nationalists’ devious plans to repopulate the Highlands?” as an explanation for the disappearances — and little action, but Allen gets plenty of a different kind of action.
He has some outrageous scenes that make the Bond films look like an exercise in gender equality and the female alien, Lorna, presumably exists just so Megan can have yet another love interest. Not only does he bag her with zero effort — she leaves, but assures him she will come back one day — but he also seduces the film’s only female scientist (Hilary Dwyer of Witchfinder General, Cry of the Banshee, The Oblong Box). Still, amazing as some of the misogyny is (like the scene where he leaves a woman stranded in the middle of nowhere), Hammer would never cast a woman as a scientist and Julie is the one who actually makes the major discovery of the film: the recovered parachutes are irradiated and have begun to somehow change their molecular structure.
The espionage angle trickles out fairly quickly, to the film’s detriment, and it doesn’t do a lot of leg work in terms of making the alien invasion plot particularly plausible. There are basically no special effects outside of the aerial shots and, hilariously, the space ship is actually the same one used in Doctor Who spin-off film, Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., which Amicus bafflingly produced (as the sequel to their Dr. Who and the Daleks). There are some decent parachuting and flying sequences — this seems to be where the whole of the budget went — but the real reason I was so excited to watch The Body Stealers was because of the costarring role for the the great George Sanders, king among men. He is one of the finest human beings to have ever walked this earth, but just looks sort of amazed at what’s going on around him (or perhaps at the complete lack of what’s going on around him).
You really have to feel sorry for director Gerry Levy, for whom this was his second and final film. He did some uncredited script work on Curse of the Crimson Altar and Haunted House of Horror, and The Body Stealers affectively ended his career in that arena; though he did spend a number of years working as production manager on everything from The Benny Hill Show and Octopussy, to Gorillas in the Mist and The Hunger, as well as genre sequels Howling V and Lawnmower Man 2. I am dying to see his first and only other film, Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964), about boys who terrorize the owner of a magic shop, only to learn that he’s more than meets the eye.
You can find The Body Stealers on DVD in the UK, but I certainly can’t recommend it and you should watch it at your own peril. The film has a certain lazy attitude to its own plot that can’t be saved by wonderfully smarmy performance from Patrick Allen or even from the great George Sanders, who looks both amused and unconcerned for most of the film. The conclusion resolves precious little and I really don’t understand exactly why the aliens are kidnapping paratroopers, of all things, and sending them back to their home planet.