In the small American town of Santa Mira, the initially sceptical local shrink Dr Binnell (McCarthy) gradually becomes concerned by increasing visits from townsfolk complaining that their nearest and dearest are simply not themselves. Moreover, that they are in fact imposters. As a sense of paranoia gradually spreads, Binnell's investigations reveal that the complaints are not mere delusion and that the previously peaceful town is in fact being taken over by an alien force, doppelgangers who resemble their earthly counterparts in almost every way, save for a lack of human emotion.
Adapted from Jack Finney's taut novel, Siegel's low-budget science fiction is one of the true masterpieces of the genre. Driven by Siegel's customary pacy direction and his ability to move chameleon-like between genres, the film is elevated above its counterparts by a rich intelligence, and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring's subtly integrated subtext and allegorical ambiguity. The sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia is acute, as is the temptation to view the film as a metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era.
Wonderfully performed and imbued with a genuine sense of trepidation and unease, the film was remade to decent effect by Philip Kaufman (original director Don Siegel had a small cameo role) in 1978, and by Abel Ferrara in 1993, proving the inherent longevity in a tale about the loss of individuality. Incidentally, the original features Sam Peckinpah in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him role. Provocative fare.