One of the greatest science fiction movies ever is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made in 1956 (and re-made in 1978 in a version that was just about as good as the original, amazingly enough). Intelligently written, tautly directed, and wonderfully acted, it starred Kevin McCarthy, who died today at the age of 96:

Kevin McCarthy, the veteran stage and screen actor best known for his starring role as the panicked doctor who tried to warn the world about the alien “pod people” who were taking over in the 1956 science-fiction suspense classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” died Saturday. He was 96.

McCarthy died of natural causes at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., said his daughter Lillah.

McCarthy had appeared in several other films and had a string of TV anthology-series credits behind him when he was cast as Dr. Miles Bennell in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” director Don Siegel’s thriller about an unsuspecting California town whose residents were being replaced by emotionless alien clones grown in oversized seed pods.

In the film’s most memorable scene, McCarthy’s frantic Bennell runs into traffic, screaming to motorists, “Stop and listen to me. …. They’re not human. … Can’t you see? Everyone! They’re here already. You’re next!”

The low-budget film became an enduring cult classic that was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1994.

The movie has become a metaphor for the danger of conformism (some thought it was supposed to be a political statement, whether about Communism or McCarthyism, but Kevin McCarthy–no relation to the Wisconsin senator, though he was the brother of journalist/novelist Mary McCarthy–is quoted in the Los Angeles Times article linked above as saying that politics didn’t come up as it was being made). Dr. Bennell’s heroic effort to avoid the emotionally dead hordes to warn an unsuspecting world is brought to life and made completely convincing by McCarthy, who later had a wonderful cameo in the 1978 remake. If you’ve never seen it, you should, even if you’re not a fan of science fiction. Here’s the scene where the horrible secret of what is happening in Santa Mira is revealed: