The silver-haired McCarthy once seemed older than his roles until, by virtue of his physicality, he seemed younger. This was likely due to his becoming one of director Joe Dante’s go-to guys: the uncle on the edge of a little boy’s all-powerful insanity in Twilight Zone: The Movie, the ruthless Victor Scrimshaw from InnerSpace, his roles in The Howling and Dante’s debut as a solo director, Piranha.
Yet he will go down in the cinematic history books as Dr. Miles J. Bennell in the communism allegory Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Ordinarily the thankless role of the straight-laced observer thrust into a chaotic sci-fi scenario, McCarthy carved out his place in the pantheon with one scene, a wild-eyed, raving warning to the characters in the film as well as the already thrilled and chilled audience – “Can’t you see, everyone? They’re here already! You’re next!”
It might be easier to misplace some of his other roles in films like John Huston’s The Misfits, or his impressive run as a character actor on TV. Even if you didn’t know who McCarthy was, you’ve certainly seen him somewhere before. If you can live nearly a century, leave behind a long string of favorite characters and one moment that terrorized a legion of movie fandom, you’re the winner. And in a way, we were all winners for having the chance to see him at work.