The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World is currently available on Amazon Prime

Haiku Review: Hawks film formula, three great scenes and no bad ones, Thing more than passes

The Thing from Another World (1951) – Not Rated

“Arctic researchers discover a huge, frozen spaceling inside a crash-landed UFO, then fight for their lives after the murderous being (a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness) emerges from icy captivity.”

“Could be Russians. They’re all over the Pole, like flies.”

Despite it being the only science fiction/horror picture of his career, producer/director/writer Howard Hawks made one of the best monster movies ever made with The Thing from Another World. Tobe Hooper, Ridley Scott, and John Frankenheimer have all stated this film as an influence.

John Carpenter featured The Thing in his own ‘monster’ movie, 1978’s Halloween. Thankfully that made enough money that in 1982, Carpenter was able to release his own version of The Thing. Carpenter uses the same opening credit scene which is pretty nifty. I love Carpenter’s version, especially as one of the finest cinematic examples of paranoia ever recorded. The less said about the 2011 version the better (though I found it to be stupid cheesy fun).

Howard Hawks’ film does not have the paranoia element, which is a little odd, set as it is during the cold war. While a straight-forward monster movie, The Thing from Another World gets almost everything right.

Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan are our romantic leads. They are likeable and inoffensive but their banter doesn’t gel like say Bogey and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn. Tobey would go on to star in genre films The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, X-15 and It Came from Beneath the Sea as well as numerous westerns. The Thing was Margaret Sheridan’s debut but she only appeared in five more films.

Robert Cornthwaite steals the movie from the two leads as obsessed scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington. While this was his best role, he also appeared in The War of the Worlds, Destination Space, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Along with Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and William Schallert (The Incredible Shrinking Man), Cornthwaite got a cameo in Joe Dante’s delightful celebration of William Castle, Matinee.

Our comic relief in The Thing is the intrepid news reporter Scotty, played by a wonderful Douglas Spencer. Spencer started out as Ray Milland’s double before graduating to roles of his own in this and This Island Earth.

The music, while overbearing and overused in a 1950s way, is magnificent. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is eerie and quite memorable. Tiomkin was nominated for a whopping 22 Oscars and won 4 of them (The Old Man and the Sea, The High and the Mighty, High Noon x2).

The Thing is based on John W. Campbell’s story, “Who Goes There?”. The adaptation is credited to Charles Lederer but it is believed that Howard Hawks, Ben Hecht and possibly even William Faulkner had a hand in the script. It is tight and focused with only a few extraneous scenes to set up the characters. The dialogue is pretty snappy too.

Howard Hawks is famous for saying that “a good film contains three great scenes and no bad ones”. Certainly The Thing fits that description: the opening title sequence, the expedition surrounding the craft in the ice, the (unseen) emergence of the creature, and each and every confrontation with the creature.

People Watch: Noted midget actor Billy Curtis plays the Creature in its final scene. Starting out in Terror of Tiny Town and The Wizard of Oz, Curtis would go on to appear in over a hundred productions including The Incredible Shrinking Man, High Plains Drifter, and Planet of the Apes.

Them! – Size Matters week

Woot! In light of a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift (in reality an early birthday/Father’s day gift), this is Size Matters week. I’m going to feature movies about things that are Giant! First up – Giant Ants! Them! is currently available on instant Netflix.

Them!

WATCH: Them! (1954) – NR – Not rated.

“The inhabitants of a small Southwestern town feel the fallout when radiation from bomb tests creates giant, mutant ants that descend on their community. Facing human extermination, a team of scientists scrambles to figure out how to stop “them.” Filled with creepy creatures large and small, this 1954 sci-fi spectacular is one of the most influential horror films of all time — and also captures America’s mood at the dawn of the Atomic Age.”

“It’s getting pretty late Doctor.” – “Later than you think”

“We may be witnesses to a biblical prophecy come true.”

Okay I have to admit that even now, more than 3 decades after I’d first watched this, the ant sounds are still creepy. Yes the giant ant models are completely goofy but the rest of the film is very well done.

The film begins wonderfully with the discovery of a young traumatized girl wandering the desert. After rescuing our mute survivor, the police discover a few structures completely destroyed with no other survivors.

Them! makes great use of wind-swept desert terrain. Obscured terrain only heightens the suspense. This suspense is wonderfully generated until almost the half hour mark.

Unfortunately for you people spoiled by special effects (i.e. young whippersnappers) that is the point at which the first of the giant ants is shown. The ant models are elaborate but they look completely wacky.

James (Gunsmoke) Arness and James (The Shawshank Redemption) Whitmore are our stalwart heroes. While there is a height difference, the tough guy acting styles and stern faces are so similar that  they look very striking together, particularly a scene where they are both shown in profile.

Edmond Gwenn is our resident scientist. He’s not mad because it was ATOMIC TESTING that caused our mutant ants. Joan Weldon plays his daughter and is also a scientist. Those are actually wool suits that they are wearing in the desert. According to Joan, the temperature got up to 110 degrees and it was practically unbearable.

If you don’t mind the cheesy looking ants then I highly recommend this classic science fiction movie. What really makes this film work is that it is filmed as a mystery movie and the parts without the ants work very well. The picture quality from Netflix is quite good.

People Watch: There are two great TV cameos here. First, there’s a blink and you’ll miss him Leonard (Spock) Nimoy appearing as an Air Force Sergeant. Second, a pre-Daniel Boone/Davy Crockett Fess Parker plays Alan Crotty.

Walt Disney watched the film to assess James Arness for the part of Davy Crockett. He ended up choosing Fess Parker after seeing Them!

While James Arness didn’t end up playing Davy Crockett, he later played James Bowie (opposite Brian Keith as Davy Crockett) in The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory.