Tag Archives: James Arness

Them! (1954)

"Excuse me, ma'am? I believe I should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque."
“Excuse me, ma’am? I believe I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

Some giant monster movies you watch once and never think about again. Then there are the monster movies you pass down to your children. My parents passed Them! down to me around the time they passed down The Thing from Another World and War of the Worlds, praising it as an original masterpiece of daikaiju movie making…which is funny, since Them! started out as a good way for Warner Brothers to cash in on that other original masterpiece of daikaiju movie making, 1953’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Not a rip-off exactly…more like a thematic reprise, packaging the same complex of societal fears into a new model for a new year. Works for the car companies.

3D was all the rage at the time as theaters continued to hemorrhage audiences to a new and uncomfortably profitable home-entertainment medium. Warners originally concieved Them! as a widescreen 3D monster mash in Sylvia Plath-annoying technicolor, set in the already colorful deserts of California (standing in for the just as colorful deserts of New Mexico). A mechanical failure somewhere inside the 3D camera’s bowels nixed that plan and the movie’s budget with one very fortunate accident. Frankly, I can’t imagine Them! as anything other than a black and white picture with 1.37 : 1 aspect ratio.

The DVD releases has since lovingly restored its original red and blue, drop-shadowed title card. That, and a few shots designed to wag something (like a giant ant’s antenna) in the audience’s face, are the only remaining signs of Them!-That-Might’ve-Been. Read enough reviews of Them!-That-Is and you’ll come across a lot of praise for this film’s “documentary feeling.” I doubt it’d garner such accolades if it were in color…then again, maybe so…it would still hold your hand and lead you in, careful to take itself seriously. This movie is a granite idol, meeting your snickers with a stone face. It’s an almost perfect monster movie.

Almost. Continue reading Them! (1954)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

"Damnit! I told you: this is the Boys Club! No girls, godless commies or blood-sucking aliens allowed!"
“Damnit! I told you: this is the Boys Club! No girls, godless commies or blood-sucking aliens allowed….! Well, okay; maybe one girl’s allowed, but she’s hot!”

In 1951, science fiction movies took two booster shots to the arm and entered into the public consciousness on a scale so grand that, looking back on it now, it’s like watching a dam burst in slow motion. So much so that one can easily drown in the torrent of “creature features” America produced in the 1950s. All thanks to two films that defined the boundaries of their sub-genre, enlivening hoary old tropes by dragging them, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century.

One of those films, which we’ll consider in its own time, was The Day the Earth Stood Still. The other, released five months before, was The Thing from Another World. You can try and find a stranger pair of siblings…but I don’t really want you too. These two are all I need because they were all the genre needed at the time.

Prior to their release, science fiction was a joke, laughed at and bemoaned in turn by polite society, allowing it to become the sole province of nerds. The Thing irrevocably welded Sci-fi to Horror and saved both genres from their separate decline into self-parody and stupidity…as evidenced by another “great” film from 1951, Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. The world was six years away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the old monsters had lost their grip on the collective amygdilla. New monsters – in a comfortably Frankenstein-ish mode, to be sure, but still – were already moving back in the shadows, ready to pop through the first conveniently open door and take your head off with a casual swipe. Continue reading The Thing from Another World (1951)