Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Them! (1954)

December 3, 2012

by Peter Nielsen

It’s been a while since we last visited the black and white era, so I thought it appropriate that we go back to it this week. The movie I’ve chosen for you is one of my personal favorites and also one of the classic creature features from the 50’s. They made a lot of those during this decade! The Black Scorpion, Tarantula, It Came from Beneath the Sea are just a couple of other titles that springs to mind. Some of them good and some not so good, but most people tend to like the one I’ve chosen here…

Not that I would know what most people like, but the ones I’ve talked to or been in contact with all have fond memories of Them! It is certainly one of the most famous “big bug” movies of that era and I think it was actually one of the first too.

It starts of in the desert of New Mexico where a police patrol-car comes across a little girl wandering aimlessly through the barren landscape. She’s obviously in a state of shock and doesn’t react to their questions. They also find a destroyed trailer which belongs to an FBI agent who’s vacationing in the area with his wife and kids. The family is missing and the trailer looks like it’s been ripped apart from the outside.

You wouldn't happen to have any sugar on you, would you, maam?

You wouldn’t happen to have any sugar on you, would you, maam?

One of the police officers, Ben Peterson, finds some items at the scene which indicates that the little girl is one of the missing children and has been witness to what has happened. No wonder she’s in shock! Ben is played by James Whitmore who’s known from Tora! Tora! Tora! and Chato’s Land.

They also find some strange imprints in the sand outside. None of them has a clue as to what could have left those imprints, so they take a cast of it to send away for further examination. What they find out will test their beliefs!

Since one of the victims is an FBI agent, the bureau of course sends one of their agents to help out. His name is Robert Graham and is played by none other than the charismatic James Arness from the original The Thing from Another World and the long running series Gunsmoke where he played Marshal Matt Dillon. Here in Sweden he’s best known for his role as the rugged mountain-man Zebulon Macahan on the TV-show How The West Was Won – The Macahans.

Also joining the law enforcement are two entomologists, Dr. Harold Medford and his daughter Patricia. The father, played by Edmund Gwenn (The Trouble with Harry, Les Miserables) has a theory about what could have caused the death of several people in the area, but is at first reluctant to share it.

Opening title

Opening title

Considering what his theory is, I can actually understand why. He thinks that the radiation from the first atom-bomb tests in Alamogordo nearby has mutated ants into gigantic proportions. Yeah, pretty hard to believe, I know, but after Patricia (Joan Weldon) is attacked by one and they manage to kill it, they have all the proof they need!

The U.S. Air Force is brought in to help locate the nest and destroy it, but you all know it won’t go as smoothly as that, right? They locate the nest alright and manage to kill all the ants in it. ALL of the ants, you ask? Well, except for two queen ants and some drones, that is. The queen ants are capable of laying thousands of eggs in new nests, so it is of the utmost importance to find them before it’s too late.

Discussing theories... you know... 'cause it's science!

Discussing theories… you know… ’cause it’s science!

One of them is found onboard an ocean-freighter, where it and some of the males attack and kill the crew of the ship. The last ones are finally spotted in Los Angeles where they attack a man and his two sons.

The father is killed but the two boys are nowhere to be found. The police and scientists suspect that they have been taken by the ants, and now a race begins to find the boys before they too are killed.

Them! was originally intended to have been released in color and 3D, but due to camera malfunctions and the studio not liking how the color-shots looked, it was decided to shoot in black and white instead and also to scrap the 3D aspect.

The opening title is still in color though, maybe to give it a bit of “oomph”, you know? I must admit it looks damn cool! You can also see that some of the scenes were supposed to be in 3D, like when they shoot the flame-throwers straight at the screen and some close-ups of the ants. The opening title screen is another example.

See what happens when you smoke Mary Jane?

See what happens when you smoke Mary Jane?

The ants themselves look kind of cheesy now, but at the time I can see that they could be considered scary and it’s actually a pretty intense movie at times. The scenes on the freighter and the last scenes down in the L. A. storm drains in particular.

Them! is also a funny movie with plenty of humor to release a bit of the tension, I suppose. There’s one scene in a helicopter where Dr. Medford is taught the proper way to talk over the radio, using “over and out”, which is hilarious. How the actors managed to keep a straight face through it is beyond me.

As I stated before, this is one of my favorites, but there are so many of these “forgotten” gems which many (not all, mind you) young people of today never watch and that’s a damn shame, in my opinion. I’m slowly introducing them to my own kids, so they at least won’t be forgotten in my household. Well… I’m trying to anyway.

And that thought is what I’ll leave you with for now. So until next week, my friends… why not tell me what you think of these “old” creature features.


Peter Nielsen Bio

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